I’ve been having an interesting conversation on Twitter this week over whether my cover feature last week on brands reaching out to a demographic with an income of $2 a day is irresponsibly encouraging exploitation.
“What a wrong commercial world we now live in,” I was Tweeted.
But it is a commercial world and how wrong it ends up is down to brands and their conduct.
My feature showcases brands that are collaborating constructively in their chosen African environment and therefore encourages those who want to follow in their footsteps to consider their approach accordingly.
FMCG giant P&G might be chasing £1 billion in sales from markets such as Africa, but the company is spending a lot of time and money to make sure this is through relevant products that make life easier, as opposed to a strategy of simply pushing Western junk food and cosmetics at people.
Developing low rinse shampoos and soaps might actually go some way towards helping people in areas where water is scarce. Brands operating in burgeoning markets such as mobile money and microfinance are working with this unique consumer to potentially help them increase their income.
It could be argued that firms such as SAB Miller are unnecessarily convincing people to spend their hard earned cash on luxuries such as beer as opposed to necessities like food. SAB Miller’s argument, which makes sense, is that there is a large element of the population that drinks homebrew anyway, so developing a product at a similar pricepoint is not creating new desires.
Some may not buy this thinking and argue back that homebrew doesn’t have the power of marketing behind its consumption. Whatever you think about that, you can’t deny that SAB Miller has thought carefully about the possibility of being painted as an evil conglomerate set on raping African resources. Its interactions with local farmers are commendable as are its policies on HIV testing and treatment for employees and advocating responsible drinking.
CSR is not optional in Africa, it’s just part of what you do, as SAB Miller demonstrates. Brands who can’t accommodate this have no business being there as they will face scrutiny 10 times worse than in Western markets.
KFC wants to double its size in Africa, but has also involved itself in anti-poverty and hunger campaigns, publishing a sustainability report last year. Its growth largely involves setting up in urban centres, with a large professional population with reasonable income. McDonalds, on the other hand, has yet to claim such a stake in Africa and I would guess that this is because it wants to ensure it can commit to certain responsibilities before doing so.
Just ask Nestle, who is still fighting to rebuild its credibility in Africa after going after the baby formula market in the 1970s, essentially convincing poor mothers to buy expensive formula over breastfeeding for free.
The resources firms like P&G are pouring into gathering tangible insights on how best to serve markets such as Africa will hopefully protect them from a global backlash like Nestle’s.
They have recognised that there is room for products and services that fit a certain way of living. It is already happening in smaller enteprises, such as the Energy Uganda Foundation, which uses recycled materials to make low cost cooking stoves that families in rural areas without electricity can share.
It’s a business that makes money, but also benefits people – the magic solution for successful brand building in Africa.