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Branding Africa

Branding Africa

Branding Africa
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M D Ramesh forwarded an excellent study that analyzises the potential of changing global perception of Africa into something positive

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 long-term.

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 be true. 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 short- term 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:

 1) 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

2) 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)

3) Specific natural gifts – Tanzania and mount Kilimanjaro, Namibia and its deserts (and Angela Jolie), Australia and its outback, the Seychelles and its beeches

4) Some are manmade gifts – Egypt and the pyramids

But a continent is defined by a collection of these characteristics – both positive and negative – So what’s the world saying about Africa?

In order to attract business and tourism, a territory, (in this case a continent), will be looked at from political, cultural and economic standpoint.

m_1The fact that respondents regarded Africa as having the lowest politically stability and economic potential (especially when compared to the 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 branding role.

m_2On 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 Morocco dominate on awareness in Africa and interestingly, (with the exception of Nigeria), are the same countries that are regarded as Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria and contributing the most to the positive image of the continent.

m_5In 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?

1) To start, stop wasting money on meaningless and politically motivated country advertising – it’s not sustainable and no one buys it.

2) 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).

3) 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.

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 branding.

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.

Branding Africa
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About MD Ramesh

MD Ramesh
Mr Moochikal (Ramesh) has a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics and Masters in Business from University of Bombay and XLRI Respectively. Ramesh has established a distinguished career in the Agri/Food Commodities sector in Africa for the past 20 years. He has lived and worked extensively throughout Africa and is currently responsible for Southern and Eastern African operations. MDR has worked close to farmer groups, worked alongside government programs, set up and run logistics, processing operations and distribution structures in African markets. He is often consulted by banks, government structures, NPO's and by businesses. MDR lives in Durban with his wife and 2 daughters and enjoys weekend Squash and Cricket.

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