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In a recent candid interview with Jeremy Maggs, Creatrix founder Lynn Joffe exposes SA’s neglect of mother tongue languages and the missed opportunities for brand loyalty.


Maggs:  I would have thought it’s fairly obvious that brands would understand when you talk to a person in a dialect that the consumer understands, it’s going to work well.  Yet, some are doing it and others not.  Why?

Joffe:  It seems incredible but it’s actually true, Jeremy that in the last 20 years of transformation, marketers and agencies and of course influencers have actually left a black hole where they should have been speaking to consumers in their mother tongues, creating for African languages in idioms that people will relate to.

There are a lot of controversial reasons why; it’s the way media is bought; it’s the way it’s sold to clients e.g. 7de Laan will have commercials up the kazoo but nothing is happening on Phalaphala FM because nobody understands the culture there.  It actually boils down to culture:  people see a mass market as you call it but it’s different cultural groups; it’s different reactions.

So, in effect I think the industry has kind of missed the point of what the heart needs.  Heart is not a 30 second ad. Heart is content.  Heart is stories.  There is a huge literacy issue in this country, which is people don’t read or write in their mother tongues.  So, the heard word becomes sort of a bypass to the literacy issue.  But if agencies and marketers are not seeing it, it’s almost blindsided by the idea.

Maggs:  I want to talk about the power and the influence of ALS or African Language radio Stations in a moment but when it comes to the actual creation of this content in mother tongue, are the brands not pushing hard enough or are the agencies themselves saying ‘well we are not interested in doing it or we simply do not have the skills to do it’?

Joffe:  The expertise is not necessarily within the agencies to offer this kind of thing.  We are talking about story telling over weeks; building up destination listening; being on the ground with the broadcaster, finding out what the feedback is, who the winners may be in a competition element; how people are responding; how they are being researched into brand love.

It’s not always about sell my stuff, sell my stuff.  It’s very often about building a brand perception; brand loyalty perception.  That doesn’t necessarily reflect in the bottom line, that reflects in attitudes over a vast period of time.  For example, in some of our campaigns, (that only last 8 weeks for example), you’ve spoken to the audience and then you just disappeared.  So, if you’ve built loyalty in a mother tongue because you’re not speaking down to people, you are speaking with people, at people with people within their linguistics and heart space, and that will stay there.

Maggs:  and this goes to the heart of the whole transformation debate within the brand communication complex.  Let’s move to ALS for an instance.  A radio station like Xhosa FM, massive reach and the biggest radio station in South Africa….

Joffe: in the whole world, next only to a Chinese radio station that I believe has a higher listenership.  The second largest radio station on earth.

Maggs:  By immediate definition, it should be full of advertising but it’s not.

Joffe:  It’s unbelievable.  I think it really has to do in being able to speak the mother tongue, which also relates to being able to relate to culture.  Maybe the industry isn’t going far enough.  We’ve done emergence though the country, when pictures come up we actually go the different areas and agencies are saying: “why are you doing that?”.  If you can’t get out into the communities – and this speaks to the ivory tower and with all respect to my colleagues – this is why we are in business because we see that gap if you want to call it, it’s been a gap for 20 years, you don’t become a sensation overnight.

We’ve really been pushing this agenda and so one can only look at psychological issues within the industry as a whole.  The marketers who have picked up on this are absolutely committed to this.  David Wingfield of ABSA, who was a convert to this idea that speaking in mother tongue to people on their level with a message that has been culturally designed, if you want to call it that, to the way the market receives the information and entertainment – radio story telling is a no brainer.

Maggs:  Let’s then look at some of the work output from someone called David Wingfield who looks after marketing at ABSA.  You’ve created something called ABSAville.  What is ABSAville?

Joffe:  In a sense what we’re doing, we’re taking the functional benefits of the brand and pertaining it to almost a mirror image, a reflection of society in that space.  We’re talking mid LSM to low LSM, mother tongue speakers earning a certain amount.

We always create a narrative, so in Absa’s case, they speak about prosperity.  Prosperity is not a trans-native word conceptually.  So that moves us into the shared growth, the kinda next phase down.  We’ve moved into the Ubuntu phase which is a person is a person because of other people.  It’s claiming a generic higher ground but it’s pertaining it to the shared growth value in mother tongue.  So, we have a beautiful jingle.  In series one we had a daisy chain where one person affected the next person affected the next person in that ubuntu way.

Maggs:  But it’s not hard product push – that’s the secret with content marketing.

Joffe:  you have to have a brief and you have to know what you’re going to speak about so for example Geisha with Unilever, we had to communicate the rights of the child: resilience, resourcefulness, hardworking, courage, stuff.  So, we actually created little animal stories which then put those concepts forward without saying buy my soap.

The strategy behind that was: mother tongue – mother to child, story-telling for example.

So, with Absa obviously this product, obviously all that product comes down the strategy of shared growth, so the products are embedded within story lines and people are using them, recommending them perhaps but it’s all a narrative story that keeps people interested.

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