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Targeting Twitter and the townships

July 23, 2013

BUSINESSES eager to grow their sales have two key untapped markets to target: the vast populations in the townships, and the youth. Yet reaching those potential consumers can be difficult, as youngsters are less moved by TV than Twitter, and print media may not reach the townships. Engaging those audiences on their own terms is a niche The Creative Counsel aims to fill.

When you walk into the company’s new headquarters in Johannesburg, you instantly know it is trying hard to be funky. Construction of the striking round exteriors in shiny silver is almost complete, but the décor inside is still taking shape. Cofounder Ran Neu-Ner is mulling over two designs for the reception area, one filled with “kapow”-style pop-art posters like a Marvel comic.

His partner, Gil Oved, shows me around the building, which has running tracks laid out around the central core, a relaxation area with plastic balls to play with, a Zen garden with beanbags designed to look like giant stones, and a refreshment area decorated like a field, for grazing. There is a training building, too, full of wide-eyed youngsters nervously waiting to be inducted into the business of nicely persuading people to part with their cash.

The building was designed to reflect the culture of the various companies within The Creative Counsel, Oved says, as their nature was not being expressed properly in the rented offices they previously used.

“Culture is everything. Clients come and go, products come and go and staff come and go, but the one thing that makes a business a business is its culture. We wanted a building that makes a statement and shows the rest of the world we are unique and have a different style inside and out.”

At which point Neu-Ner interjects: “That’s the long, fluffy answer. The short answer is we were tired of paying rent and wanted to own something. We’re going to be saving money in the long term by owning our own building.”

Either way, it is a smart move, as the unmistakably creative building will get its name well publicised. The joint CEOs make a good team, with Oved painting fancy verbal pictures of lofty ideas and bold responsibilities to the country, and Neu-Ner adding the hard facts and more practical considerations. Sometimes they swap those roles to keep it interesting.

Both 37, they employ 650 people, placing about 15,000 temporary workers in product promotions every week, turning over R500m a year and investing “north of R100m” in this new office. They know each other from high school and both hold a BCom and are qualified chartered financial analysts. Neu-Ner was in stockbroking and Oved ran a TV production company before they teamed up to develop an online financial portal. “It was during the internet boom so it was easy to raise a few million rand for an idea. We developed it for three years and just before we launched it was the internet bust so we lost everything — time, money, energy and confidence,” says Oved “Ran’s girlfriend was doing in-store promotions and making more than us with our fancy degrees, so we thought we’d place some promotion people while we figured out what to do with our lives.”

Twelve years later, they are running up to 300 campaigns a year for clients, including Vodacom, Unilever, Danone and Nokia.

They both believe that targeting the townships and conquering social media are key goals for businesses and brands eager to expand their markets. One division is Unit 5, which specialises in marketing to the bottom of the pyramid by devising campaigns to get consumers to buy whatever its client is selling.

Its offices across the country employ people in townships and rural areas as brand ambassadors in a reinvention of the door-to-door salesman. Legions of middle-aged women walk the townships introducing samples of food products. For a cellphone brand, it hires smart young men to chat to people at taxi ranks and show them the latest models.

“These people are unemployed and considered unemployable because they are unskilled. We source them, upskill them, train them and manage them and often they become the sole breadwinner for their entire family,” says Oved. “We have created employment opportunities for people who had no hope and no skills. What’s amazing is that they gain a sense of pride and become entrepreneurs. In the rural areas, we have been surprised to find incredible individuals who are hungry to work and are motivated and quite savvy — all they need is the opportunity.”

As each roving rep can call on about 300 households a month, the campaigns are reaching hundreds of thousands of people.

Another division is Popimedia, which dreams up social media campaigns designed to result in actual financial transactions. “Facebook is a hotly contested playing field in reaching consumers,” Neu-Ner says. “People have created communities around brands and the next step is to try to monetise it by creating social media campaigns that drive people to purchase.”

Oved believes businesses in South Africa are nicely active on social media, but doing a lot of it incorrectly. Many have a Facebook presence and are chasing Facebook “likes”, but that means nothing in financial terms. Social media is not what it used to be or what it is going to be, because it is evolving rapidly. That is enough to make more staid companies sit back and ignore it completely until the damn thing stops moving.

“That’s suicidal,” says Oved. “It’s arse about face. It’s not about the medium, it’s about the big idea. You used to have a marketing budget that ticked the boxes of TV, radio, print and billboards and today you have so many alternative opportunities.”

Instead of setting a marketing budget for each different medium, a company should determine its objective, set a fixed budget and ask its agency to design a campaign that will break through the clutter and achieve the objectives, using whichever platforms will work the best.

Neu-Ner says the overall aim of The Creative Counsel is to find fresh and more effective ways of encouraging consumers to buy a brand than by handing out samples in supermarkets. One way is through its shareholding in Mr Delivery, which gives it access to millions of people in their homes. If someone orders a burger, they might find a free razor or a sample of shampoo with it.

Much of their work still involves the traditional tactic of sending people out to promote goods, be it on a party bus that takes KFC into universities or giving away samples in a shopping mall. That requires a great many people, and for most of them it is their first real work experience.

They believe The Creative Counsel is one of the largest first-time employers in South Africa. So, as well as training recruits to understand the products they are promoting, they have to be trained in business etiquette, such as coming to work on time and the practicalities of running a bank account and invoicing. Which probably makes Oved and Neu-Ner two of the youngest mentors in town.

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