Building brands in a world we can’t control

By Enver Groenewald, CCM Director, Unilever Africa

It used to be that people only had a few TV channels to watch and radio stations to listen to. Routines were planned around what time their favourite programmes were aired. Back then, media costs were the biggest line item in traditional advertising budgets, meaning that advertisers with the deepest pockets were able to buy the attention of consumers. All they needed to do was outspend a competitor brand to ensure that their brand message cut through the clutter.

With this tightly controlled, predictable media environment, pushing advertising onto audiences was relatively formulaic and simple. Then, along came the world’s greatest equaliser – mobile. And, just like that, the comfort zone of advertisers and the future of traditional media owners shifted – radically.

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Africa is the second-fastest mobile adoption market in the world with almost a billion mobile phone subscribers. In South Africa, 50% of active mobile phones are smartphone devices. With this, advertisers now struggle to keep pace with the unrelenting state of flux of the local and global media landscape and the increasingly fragmented and highly distracted audiences they want to reach. People are simply no longer where we need them to be; when we need them to be there; doing what we need them to be doing, just so we can tell them what we think they are waiting to hear.

Today, anyone with an Internet connection and a mobile phone has the means and the appetite to be an active content curator and a potent media owner and distributor. This means that brands accustomed to dominating in predictable and controlled media environments are having to rethink how they reach and engage people.

In a world now obsessed with selfies, over-sharing and cats taking naps; can brands still win the hearts and minds of consumers?

Now more than ever, it is important that advertisers fiercely pursue a new wave of empowered, fragmented and distracted audiences spoilt for choice by online video, video-on-demand, multi-screen viewing, podcasts, vlogs and blogs to name a few. The over-reliance on the ubiquitous TV or radio ad and the ability to negotiate the lowest ad rates are no longer enough to continue building a brand successfully and sustainably.

The terrain on which advertisers must continue to build brand equity and grow market share has been disrupted. But, navigating this terrain effectively and efficiently is made easier by adopting a brand communication mind-set that follows three simple rules:

1) No one thumb to rule them all
Advertisers must accept they now have to operate in a fundamentally democratised media and communications environment where the power resides in the thumbs of many, not in the pockets of a few. ‘Command and control’ thinking and access to resources have been replaced by collaboration as a source of competitive advantage, where authenticity, agility and responsiveness – not necessarily big production and media budgets – are often key determinants of success in building brand love and driving sales.

2) Content is king
While people actively seek out compelling content, traditional advertising is imposed on them. Although brilliant pieces of advertising sometimes bubble to the surface and generate public interest, this is now the exception rather than the rule. The rule right now is that content created by individuals rather than companies gets the greatest attention. Take a look at what’s getting the most views and shares on Facebook, Youtube, SnapChat or Instagram. Missing from the top of the list is anything that appears contrived and sterile. Often, that’s exactly what you’re likely to get from that brand that steadfastly believes “If we build it, they will come – just make the logo bigger!”

3) The information buffet
While there is still a place for mass media to drive reach and scale, what these traditional channels previously offered advertisers in terms of aggregated audiences for news, entertainment and information, now competes with the needs of a generation who have an insatiable desire to feast on a buffet of information and entertainment 24/7/365 days via multiple digital platforms on topics that are increasingly fragmented, highly personalised and infinitely diverse.

There are an exhausting number of factors (including ad-blocking, programmatic buying and SEO) that advertisers now need to stay ahead of the curve on when making smart brand communication investment decisions. The ones mentioned above speak to the most overarching. Which is that no advertiser can afford to view what they communicate and where they communicate through two separate lenses. People no longer consume media, they consume content. And the choices they have of what content to consume, when to consume it and how they’ll consume it have never been greater.

Why try and fight it? Embrace digital disruption and let’s continue building great brands.

By Enver Groenewald, CCM Director, Unilever Africa
Enver Groenewald

About the author

Founder and Trend Analyst at TrendER Insights. Mogorosi's passion lies in unearthing consumer insights that will help brands build more meaningful relationships with their consumers. Email:

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