The World: Insider's View - South Africa

The country has its share of problems, but consumers are aware of advertising in a way that eludes brands in more developed countries.

Global marketers and their brands may eye Africa - and specifically South Africa, given it's one of the wealthier countries on the continent - with glee, eager to take advantage of its virgin markets.

But, if any of these marketers were to base their plans of conquest on the premise that the target market is unsophisticated, they're almost certain to go awry.

Consider this: What defines an unsophisticated market? Is it a market with high illiteracy rates, living on the breadline, stricken with single mothers or "sandwich" families? If the answer is "yes" to all of these, then South Africa is an unsophisticated market.

But, is an unsophisticated market one that marketers choose to define as unsophisticated because they misunderstand that market? Statistics providing proof of high illiteracy, and highlighting the composition and incomes of families, can often mislead marketers to create invalid stereotypes and perceptions.

Numbers guide, but insights lead. Hence, "To know me is to love me" is the motto marketers operating in South Africa should live by.

The numbers show that more than one-third of the market is 15 years old or younger, and more than half is under 25 (Source: US Census Bureau, International Data Base, 2004). We have 11 official languages and most of the population earns an average monthly household income of R3,999 (£275) or less, suggesting a young, unsophisticated market with little disposable income.

Insights and true knowledge paint a different picture. South Africa is a country with entrepreneurial spirit, with a rapidly growing middle class - indeed, the black middle class is growing by 50 per cent a year. And mobile phone technology has reached to those living on the breadline. By 2008, eight out of every ten phone connections will be mobile.

Best of all, our so-called unsophisticated market is actively engaged with the products they use. Consumers notice when packaging changes and can quote from the ads of their favourite brands.

A chart looking at the top 20 advertising-noting scores for 2006 (Source: Millward Brown) for the so-called "emerging market" shows that this market is very interested in advertising. The highest noting score is 71 per cent, versus a low of 50 per cent. For developed markets, the highest score is 57 per cent.

What's the value of this so-called unsophisticated market for advertisers? Well, adspend is at an all time high. Yes, the country battles with poverty, crime and a brain drain. But South Africa's market is so dynamic that even today's research results are outdated. It's a market that embraces your product. It's also a market where numbers don't lie, but assumptions do. It's a market that advertisers and marketers can only love.

- Tanya Schreuder is the group media director for DraftFCB South Africa.