June 15, 2009


by Michael de Souza, Executive Producer, South Africa

As a native South African – and someone who has spent the last 8 years working in marketing here – I've seen a dramatic transformation in how people communicate and access information.  South Africa has one of the world's highest rates of mobile internet penetration and I believe that the lessons from my homeland can guide marketers worldwide.

The cellphone has become ubiquitous in South Africa. From affluent urban shopping malls to poverty-stricken rural communities where they are often the sole means of communication, you'll find mobile phones in every nook and cranny of the country. A few statistics: 

  • South Africa has a population of 50 million people
  • But of these 50 million, 10 million are under the age of nine.
  • There are over 30 million active cellphone lines in the country. That's 75 percent of all South Africans, aged 10 or older.
  • More than 10 million people – one-third of all active cellphone users – connect regularly to the mobile internet.

Seventy percent of South Africans meanwhile do not have access to fixed-line internet connections. Among the remaining thirty percent, for many, the only fixed line connection is at work – in an environment that restricts social networking and personal browsing. As a result, the mobile phone has become a primary means of connecting to the internet for most South Africans.

The first lesson to draw from this – I tell my clients – is that mobile advertising must not be seen as a simple extension of fixed-line PC internet campaigns. Mobile is not only a different medium – you're reaching a different audience.

The second lesson is that mobile marketing is not a mass-market tool. Don't be fooled by the numbers. There's a lot of inaccurate thinking about this in the advertising and marketing industries. I've spoken to advertisers, planners and strategists who believe mobile marketing is only useful if you want to reach a large, undifferentiated mass of people, for example to sell broad-based consumer products like Coca-Cola, toothpaste or washing powder.

Mobile does indeed have a staggering reach and SMS, for instance, allows you to send a message to any individual with a cellphone (assuming, of course, you have permission to communicate). But mobile marketing should not be thought of as a single, undifferentiated channel. Instead, the mobile internet enables brands to reach increasingly sophisticated, smaller and more focused segments. You can think of each segment as a medium in its own right – with its own set of users, its own demographics, and its own opportunities for carrying marketing messages. There are more channels than you might think. Just consider the following communities:

  • music and video sharing
  • mobile gaming
  • social networks like myGamma
  • mobile internet channels (sports, entertainment, news, etc.)
  • and the staggering number of South Africans who use Java-based instant messaging applications like MXit .
Each community is composed of economically active, tech-savvy people with different preferences and interests. Just as you might consider a TV or radio channel in your media mix, it’s important to consider each of these mobile mediums on their own merit. When selecting the right mobile channel for your campaign, think about the basics and go back to your marketing objectives. Are you targeting . . .

  • simple brand exposure
  •  user engagement
  • adding users to your database
  •  making a sale?
Now, you're ready to choose your mobile internet network provider. The Gamma Life blog contains a number of anecdotes detailing the advantages of using BuzzCity. I'd like to leave you with three more:

  •  Take mobile users from your ad directly to your mobi site. (Don't have a mobi site, no worries, use our landing page .)
  •  Track the results of your campaign quantitatively (clicks, impressions served) and qualitatively (who responds to your ads).
  • Adjust your campaign in real time to optimise performance based on the latest campaign data.
For more detailed information about who is engaging (by age, gender, and location) as well as the devices being used to connect to the mobile internet, check out the country-specific pages of BuzzCity's newly launched “Campaign Planner” or our survey report “Who Uses the Mobile Internet? And what do they do?” For information on the growth in number of banners served, refer to the latest BuzzCity Mobile Advertising Index .

Photo Credit: Bazil Raubach