Representing Ethiopia: Marketing that works!

By Kalkidan Getnet

Picture courtesy of Berry Advertising

Marketing campaigns are more than just a means for selling. They also serve as a platform for communication, value exchange, and mutual meaning, fostering pride in our cultural identities.

Advertising agencies in Africa take a unique approach to community promotion known as community marketing. Community marketing can be defined as “a form of marketing that seeks to build long-term relationships with customers by engaging with them in two-way communication.” It usually favours storytelling and community participation over just selling a product. This is because African communities are, generally speaking, close-knit. As a result, any endeavour that capitalizes on this sense of belonging has the potential to be extraordinarily powerful.

When we come to Ethiopia, we can see how the most successful campaigns leverage traditional storytelling approaches to great effect. Previously, marketing content used the one-size-fits-all approach. But as times evolved, consumers became more discerning and started to expect their identity to be reflected in what they saw. In response to this, creatives are using new technology, techniques, and language that is relevant and appealing to their target audiences. Marketing campaigns that incorporate culturally relevant messages and images can reach a larger audience and have a greater impact by sharing new ideas and trends through distinct beliefs and values. As Africans, we are familiar with the unique rhythm and structure of storytelling as we’re used to hearing stories from a young age. This makes it easier to understand and connect with brands. Traditional marketing strategies cannot create a connection with people in the same way storytelling does.

To see what that looked like in practice, we asked Berry Advertising agency, responsible for one of the most successful ad campaigns in the country about the process, “When we were working on Sinq, we came up with a lot of different slogans before settling on Enibla (Let’s Eat). Promoting a drink as a meal was a risky strategy. However, we created a story around it that bears a relation to the name. Sinq is a package prepared by mothers for their husbands and sons to carry to war. If you look at our ads, you will notice that they communicate a nostalgic story while maintaining their relevance to the contemporary generation. Even when we sponsored activities, such as the women’s run, we had mothers standing at the end of the line and handing out Sinq. As a community, we function as a large family even when strangers, and that’s what we built the brand around.”

Picture courtesy of Berry Advertising

This is not possible without the creative community. They are the very voices corporates use to communicate with the community. This type of marketing entails that you have to know how to immerse yourself in the dialects of who you’re speaking to regardless of age, class, gender, and religion. Something good artists across disciplines are exceptional at. Once established, this connection can cross borders if used well.

If we look at “The Great Ethiopian Run”; an annual 10km race that takes place in Addis Ababa – Ethiopia founded by the legendary Haile Gebrselassie, has become more than just a race. It’s a celebration of Ethiopian culture. It is open to everyone, from elite athletes to first-time runners. The atmosphere is electric, and there is something for everyone. Whether you want to run, dance, sing, or just enjoy the festivities, you’re sure to have a great time. In addition to the race, several fun events take place in the lead-up. These include a night out at a traditional local restaurant with traditional music and dances, an open bus ride through the streets of Addis Ababa, and several other cultural events. This campaign has also been used to support a variety of causes in Ethiopia, ranging from bettering education to improving health care.

Picture by Dan Vernon

Also take the “It’s my dam” marketing campaign, which was a powerful and efficient manner of raising awareness of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). A series of short films detailed the story of the dam and its influence on Ethiopia as part of the campaign. The films were well-made and emotionally appealing, and they aided in increasing support for the dam both within and outside of Ethiopia. The campaign’s utilization of personal tales of people directly impacted by the dam was one of its most striking features. These stories let viewers relate to the topic by humanizing it.

Picture Courtesy of Amanuel Sileshi/AFP via Getty Images

These campaigns were tremendously impactful and their call inspired an almost immediate action. Creatives behind leading ads have the power to change conceptions of what is desirable, important, and possible by disseminating new ideas and trends through specific beliefs and values. This, in the long run, impacts how we see ourselves and how the world sees us. Narrative projects history within a community, its mission, and its values. When people understand a narrative, they are more likely to connect on a deeper level timelessly.

These campaign strategies are becoming more interactive and feel more personal than before. Businesses are employing data analytics to target their marketing initiatives more efficiently, and they are leveraging social media to communicate with customers in real time with content tailored to their pain points. This is all done to create a more engaging and memorable experience for consumers by incorporating humour, music, and other forms of entertainment that engage all five senses. While this is done to generate profits, it has also become a pitstop (which can be a double-edged sword) for Ethiopian creatives. They bring their unconventional perspectives, take risks, and try and execute fresh concepts. It’s where most find their footing as artists and grow.

This is a good shift and it will have a long-term impact on business and the country as a whole. This is because, at the end of the day, artists across all disciplines do one thing. They tell stories and each story, does one thing really, really, well. They make people care. If we could tap into this potential, effectively, beyond marketing, who knows what can be achieved. Maybe, this is the first step where this community changes things for the better, one story at a time.

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