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Game brand


leads the pack
by Ron Irwin
August 12, 2002

Can spending money be a game?

South Africa’s retail chain Game has managed to cover a broad spectrum of cultures and appeal to a wide variety of income levels. Its plans for continued expansion reflect the success of this winning brand.


The Game chain was launched in the surf city of Durban in 1970 and immediately separated itself from its competitors by proposing to customers that shopping could become a fun experience. Stores were set up to be an environment where customers – and staff – could play.

The founders of Game (originally Game Discount World) carried the concept through to the various departments within each retail store, creating “Baby Game,” “Auto Game,” and so forth. With the massive, one-floor layout and wide aisles of its stores, Game was the first to introduce the now familiar mega-store concept to South Africa, creating an African version of Kmart and Wal-Mart.

Grant Pattison, Game’s Managing Director, described the brand as communicating four main messages, which consist of “low prices, widest range of products under one roof, brands you can trust, and peace of mind.” The company depends on in-your-face advertising and low, low costs to keep itself relevant to the changing needs of a post-apartheid South Africa.

Pattison feels that the new South Africa has created what he calls “a mass middle-market” that is essentially colorblind. “While most of our customers are black,” he says, “we view them as mothers, fathers, wives and husbands with issues dominated by those views rather than political and racial views.”

He claims that Game is the only store in South Africa whose customer base reflects the true South African demographic profile. The Game brand appeals both to the needs of the very rich and the very poor, in a country with the biggest differentiation between income groups in the world. To what does Pattison attribute this across-the-board appeal? “All people want low-priced, quality goods with solid guarantees,” he says, “regardless of color, sex or political persuasion.”

The 1990’s were a period of substantial growth for Game, whose turnover expanded almost 500 percent, rising from ZAR 440 million in 1993 to ZAR 2 billion in 1998 (US$ 42.5M to US$ 193M). Game stores meet almost all of the “non-food” requirements of the average South African, selling housewares, plastic ware, kitchenware, electronic goods, garden and outdoor products as well as DIY, home office equipment, clothing and footwear.

There are 54 stores throughout southern Africa, spanning all nine provinces of the country as well as Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia, with plans to open a store in Mauritius this November. Game’s recent acquisition by Massmart Holdings for ZAR 755 million (US$ 73M) has brought the company into new levels of success. Massmart – which is controlled by ZAR 10-billion-sales-a-year (US$ .9B) South African retail giant Wooltru – will enable Game to dominate the low-end retail sales sector in South Africa, most likely within the next decade.

By the year 2010, Game hopes to have expanded into a network of 130 stores – 75 in South Africa and the rest as far afield as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Game’s ambitious expansion plans mean that it will have to appeal to a wide range of people speaking over 25 different languages. But it can draw on its South African expansion experience where it encountered 11 official languages and 40 million people.

Is it possible to cover such a wide range? In order to enjoy the broadest appeal possible, the brand works on what it calls marketing its “personality” through the publication of high-impact, mass distribution catalogues and weekly newspaper inserts. Each 12 to 14-page newspaper insert is distributed weekly to 3.4 million people. The brand is known throughout the country not only for discount prices, but for its in-store promotions that are designed to make shopping an amusing, interactive experience. Game’s motto is “You Always Win at Game,” an often repeated maxim that comes at consumers through radio, TV and its own newspaper ads.

Game also promotes its brand name through striving to make each store consistent in quality and layout. The retail space sports wide aisles and 12-foot high structures (3.6 meters) that showcase the merchandise, providing good product visibility and ease of access.

The Game logo, a combination of “Game Pink,” and black and white, is reflected on every piece of Game literature and on staff uniforms. Game’s corporate literature confirms that the chain aims to “fortify brand awareness, relentlessly reinforcing the message that, at Game, you get a great deal more than you thought for less than you think.” Additionally, Game offers customers a series of written guarantees (printed in characteristic pink and black lettering) that promise, among other things, that the store will beat any competitor’s price, will refund or exchange defective products, and will provide support for products purchased from Game – even after the warranty has expired. “We try to make sure every time someone leaves a Game store they feel like they have won,” says Pattison, “even when we have messed up.” It’s an amazingly simple and congruent message that appeals to customers across the color line – and the class divide.

Game, like other South African retailers, has caught on to the power of attaching its brand name to social uplift programs. It gives generously to charities for disabled children and has an ongoing financial commitment to the National Council for Child Welfare.

As is the case with other brands that support social responsibility programs – such as Patagonia or Ben and Jerry’s – Game’s involvement with grassroots organizations helps encourage employee support for the company. Sharon Fay, Game’s Public Relations Manager, says she is “passionate” about what she calls Game’s “social responsibility commitment.” Fay sends team members a Game “Book of Smiles” – a magazine with the loud Game Pink cover that outlines the various projects the company supports. Fay says that she and her colleagues “pride ourselves on being responsible corporate citizens in that we run projects in order to make a genuinely positive difference in the community.” The “Book of Smiles” is an internal brand management tool that helps reinforce Game’s association with community charities, animal welfare programs and economic empowerment initiatives.

Every Game store is given what the company calls a “must spend budget,” which allows it to become involved with needy people at the local level. Game’s visible support of local communities is one of the many facets of this brand that has helped it triumph over struggling competitors. As Pattison is quick to point out, “Much of the PR we generate is in community-based media.” Indeed, the company might be proving that the real “game” is winning over customers, employees and their communities to the Game brand.


Ron Irwin is a freelance writer and lecturer based in Cape Town, South Africa. He is a regular contributor to brandchannel.

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