Three tips for marketing to consumers in townships

Anisa Kale and her husband Kabelo are the founders of Keys Communications, an advertising firm for brands and companies looking to target consumers in townships and informal settlements. It specialises in outdoor media, such as wall murals, billboards, and taxi branding.

An example of one of Keys Communications' wall murals.

An example of one of Keys Communications’ wall murals.

The company, headquartered in Johannesburg, operates across South Africa as well as in Botswana, Mozambique and Lesotho, and has recently opened up offices in Zimbabwe.

Both Anisa and her husband grew up in townships. She explained although many consumers in informal areas live in poverty, this lower-end market is growing and should not be overlooked by brands and companies.

How we made it in Africa asked Anisa to share some of her advice for strategically marketing to lower-end consumers.

Poor but very aspirational

According to Anisa, it’s crucial for brands and companies to understand that consumers in townships are highly aspirational. “Nobody wants to stay poor. Everyone is working hard to change their life and lifestyle, or the lives of their kids. So aspiration is quite important in this market.”

She added even if consumers can’t afford a brand they see marketed in their township, they will aspire to one day afford it.

“Which means for the young kids now growing up in the townships and seeing your brands and your advertising on wall murals, that will always linger in their minds. So when they grow up and have enough money, they will buy your brands having seen them and remembered them in the township in their daily lives.”

Quality and brand trust is essential

For lower-end consumers with limited spending power, whatever they choose to purchase must work, as they cannot afford the financial loss. This means brands must live up to their promise of quality, noted Anisa.

“It’s important that if they buy anything from any brand, they must know it will work for them because they only buy once a month [when paid wages], and if disappointed by a brand [such as a washing powder], they have to wait a month to buy again.

“So it’s key for all brands that target townships to be sure of quality and delivery. If [companies] are saying a brand works, then when [consumers] use it, it really needs to work for them. If it does they will stick to that brand.”

Customise your message

“And it’s always better to customise your message when talking to the lower-end,” adds Anisa.

This means brands not only need to understand how communication will differ between lower-end consumers in different regions or countries, but also between different townships.

“It’s better to talk in the language the target market prefers,” she continued. “So if you are going to use slang, be sure that you use the right slang for the right township.”

For example, if brands are targeting consumers in townships in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, they should use Zulu slang – mostly spoken in the region – as opposed to Tswana or Xhosa slang.

“And using Zulu slang doesn’t necessarily mean it will be understood in Soweto… because everybody’s language has its own slang. So a little bit of research is necessary, especially when it comes to talking to teenagers. Try and find out the languages they use in a specific township,” she advises.