Despite advances in advertising in recent years, word of mouth is still considered by many marketing experts to be the best form of advertisement. As businesses look to increase their presence in South Africa, word of mouth publicity could be the key to appealing to otherwise unreachable demographics.
Zonal champions, as they are called by marketing agency Creative Counsel, are human advertisements. They are members of local communities who are employed to represent a brand and promote appropriate products during their everyday conversations. The potential consumers are able to freely question zonal champions about the products, allowing for all curiosities to be satisfied before a purchase is made.
Nontando Vena, a zonal champion for South African mobile phone company Vodacom, says she doesn’t have conventional work hours. Instead, she promotes the brand “24/7, 365,” and members of her community occasionally refer to her as “Miss Vodacom.”
The merits of zonal champions are numerous for both the customers and the providers. For businesses, zonal champions are able to reach rural parts of Africa that traditional advertisements are unable to. Upwards of 550 million people are without electricity in Africa, which represents a massive untapped market for businesses to sell products. A zonal champion only needs two to four days to be properly trained, and they can continuously reach rural customers on a daily basis.
South African consumers are more welcoming of zonal champions than they would be of commercials and billboards. Consumers are more trusting of a friend or family member than they are of an advertisement, and this is especially true in South Africa. Zonal champions are able to give a familiar face to otherwise detached companies, which let consumers feel more comfortable with new brand names.
Economically, zonal champions are also beneficial to the many rural consumers who are forced to be judicious with their income. While the income of South Africans has risen by upwards of 170% in the past decade, the average annual income is still about $6,258. As a result, South African consumers are extremely hesitant to invest in products they are unfamiliar with. By answering questions and recommending products, zonal champions are able to engage local citizens and let them know if the product being offered will meet their needs.
In addition to the benefits for businesses and consumers, the zonal champions themselves are able to benefit from this unique form of employment. Unemployment in South Africa remains very high, with up to 24% of citizens without work. Many of these people have no access to education, and therefore are considered “unemployable.” There are no prerequisites to become a zonal champion, and the work itself primarily involves being present in a community. This allows a new opportunity for these “unemployable” citizens to find work and curb the harsh unemployment rate in the process.
Africa’s economy is among the fastest growing in the world now, and international businesses are starting to take notice. President Obama’s recent trip to Africa highlights the continent’s growing relevance in the global economy, and zonal champions will surely play a large role in growing markets in these once impoverished parts of the country. With the numerous advancements in technology and advertising in recent years, zonal champions prove that old fashioned conversation is still as relevant as ever.