Staff reporter

There is a perception that in Africa, you can slap anything onto an advertising space and it will work. This is not the case.

In SA, we think the rest of Africa is a more ignorant market, that they’ve never seen advertising. On the contrary. Consumers have their own complexities and the media landscape differs from country to country.

In Uganda, for example, the media landscape is well established and with a population of 33 million there are 225 licensed radio stations (190 broadcasting), 50 licensed TV channels (18 broadcasting) and 18 newspapers.

An advertising campaign needs to be relevant and it has to have an affinity with the target consumer. It also needs to reflect the status quo and current affairs of the nation.

What MTN did in Uganda was exactly that… it reacted to the UN declaration that internet access is a human right – a hot, debatable issue. Uganda is east Africa’s headquarters for the UN and Ugandans understand human rights such as food, water, shelter and the like.

Just prior to the MTN Internet Usage campaign the UN had declared access to the internet as a human right. This message was used in the campaign to drive people to use the internet and act upon this right.

Vanessa Vosloo, deputy MD of Joburg-headquartered ad agency MetropolitanRepublic – which has set up a branch in Kampala – says: “MTN Uganda had an internet subscriber base, but very little use.

“We created a campaign that used very simple yet effective communications to demonstrate the benefits of using the internet.

“The result was a sophisticated proposition interpreted in a clear, simplistic demonstration.”

The statements were bold and clear:

l Internet access is your right. Surf for free to get into a good university. Start using your free 10MB today.

l The UN has declared that internet access is your right. So MTN is giving you that access for free. Start using your free 10MB today.

l Internet access is your right. Surf for free to find out if your child has measles. Start using your free 10MB today.

The campaign was rolled out in print, on billboards and radio, the latter being the best medium for reaching the mass market in Uganda. There was also a short burst on television.

The campaign was well-researched because it needed to understand the target market. It was discovered that east Africans tended to first experience the internet not on a computer, but rather through their cellphones. However, many Ugandans still have a high inertia to change when it comes to technology. The question often arose: Why do I need this thing called the “internet”?

What many Ugandans didn’t realise is that having the internet on their phones could give them access to information that could better their lives – access to school material when text books were too few or expensive, farming tips to increase harvests and health advice when getting to a doctor would take a day’s walk.

As an incentive, every Ugandan with an MTN SIM was given 10 free megabytes of data. This figure may not seem large for someone downloading the latest music video, but for someone seeking only text information, it would last a long time. After all, Shakespeare’s entire body of work can fit into 5MB.

The results were astonishing. The 10MB bundle campaign had an immediate favourable impact. Prepaid revenue was up 29 percent and bundle revenue up 11 percent from October 2011 to January 2012.

Data download traffic was up 60 percent and to date, data subscribers are up by 31 percent and bundle subscribers by 100 percent.

“When it comes to data, the business opportunity is how to stimulate usage among a substantial subscriber base like ours. Indications are that we are on the right path,” says Isaac Nsereko, chief marketing officer for MTN Uganda.