Changing Perceptions of Africa

By Versi, Anver | African Business, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Changing Perceptions of Africa


Versi, Anver, African Business


There is a well-worn adage in the marketing world: 'Selling your products without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark--you know what you are doing but nobody else does'. The huge financial outlays that companies earmark for advertising their products or services bears out the truth of the saying.

Advertising is such an important part of marketing that some companies spend vastly more monies on their advertising campaigns than they do on product development. Coca Cola is a case in point. The product (the fizzy, dark-coloured drink) has not changed much in over a hundred years but Coca Cola is still the world's biggest selling soft drink. This is because the company pours money, talent, imagination and endless effort in its advertising campaigns. In a similar vein, there are hundreds of world-famous products that owe their popularity almost entirely to advertising.

Advertising has assumed such importance in today's intensely competitive world that advertising kings, firms such as Saatchi & Saatchi have already attained legendary status. Companies flock to them because, through the adverts they create, they deliver sales results which some times can be spectacular. A firm distributing Indian beer in the UK struggled for years before employing Saatchi & Saatchi two years ago. Today the brand is one of the biggest sellers of foreign beers in Britain.

But today the scope of advertising extends beyond persuading people to buy certain products. If advertising agencies can convince people to buy certain brands, they can just as easily convince people into buying more abstract items, such as political parties. During the 1970s in the UK, Margaret Thatcher's Conservative party followed the US example and hired a top advertising agency to 'sell' the party and herself as the leader. The Conservatives won handsomely and remained in power until Labour, also employing the services of a top-flight agency, won a landslide in 1997. Today, few political parties in the West can afford to embark on a campaign without having an advertising agency on board.

What works for products and political parties also works for countries, in fact, countries have been 'selling' themselves for hundreds of years. The slogan "British is best" at large throughout the colonised world, was repeated so often that people to this day believe in it. Countries also sold themselves by highlighting those aspects of their culture that implied some sort of superiority over other cultures. This was done through distribution of books, films, television programmes, organisations such as the British Council and its US and European equivalents and dedicated radio and television broadcasts. The BBC World Service, for example, is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

People believe what they see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears. …

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