‘Africa is rising.’ This appeared to be an unusual sentiment when The Economist ran it as a coverline in 2011, but it’s practically a truism now. With rapid growth and as yet untapped markets on the continent, multinationals consider Africa the last frontier for development.
The opportunities for media on the continent are real, says managing director of media systems for Telmar, Jennifer Daniel, pointing to figures that say that seven out of 10 of the world’s fastest growing economies will be found on this continent by 2015. By 2020, Africa will have the largest middle class population in the world and will be the second most populous continent, with a very young population.
Daniel is immediate past president of the Pan African Media Research Organisation (Pamro), an intercontinental industry body dedicated to establishing credible research in Africa.
She says, “Growth in the west has slowed substantially, whereas many countries in Africa are experiencing double digit growth. Many previously conflicted countries are stabilising and there are so many good news stories. There’s obvious potential – everyone knows it’s big, but the question is how big?”
The central challenge to the development of media in Africa is a lack of comparable, credible research. The difficulties in obtaining these figures, without which brands cannot ascertain the return on their media investment, mirror many of the difficulties involved in media in Africa in general. But, according to a number of media folk who operate on the continent and were contacted for this article, media planning is moving increasingly from ‘gut feel’ to demanding accurate data.
The dearth of research makes it difficult to identify exactly what Africans are consuming and what kind of content they desire. But these sources agree that big business moving into the continent, and the entrepreneurial spirit among small businesses, is creating a demand for information.
“And Africa is so exciting because Africans are early adopters of technology,” says Continental Media marketing manager Lyn Jones. Continental has a presence in 13 countries north of South Africa’s borders and is expanding into others.
With 118 million cellphones on the continent, Africa has become synonymous with mobile innovation. This media platform has leapfrogged landline technology without passing through the same stages of evolution as developed markets. Managing director of MediaCT Pan Africa and Pamro vice president Joe Otin says because African countries never had the expensive legacy landline infrastructure of the United States, for example, the continent has a “fresh approach” to mobile.
Africa’s uniqueness means that established models and processes that work in other markets may not apply in Africa. In the research world, Ask Afrika client services director Amelia Richards says, this means that customisation is therefore important. “Clients in international markets will send through a questionnaire and we have to customise it. Overall, there are an average of seven languages per country. So you can imagine the diversity!”
There are untapped opportunities for mobile marketing. Africans are generally more tolerant of mobile ads than their counterparts in the rest of the world, according to Millward Brown research presented at the Pamro conference held in Madagascar in 2013. While 23% of consumers in developed markets are in favour of seeing ads on their cellphones, 42% of their African counterparts are in favour.
Mobile is a key way for Africans to access the internet, with 65% of web traffic coming via mobile in Africa, according to the same presentation. Internet has higher consumption than magazines and many people in markets such as Botswana and South Africa are shifting to reading news online. However, Pamro research on media consumption habits and trends in 13 countries (representing 323 million consumers) shows that average internet penetration is still low, an average of 20% in Africa. South Africa is only just above the average at 22%. Egypt and Ghana lead at 40%. “Internet access is still quite suppressed. It’s based on socioeconomic variables,” says Jones.
As in the rest of the world, mobile and tablet media affect the consumption of other media types. Says Richards, “All the media owners are talking about the convergence of the on- and off-line worlds.”
In out of home (OOH), for example, this means that the focus has shifted to “conversation management”, says Jones. “Yes, you can drive people from a billboard to social media, but what do you want them to say when they are there?,” she says. “We’re starting to talk about engineering conversations rather than media planning. It’s the same in undeveloped markets as anywhere else.”
Continental is concentrating on rolling out digital billboards. Jones says that outdoor is under-measured, but research has been done and penetration is high, especially in South Africa (at 89%). Mauritius and Ghana follow. “Out of home is looking very healthy, but then it always has and always will,” says Jones. She adds that as very visual media, OOH works well in societies with high rates of illiteracy.
“Fragmented” is a word that comes up a lot among media people when referring to Africa. Radio, for example, is massively popular and has almost 100% penetration, but caters for a wide range of ethnic and linguistic communities and communities of interest. TV, similarly, is highly segmented. StarcomMediavest deputy managing director, Celia Collins, says the quality of content remains a challenge, but is improving.
Otin believes that the main sentiment to emerge from delegates at last year’s Pamro conference is that Africa is still a “challenging environment”. He and Daniel cite poor infrastructure, political instability and cultural differences as barriers to research and to media generally.
Daniel adds that research can be expensive because face-to-face interviewing – the most costly method – is the one that works best where digital methodologies are not yet an option. There is a lack of cohesion within the media of a particular region, so joint industry committees are rare.
In some parts of the continent, media freedom remains restricted due to the political situation. Collins points to Zimbabwe, where the daily NewsDay was launched in 2010. This is the first privately owned paper to launch in seven years, in a market dominated by state-controlled newspapers. Civil war is also an issue, but as TGI research points out, the number of successful coups in Africa is declining and the continent is showing a general trend towards democracy. Daniel believes developing media in Africa has the potential to promote political freedom.
Pamro was set up in the conviction that good research is the core to business expansion. Traditionally, research has been lacking in Africa, with much being ad hoc or proprietary studies done by fast moving consumer goods companies, which lack the objectivity to make them entirely reliable. While Namibia, Ghana and Kenya have surveys analogous to those of the South African Audience Research Foundation (Saarf), research is still too scarce and fragmented, say sources.
“The biggest opportunity is getting away from fragmentation,” says Richards. To this end, Pamro is focusing on creating a harmonised questionnaire that will be free for all members to use, and a unified Living Standards Measurement (LSM) that can be applied across the continent. Collins is leading this initiative. She estimates “we are about 20% there at the moment”.
As a developing market with an ever-younger population, Africa is seen as the last frontier for global brands. Media in Africa is exploding, with channels like mobile presenting new and unexpected opportunities for marketers. In a fragmented and inconsistent media research landscape, the key to the future is developing homogenised data that is comparable across markets.
This story was first published in the February 2014 issue of The Media Magazine.
IMAGE: Wikimedia Creative Commons / Lana Stevic