26 Feb 2016

Here’s why black consumers demand more than vernac.

Putting a popular vernac phrase on your advertising campaign does not deem it effective in attracting black Africans.

It has become the in-thing nowadays for brands to invoke Tsosi Taal every time they need to appeal to the black African consumer. But it does not always work as expected. In fact, most of the time the concepts fall flat and renders the entire campaign annoying, to say the least.

Let’s take a look at “Slaap Tiger” for example. Vodacom, with all its big budget and a large pool of creatives from Ogilvy, went out and borrowed a well-known term from the townships and used it in their “Change the Game” campaign. It blundered big time. It was bound to, and I’ll tell you why.

But before I get to that, let’s gain some insight.

Slaap Tiger (which directly translates into ‘Sleeping Tiger’) is a term that depicts a person who is slow to catch on; a Bari if you may, an individual who is not street-savvy and has no street credibility whatsoever—a Moegoe of note, so to speak. That person is regarded as a “Slaap Tiger” in Kasi.

Now, Vodacom decided to use this term in reference to their rivals. This was to insinuate that every other network is slow and can’t catch up to Vodacom’s superior connection.  You can watch the ad below if you’re not familiar.



The reason why this Ad didn’t work for Vodacom and for most South Africans is simply this; the context was not right. If you’re going to use Tsotsi Taal in your communications, you first need to understand the context in which the term you’ve chosen is used. It’s not the term that is cool, it’s the term in its right context that does the trick. Consider this scene (which still needs some work, but I have to write something so that I can paint a picture):

We see a nerdy looking black guy in Soweto (let’s call him Bibo for now). Bibo has a smartphone in his hand and is struggling to find a good network signal. He decides to get out of his house into the yard, in hope of catching better connection outside. After a few failed attempts, he decides to get out of the yard hoping to get lucky.

Now, while all of this activity is happening, a group of pantsula-looking guys fitted in All-Stars and looking all crisp from pans-to-hat, are standing attentively by the fence (on the other side of the road). They’re observing Bibo silently. One of the guys chuckles and breaks the silence “Eh Bibo, my bra! Le network yakho, maan; why ‘ngathi ngi slaap tiger?” [ hey Bibo, this network of yours why does it seem like a slaap tiger]. After probing Bibo, the guy shakes his head, digs into his side-pocket and takes out his own smartphone to lend to Bibo (who is by now frustrated with his own bloody phone). The dude continues, “Tata mfowethu, Vodacom papa!—’tobetsa daar!”. [ Here you go! Vodacom! Get on with it! ]

This scenario is not the best. It’s not even crafted around a big idea and may need some further polishing in terms of concept and copy. However, what it does, is create a context which is genuine and relatable to the black audience. Through this context, the expression “Slaap Tiger” can work better than what Vodacom had. Also to note, black women do not use the term ‘Slaap Tiger’ as much as men do, and that’s something Vodacom should have considered. Interestingly so, I was there when the idea was conceptualised, but since I was working in the digital department, the concept was already sold and stricken. But it’s not only Vodacom that misses the mark; many other brands get it wrong at times.

Here is the overarching idea to take from this post. Black people operate within a geographical and cultural context, so however you choose to speak to them, make sure the language you use is true and relevant to the context they like to operate in—otherwise, you (as the brand) risk irritating the living hell out of them. In other words, black expressions go well with black experiences. One without the other is futile. Like I said, I’m black—I am the market. The current Dstv ads (Kumnand’i khaya) work well. The KFC ads also get it right. Ironically, all those campaigns were conceptualised by Ogilvy creatives. For some other reason, or perhaps for lack of inspiration, they messed up on Vodacom.

Going forward, it will serve agencies well, especially my white brothers and sisters, to gather important facts before addressing the black market, or anyone for that matter. Study their environment, know their language, check their grocery list, visit their weddings, go to their hair salon and maybe attend a Soweto derby. You’ll learn more than you think. If you don’t have the time and need consumer insights, I suggest you give us a shout, we can be of great assistance to your brand.

Either way, make sure you understand the context before invoking any catchy scamto expressions. Or alternatively, get the right people to work on the job.

Remember. It’s never the cultural language that speaks volume. It’s always, the cultural experience and context.

There you have it.


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