Doug de Villiers, CEO of Interbrand Sampson Africa, was invited to talk about the brand
Africa at the African Business Leaders Forum in Accra, Ghana on 18th October 2007. The
topic revolved around the current global perception of Africa and the potential to change
this perception into something positive.
Prior to preparing the presentation Interbrand Sampson researched the issue.
Can Africa really be branded; well in reality anything can be branded, from people – Adolf
Hitler to Nelson Mandela, from Neil Armstrong to Louie Armstrong, from Mahatma Ghandi
to Che Guevara – to products and services – BMW, MTN, McKinsey etc – to destinations
– Ibiza (party), Paris (romance), Kenya (safari), but these are brands not because of what
they say or said about themselves, but because of what they do or did, how they behave
or behaved, and more importantly, because of what others say or said about them.
So simply country advertising is not branding, it may impart some great visuals and
possible facts about the country but more often than not, many have tried to “advertise
themselves away from the truth”- simply this is called propaganda and it never works longterm.
Simply – branding is not what you say about yourself…but what others say about you!!
This is the same with everything whether you’re MTN, Barclays bank or Microsoft or Joe’s
supermarket. And remember all big brands stated small – but started with a clear purpose
and meaning. Sometimes to be different, hopefully always to be meaningful but always to
Take BMW – nice advertisements, for sure. But would these ads be believable if the cars
wheels kept falling off or the engines were not starting? We may believe the ads shortterm
but long-term (even medium-term) the sales will dry up as the reality becomes known
and the truth exposed – and to ever recover from that is unlikely.
So a brand is also built a piece at a time. With BMW it stated with good engineering that
delivered an unusually exciting driver experience – something that only high end sports
cars were capable of doing – but at a more palatable price. With Microsoft it started with a
very basic disc operating system – DOS, with Nike is was a little running shoe company,
with McDonalds it was one hamburger shop.
But ultimately a brand is a combination of the above and country; region or continental
brands are built from the little blocks:
But a continent is defined by a collection of these characteristics – both positive and
negative – So what’s the world saying about Africa?
- Specific product/service brand – think Germany and you recall Mercedes or
BMW, think Italy and perhaps Ferrari comes to mind, Think Korea and Samsung /
LG, USA and McDonalds, Kenya and Tusker beer
- Specific activities or occasions – think Russia and the cold war comes to mind,
think South Africa and perhaps the newly founded democracy defines us, for the
USA Apollo 9 and the first man on the moon (by the way who was the last man on
the moon – remember first mover advantage)
- Specific natural gifts – Tanzania and mount Kilimanjaro, Namibia and its deserts
(and Angela Jolie), Australia and its outback, the Seychelles and its beeches
- Some are manmade gifts – Egypt and the pyramids,
In order to attract business and tourism, a territory, (in this case a continent), will be looked
at from political, cultural and economic standpoint.
The fact that respondents regarded Africa as having the lowest politically stability and
economic potential (especially when compared to
the highly volatile Middle East) is highly
concerning. No territory can sustain or develop
unless these two base indicators are addressed.
Interestingly cultural heritage was not seen as
continental brand differentiator.
So what does Africa stand for in the eyes of the international brand experts?
Africa is largely still defined by its natural attributes with wildlife, its people and cultures
and landscapes playing a dominant positive
On the negative brand associations, the obvious dominate – poverty, disease, war,
violence, political conflict, famine, human rights
abuses and corruption.
In order to change the perception of Africa as a whole the starting point is clearly to
change the negatives – not the perceptions thereof, but actually address the issues – and
although these are predominantly regarded as the domain of governments, it is the people
of the continent that actually have the say. If we do not put pressure on our governments
and neighbours to address these negative associations, Africa will continue to be seen as
the world’s basket case and a continent of beggars.
Clearly Africa is also a large and very diverse continent with a multitude of countries each
bringing positive and negative contributions to the global perception of the continent.
South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria and
Morocco dominate on awareness in Africa and
interestingly, (with the exception of Nigeria), are
the same countries that are regarded as contributing the most to the positive image of the continent.
In as far as countries that most negatively impact the brand of Africa, those either currently
or very recently involved in war or civil collapse
dominate – Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sierra
Leone, Sudan and Zimbabwe. If Africa wishes to
be regarded in a different light, then the types of
conflicts – and the political forces and individuals
that sustain these conflicts – need to be removed.
If they remain or are dealt with through never
ending “quiet diplomacy” then African leaders
inability to actually deal with problems will most likely add cronyism and pedantism to the
list of negative associations.
Taking Africa’s 54 countries as a brand portfolio, to measure them against ‘Awarenesss
vs. Net Positive Image’ was to create a fascinating model.
Slicing the findings into: Key concerns?; Swing states?; Opportunities? and Ambassadors?
Was to highlight the potential of Egypt, Morocco, Kenya and South Africa.
So what are the next steps? What needs to be done to develop a positive brand for Africa?
In conclusion; we can choose to tell the world about Africa – but if we really want to build
our continent we need to get the world talking about us – yes our people, yes our natural
beauty, yes our history, yes our hope – but more importantly about our economic brands –
but for this we need to actually develop and produce relevant products and services and
then position these globally through properly strategised, designed and implemented
- To start, stop wasting money on meaningless and politically motivated country
advertising – it’s not sustainable and no one buys it.
- If you must advertise at least make it meaningful – a recent campaign to position
Nigeria as tourist destination strikes me as being particularly irrelevant (it’s a great
potential commercial destination, but for a holiday has very little to offer).
- Most importantly the brand of Africa needs to build from small economically relevant
parts. Take the perceived brand of Germany – build on specific product brands
such as Mercedes and BMW, Take Korea whose country brand has been turned
around in record time thanks to Samsung, LG and Hyundai. Africa’s problem is that
we have no ingredient brands that play in the international arena – save for Nelson
Mandela, SAB and ….well other than some powerful regional brands such as MTN
and Stanbic, that’s about it. Companies that started in South Africa such as Anglo
American, De Beers, Old Mutual and Investec are increasingly seen as British.
Doug de Villiers is CEO of Interbrand Africa.