There’s a statistic which claims humans now have shorter attention spans than goldfish  because of the internet. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but it certainly makes sense. We have all become great multi-taskers, but that can make giving one task your full attention difficult. When last did you read the billboards along the road when driving? How often do you sit through ads on TV? Do you actually look at the adverts in magazines?

Marketers and advertisers exist to capture attention. Our jobs are all about getting a message across to people who don’t really want to hear it. You can see the result of this battle for attention in the evolution of print advertising. Gone are the days of paragraphs of beautifully worded copy from David Ogilvy. These days advertising is very visual. We use celebrities and sex to make people pay attention to our adverts. Copy is limited to a tag line, especially in print.

But the problem (aside from the moral and societal concerns) is that the more we bombard people with high-impact visual advertising, the better they seem to get at ignoring it. In South Africa (and other emerging markets) capturing the attention of the masses gets even trickier. 11 languages and varying reading abilities mean that there is no simple way to reach many. Radio and TV offer broad reach but they require big budgets and aren’t very measurable.


New player on the mobile marketing scene – the sponsored call

Mobile advertising, when done correctly, fills the gaps. But it’s not just about apps and mobile-friendly websites for those with smartphones (the minority in emerging markets). If you really want to reach the masses, you need to cater for feature phones. USSD strings and text message marketing work well.

You may have seen Coca-Cola’s Hello Happiness campaign last year. It isn’t mobile marketing, but it illustrates the concept well. The idea was to give labourers in the UAE a few extra minutes of happiness by installing a ‘Hello Happiness Phone Booth’ that accepts Coca-Cola bottle caps instead of coins and gives users a free three-minute international phone call.
 We ran a similar campaign for Unilever in South Africa recently, using its SHIELD deodorant brand to give consumers free talk time. Before connecting the call, SHIELD played a 15-second catchy voice advert that encouraged the caller to redeem a 15 percent discount coupon in-store. The campaign was highly successful and went viral within hours.

Campaigns like this, where a brand really earns trust by giving people something valuable in return for engaging with it, are highly effective.

The idea makes so much sense for emerging markets that Twitter is on it

The giant recently acquired ZipDial, an Indian mobile marketing company that offers what it calls ‘missed call marketing’. ZipDial was founded on the belief that consumers and brands in emerging markets behave differently and have different needs. Looks like they were right.

Consumers are becoming more complex; with evolving taste and reshaped access to commodities the key drivers of their complexity. This require a similar evolution in the way they are targeted. Social media and ecommerce are the latest innovations, but expect more from commodity and service providers as they clamour to capture a group of budding consumers across Africa’s evolving business landscape

By Patrick Palmi, CEO at

Elsewhere on Ventures

Triangle arrow