I beg to differ and refute this flawed argument strongly. Vandalism is a form of human behaviour which knows no colour, suburb or township. The deliberate acts of damaging public toilets and other public properties happen everywhere, without borders and boundaries, by all races. As a retail marketer I’m a frequent patron of all South African shopping malls, in all provinces, townships and suburbia, and what I have observed is that suburban shopping malls such as Sandton Square, Cavendish Square, Century City, Edendale Mall, Menlyn Park Shopping Centre, et cetera, have watchful restroom service guards.
Furthermore, there are visible security guards strolling up and down the malls and near the toilets to ward off any mischievous behaviour such as vandalism, armed robbery, etc.
On the contrary, most township shopping malls do not have vigilant restroom service guards. These watchful eyes are not around to intimidate various acts of vandalism in township toilet facilities, before they even begin. Security guards are very few and far in between. They are definitely not as pervasive as in the suburbia malls. Dangers of armed robbery remain the same in all the shopping malls, if not even more in the township malls.
Conclusively, acts of vandalism are not a valid reason for charging township consumers money for using shopping mall toilet facilities. The absurd lengths of this situation is made even worse by the reality that in the suburbia, consumers do not lose a single cent for using bathroom facilities in their shopping malls. Shoppers interviewed on unedited version of Checkpoint said they felt, “Violated. Insulted. Their privacy infringed upon. Their human dignity trampled upon.”
My objective with this article, as a marketer who supports big business, retailers and brands up not down, is to caution brands about the dangers of committing the deadly sins of township marketing. Insulting and patronising township markets will only make brands personae non gratae in the townships.
Retailers and brands cannot afford to alienate themselves from trading in the lucrative markets of the townships.
When segmenting, differentiating and penetrating the township markets in an effort to gain traction and retention brands must take the necessary measures not to transgress the following immutable principles of township marketing, advertising and branding:
Image credit: iStock
Image credit: iStock
1. Retailers and brands must avoid being impudent and insulting. They must guard against offending township consumers by understanding what it is that offends and what the insults are.
Last November, the Sunday Times had a special feature titled ‘From ad to worse: the retail duds that make SA cringe’. The article uses empirical evidence to chronicle advertising campaigns that backfired for using ethnic profiling, being sexually explicit, offensive and downright racist in the eyes of South Africans. One example of the companies that came under fire was Woolworths. The article states that one of the retailer’s store displays appeared to portray a slavery scene in which black mannequins were tied together with ropes. The retailer apologised for “the distress caused by an incorrectly assembled in-store installation,” and removed it. Some of the companies which are featured by the article include Swedish fashion brand H&M, Cell C, Santam Insurance, McDonald’s, etc.
Image credit: timeslive.co.za/Sunday Times
Image credit: timeslive.co.za/Sunday Times
Here are some of the insults and offensive deeds that will definitely enrage township consumers:
Brands must not compromise quality and service, only because “those goods will be sold in the townships”. Township consumers travel between the suburbs and the townships and a great number of them are domestic workers in the suburbs. When inferior products that aren’t eligible for the suburb markets are dumped in township markets, township consumers take notice because they have seen superior products in the suburbia. The end results for this act cannot be good for any brand or retailer.
What’s good for the suburbs is also good for the townships. Consistency is a key factor for brands operating in the townships and suburbia. For example, brands and retailers cannot charge township consumers for using shopping mall toilets if they do not charge suburbia consumers for using the same toilet facilities.
Brands should not play on unfair stereotypes. They must not use repulsive stereotypes, both the accurate and the inaccurate, to judge or make assumptions about township shoppers. Township consumers are not gregarious birds who feed in flocks and fly together. Instead, brands must connect with each and every consumer as a unique individual, special in his/her diversity, not a flock or stereotype.
Be sensitive to township cultures, traditions and traditional customs. A very good example of a black culture which crosses paths with white culture is referred to as ‘ladies first’. When a white man walks with a woman or women, he will allow or give way to women to go into an office or building first. In South African black culture, a black man walks in first or into a building or office first. Not a woman. The wisdom and logic in this is that if there is danger ahead, it must be confronted by a man first. Because a man is a protector of women and families. Most of our white colleagues perceive us, black men, as rude when we lead a way rather than letting women go in first. Another example is eye contact. As a sign of respect black people are not supposed to look at elders, superiors or their bosses in the eyes when talking to them. To do so is a sign of disrespect. In white culture if you do not look at someone in the eyes you are perceived as lying to them or being deceptive. One more example, you cannot pass another person without greeting and acknowledging them. To do so is offensive, rude and arrogant. There are many black cultural DO’s and DON’Ts which must always be observed when dealing in the townships.
Brands must take care not to disrespect township consumers in any way possible. The 2014 Yellowwood White Paper, titled, Building brands in a rapidly changing market: Lessons from South Africa reports that “South Africa has a dark, terrible history in which human rights were ignored and people were treated with utter disdain. The psychological scars of this period are still with us, and as a result, many South African consumers are particularly sensitive to being disrespected. Unfortunately, feeling respected by a brand is still frighteningly rare – especially amongst lower income consumers, but with many middle-class consumers, too. Brands would earn enormous loyalty from simply treating their customers with a more ‘human’ respect. It is one of the major drivers of brand affinity for brands like Shoprite, Pick n Pay and Pep – they treat their customers, some of whom may be people who are unaccustomed to being treated well, with respect”.
Marketers and their advertising creatives must avoid using uninformed, ignorant and untrue depictions of black consumers, especially when such depictions are demeaning. Wrong portrayals resulting from thoughtless and uninspired creativity mean that no time was invested in getting to know township consumers by spending time with them, studying them, their behaviours, buying patterns and characteristics, in a thorough and engaging manner. When you truly connect with someone, you get to know that person better, what insults them and what offends their sensibilities.