African consumers are like consumers anywhere. Emerging from controlled economies, dictatorships and wars, all most of them want is to live a longer and happier life and to bring up their kids in their own image. They want to enjoy new tastes, experience new sensations and reflect their journey through life in the material goods they own and display.
And like consumers anywhere, Africans use products and services they way they want to. Which is often not how the manufacturer, or the marketer hoped they would,
For many decades I worked on a cocoa powder brand, made by Cadbury from rich Ghanaian cocoa beans. Cadbury Cocoa remains a much-loved drink in Africa to this day. Long after its role in Western society was reduced to a baking ingredient.
But try as we might, we could not persuade every consumer to take the brand ‘as directed on the tin’. According to the men and women in white coats, a perfect cup of Cadbury Cocoa requires 2-3 heaped tablespoons of the dark powder. Mixed with a little boing water into a paste. Topped up with boiling water, with milk and sugar added to taste.
In the market, we found people happy to drink the beverage made with cold water, with only half a spoon of coca powder, and often without sugar. Take it from me, that potion was astringent to say the least.
We made huge progress in downsizing packs to make them more and more affordable. But the 400g tin continued to sell well. ‘Great,’ we thought, ‘strong on shelf visibility pays off. And sachet sales are up so maybe people are refilling their tins.’
And we were right, but not entirely. It emerged later that much of the continued appeal of the large orange tin lay in its secondary use. It made a great rat trap!
Right now, we are working on introducing consumers to new ways to mix and enjoy the Martini brand. It’s a brand with a heritage longer than 50 years in Africa and 150 years around the globe. But you would be amazed at how some people have decided to enjoy it.
If you run an office that uses ICT you will know that your staff are always crying for more RAM. The RAM famine is so big and enduring that I sometimes think we should get Sir Bob Geldof on the case. But we know that in Africa, as everywhere else in the IT world, RAM gets chewed up by screen savers, Apps, my music and video and by gaming.
Consumers recommend their own doses of medicine. Cook up their own recipes. Mix their drinks. Max their credit cards. And that’s just normal. Imagine what happens when they try to beat the system!
The writer is a Nairobi-based marketing and advertising expert.