The big conglomerates – WPP, Publicis, Starcom MediaVest, Zenith Optimedia – have been on a massive spending spree in South Africa, gobbling up (mostly digital) agencies so fast it’s hard to keep up.
They want a foothold from which to launch themselves into Africa, the new frontier, the land of opportunity. So serious are they about seizing the opportunities that some have parachuted in top people from their global talent pool to see off competitors.
Then there’s Facebook. The social media giant has opened an Africa office based in Johannesburg. Bottom line: it’s after huge volumes of advertising. With the explosion of mobile phones, and smartphones, in Africa, it’s not surprising. The Ericsson Mobility Report forecasts the number of smartphone subscriptions will exceed those for basic phones by 2016 as they become increasingly affordable in developing markets. In Africa, there were 26 million new mobile subscriptions in 2014 compared to five million in the US. So Facebook is becoming increasingly active, from its Creative Shop hosting a ‘creative hackathon’ to it partnering with UN Women to teach women entrepreneurs how to ‘boost their businesses’ using the medium. It really is open for business in Africa.
And Africa is trying to gear up for more and better business too. Later this month, the Pan African Media Research Organisation (Pamro) is hosting its annual conference – last year’s was cancelled due to the Ebola outbreak – in Tanzania. And credible research is what the organisation is aiming for, and what much of this year’s forum will be talking about. One of speakers, Ornico’s Oresti Patricios, is adamant Africa must establish measurement standards across the continent in order encourage brand investment and advertising spend. He’s bought Fuseware, a renowned social media monitoring and analytics company whose bespoke platform can report across entire markets and industries.
Patricios has also launched a pan-African digital business magazine, #TheFutureByDesign. The publication’s ‘manifesto’ is that “good growth and sustainable development means building better brands, contexts, societies and economies; and that this can only be done with imagination, creativity, innovation and intelligence”. Patricios made the investment as he believes the “marketing industry needs a point of contact to reimagine who we are and the role that we will play in creating a better future by design”. He hopes it will move beyond just being an industry publication to a “broader, collaborative, forward-looking movement”.
Founding editor Mandy de Waal certainly managed to attract a host of pan-African talent in the first edition. From Nigeria’s Chike Madeugbuna, founder and CEO of movie app company Afrinolly and renowned forecaster, Flux Trends’ Dion Chang to county manager of Google South Africa, Luke Mckend and game designer and programmer, Cukia Kimane – it certainly does show some smart thinking, thinking to “create elegant solutions to the challenges and opportunities presented to tomorrow’s Africa today”.
Like Patricios, founder of new pan-African print magazine, Ogojiii – which was launched at the recent World Economic Forum On Africa meeting in Cape Town – Jens Martin Skibsted believes in solutions for Africa. He, too, has a vision. Ogojiii “strives to present an alternative view that challenges the agendas of the geo-politically dominant nations in the West and East”. He believes that Africa is being driven by “new transformative innovation” and that with the growth in the middle class, “the African continent is set for a surge in consumerism, fuelled by substantial economic growth”.
Above: Ogojiii magazine
Skibsted, a Danish designer and design philosopher, writing in the Huffington Post, finds it odd that more isn’t made of the “link between the design renaissance and Africa’s surge”. He believes linking design to “aid culture” (foreigners coming up with design solutions to Africa’s basic problems) has led to a “non-market-driven-culture that detracts from Africa’s entrepreneurial opportunities”. That’s why, he says, Ogojii is design-centric in its approach to reporting and presenting solutions.
Editor Gary Cotterell (an architect) and Skibsted nailed their colours to the masthead when they penned a piece around the WEF’s theme ‘Then and Now: Reimagining Africa’s Future’. They wrote a listicle on the top seven African design trends for Agenda where they delivered such gems creepy crawly superfoods and innovative off-grid objects (lack of infrastructure leads to low tech and clever solutions) to African inspired fashion and fabrics making it to catwalks and e-commerce platforms such as kisua.com and star architects and architecture.
Clearly, Africa is still for the brave, not sissies. But brave these days takes all sorts of forms. As these smart design titles know only too well.