Monday, August 2, 2010

African marketing: What are you Ghana do?

[Black Sheep Lindsay Bosslet spent some time this summer in Ghana. Here's what she learned.]

Before I left my comfortable Houston apartment to spend some time in a rural village in Ghana, Aimee urged me to think about an important message I could come back with - a truth or bit of advice to share with our readers and clients that we might overlook in the great U.S.of A.

What I've learned about marketing on the other side of the pond is that, overall, Ghana does nearly EVERYTHING wrong. PhotoShop jobs look worse than a romantic comedy movie poster, and copy is downright erroneous 90% of the time. We're talking apostrophes for plural nouns (instead of for possessives, as is actually correct). And taglines?

The worst.


Obviously milk does not get creamier. Gross.

It should also be noted that there is a total lack of irony. I once saw a guy wearing a "welcome to the gun show" t-shirt, and I'm pretty sure it was a legitimate invitation.

Yet, for all of this, there are a few lessons here that can be learned.

1. Even in a place where the majority of all marketing efforts are bad, it still pays to be good. As I mentioned earlier, the billboards are atrocious. However, I once saw a Nike ad - one that would have been on-par with one in America - and it was all the more brilliant. I looked and studied as long as I could before the taxi drove off. And the people do too - Nike is by far the leader in sportswear, and in a nation where sports are king, that's a pretty big deal.

For our clients at home, it's important to keep in mind that the same principle still applies. Just because your competitors are doing one thing, and just because you're not used to seeing clever progressive marketing, there's no excuse for following the crowd. In fact, it's a waste of time. If the standards are low, it's your time to shine. If they're not, well you need to keep up!

2. Innovation and top-of-mind awareness go a long way. In Ghana, the two most marketed companies are MTN and Vodafone (cell phone companies that specialize in pay-as-you-go plans, like Cricket back in the States). And, while they both their fair share of billboards, ads and commercials, those methods are not what make them so well known. These companies literally miss no opportunity to brand an empty space.

Nearly every shack - even in the most remote areas of the country - is painted and logoed by one of those companies. I guess people are happy to have a little extra cash even if it means their home is painted a ridiculously bright color? These are desperate times. The total effect is that no matter where you go, you are constantly reminded of these companies... whether you like it or not.

Now, I'm not suggesting that we start taking out ad space on each other's houses or painting our town with our brand (hmmm... Black Sheep city...). But, we should consider every opportunity for creating awareness and look to never-before-seen and unexpected places to execute our plan.

3. Time is on your side. First of all, the World Cup in Ghana was huge- basically the only topic of conversation through July 11, and even weeks later, the most played feature on television. And the advertisers took advantage - nearly every ad in the month of July contained some sort of tie-in with soccer. While for us, not even the Super Bowl is a big enough event to influence and permeate all advertising, we should always remember that a current, relevant ad is going to elicit a stronger emotional response than a more generic alternative. (Strangely enough, people here are generally running late by 1-2 hours. No joke.)

It's always interesting to study advertising and marketing across the world, across the country and even across the state. Every place has something to offer in terms of knowledge and ideas, and these experiences make us more thorough and creative marketers. (But when it comes to food? There's no better place than Houston! Chips and salsa, here I come!)

Have you been to a different country? What did you notice about their marketing? Let us know in the comments!

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