The Jupiter Drawing Room

A respectful understanding of Africa is the starting point for marketers looking to reach millions.

Kevin Aspoas
Kevin Aspoas

Africa is the second-biggest continent in the world - and possibly the most misunderstood. It's known globally for every wrong reason, yet unknown for all its strong points and success stories.

The negatives of the continent are real, but just constitute 1 or 2 per cent of the reality.

The everyday reality - like any country or continent - is that it's a unique place with warm people living in harmony. Images, appearing by ten-second burps on TV, have sold the continent short, giving it an image out of step with what you find on the ground.

Global viewers now have a preconceived idea, mainly in the developed world, that Africa is this cradle of hopelessness that needs their saving and their help: that the developed world can come to rescue Africa and that they can be the heroes. Very seldom do they see the real Africa. People living their lives in complete harmony with each other, still incorporating many of their traditions, which are so often misunderstood. The joy and the warmth that you can receive in Africa are unlike any other place on earth.

This misunderstanding of the continent has informed the way a lot of marketers have been speaking to their consumers. Their arrogance, dictatorial mindset and formulaic strategies and communication have not worked well on the continent. They speak to highly receptive consumers, yet employ a parent/infant type relationship, not listening, embracing or caring. It's a completely different approach to the one they employ back in their own countries.

Marketers tend to speak down to their audiences and place juvenile messages that are overly simplistic, and that get no traction in the marketplace. Any form of sophistication, cleverness or sleight of messaging is avoided. They understand very little of the people that live and inhabit this amazing place. They understand very little of the way people interact with each other and the daily pressures of life that they have, or the way they treat their social interactions.

And, in their arrogance, they seem to not want to care or even learn.

Marketers must come to Africa because they want to. Not only because they want to make a success of their venture, but also because they want to be successful in their contribution to the people of Africa.

And when you come here, you need to spend time here - time with its people, time listening. West or east, south or central, there's a lot to learn and take in on this vast continent. Each country, and the people within it, is unique and special, and those forcing a one-size-fits-all approach find it sits uncomfortably and does not work.

Africa is not a simplistic place with simplistic people, but, rather, a continent that is full of potential, talent, creativity, relationships, social interaction, heritage and culture that give marketers a rich fabric to use in their messaging. Treat it with respect.

Africa understands, appreciates, loves and embraces creativity. It can be seen in the music, dance, clothing, art, storytelling and architecture. Symbols and myths are second nature, metaphors are common, images and stories play tricks on the mind, and music is littered with analogies. You can find them all woven into everyday life.

This creative storytelling is what drives a sense of belief in Africa. The power of a story passing down from generation to generation - the true and pure form of "word-of-mouth" -and the way in which a culture and a people can be built through symbolism and art forms.

Marketers need to understand and embrace these unique people, who are so often far ahead of the communication beamed down on them. Often, the problem is that marketers don't spend enough time going into these areas, sitting and listening and absorbing and attempting to understand and learn about the people they are trying to speak to.

If brands honestly spoke to consumers in Africa, so that the result was a natural conversation, they would be able to unlock so much more potential. And the key to this engagement is creativity.

Whether it's music, fashion, art or entrepreneurism, creativity and the understanding of storytelling is what is driving Africa's renaissance.

And these endeavours are no less valuable than their counterparts in "developed" markets: JH Pierneef's paintings are the highest-valued in Africa, and are comparable to those prized globally; Youssou N'Dour is one of Africa's greatest musicians and is successful worldwide; Dylan Lewis' awe-inspiring sculpture works are priced from $200,000; Irma Stern holds the accolade of having produced the continent's highest-value single painting; Francis Kere's architecture in Burkina Faso is world class and groundbreaking; and young entrepreneurs are experimenting in the creative outlets of fashion design, leatherwork and customisation, which bring a uniquely African flavour to global trends.

These people have harnessed their inherent understanding of storytelling and symbolism, and packaged it in a way that is understandable to a global audience, while resonating within their home continent.

Marketers need to understand this when they come to Africa and when they try to engage Africans. The continent is open for business - and discussion - but it is not open to being patronised.

When you are an African, you realise that you could never find a home to replace it. You can never leave it, although you may be physically apart from it. It's a unique place. From the deserts, where the air is so hot you can bite into it, to the pollen-filled savannah grasslands with screaming cicadas or the bustling markets growing like there is no tomorrow.

All different, all uniquely African. From early sunrises to the golden sunsets - from the vibrant smiles, to the manic dances. It's is only then that you realise that you have come across a very special place with very special people. You need to tread softly, for this is the great Africa.

Kevan Aspoas is the chief executive of The Jupiter Drawing Room (Cape Town & Africa)







Graham Warsop, founder and creative chairman; Kevan Aspoas, chief executive, The Jupiter Drawing Room (Cape Town & Africa); Ross Chowles, executive creative director; Jo Thomas, head of design; Claire Cobbledick, managing director, The Jupiter Drawing Room (Cape Town); Alison Deeb, chief executive; Brad Reilly, chief creative officer, The Jupiter Drawing Room (Johannesburg)




Cape Town, Johannesburg

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