The World: Insider's View - South Africa

Companies in South Africa can benefit from being seen to support and take pride in the country, as well as for being socially responsible, Ray Kieser reports

South Africa is nothing short of a miracle. Economically, socially and politically, the past ten years have seen the development of not only a new rainbow nation and burgeoning democracy, but also a confident consumer, flush with disposable cash from a strengthening currency.

However, South Africans, and especially the emerging black middle class, are conscious it could have so easily gone the other way. So while there is a growing groundswell of pride in our achievements, there is also an overriding sense of social responsibility and the need to plough investment back into the development of the country.

In emerging markets, such as ours and the "new Europe", where the population has been liberated from economic, political and social oppression and where a new middle class and new money is emerging, national pride and social and developmental issues can be major influences on behaviour and the way consumers buy brands.

The savvy South African marketers identified these dual trends of national pride and social consciousness early and have used them to leverage brand equity. And they have done so in a number of ways.

A relatively easy way is to jump on to the "Proudly South African" bandwagon, which is gaining in momentum and where brands meeting a number of homegrown criteria pay to display the PSA hallmark on all their merchandise and marketing collateral. Tracking studies have shown consumers are consciously buying PSA brands in increasing numbers because they believe they are employing South Africans and contributing to building a nation.

While the jaundiced view might be that marketers are simply exploiting the next big thing to make a fast buck, consumers don't see it that way. Of the top 20 most-liked and noted TV ads in the emerging market in 2004, 45 per cent were "social responsibility" messages. Even more interesting is that the number-one most-liked spot, along with five other social responsibility campaigns, made the top ten.

The ideas are simple, but the emotional connection between the brand and the issues championed is powerful.

In short, South Africans like and support the brands they feel are doing well by doing good.

Futuregrowth Specialist Asset Management recently launched a print campaign asking: "Can wealth and virtue co-exist?" Because Futuregrowth invests in funds that invest in South Africa's future, it thinks it can deliver returns that matter, on a social and financial basis.

Does social responsibility deliver returns beyond goodwill? Some research on JWT South Africa's recent corporate investment campaign for Shell SA reports a 15 per cent increase in Shell's fuel market share. While this was never a primary objective, the client is certainly very pleased.

- Ray Kieser is the managing director of JWT Cape Town.