The year is 2016 and we are entering our second year in Cape Town. We have been blessed to share offices with one great group, work with some terrific new clients, meet a lot of great people and because it matters to me more than the rest of the team, enjoy the best yoga studio in the world. We're growing, adding more people and moving to a new office within the next week.

Within all of that, the question I get the most about my time in South Africa is what do I think about business there and what's different. And while there are many wonderful things about doing business in Africa, and many challenges, the one piece of advice I would have to share broadly is this:

What is true in the rest of the world is true in South Africa when it comes to marketing, media, platforms and consumers.

Is South Africa behind the curve? Yes and no. The marketing and the companies are clearly behind the curve but the consumers are ahead of the companies which is creating a growing disconnect between how companies are attempting to communicate with consumers and how consumers are communicating with each other and with brands themselves.

While that is a theoretical discussion in the making, here's a more practical take on it.

In 2010, I was asked to present to the board of Stonyfield Farms and Danone (their parent company) in Boston about the state of the Internet and marketing. I was given ten minutes.

I mimicked "The Graduate" and stood up with my phone and started my presentation with one word.


In the United States even then, the percentage of people getting their news on their phones was pushing 75%. Every generation of smartphones was far more sophisticated than the last. That trend has only continued.

Yesterday, Facebook announced their quarterly results and while the money is staggering, let's look at what's happened on Mobile.

Mobile Ad revenue represented about 80% of total in the latest quarter, up from 69% in the same period a year earlier.

Facebook has more than ONE BILLION people going on its platform every day and since approximately 80% of those people are going via their phones and here's an amazing stat on that as well.

More Than Half A Billion People Access Facebook Solely From Mobile

That is truly amazing. SOLELY from mobile. 

Now, here's where the South Africa people I know and enjoy start nodding their heads and then say -

"But see that's not true here."

Yes, the Internet and broadband access and broadband speeds are not what they are in other parts of the world but that is equally true for phones and computers - in fact, I have found, not a technical test I admit it, but that my phone loads better on weaker wifi rather than when I try to load the same data on a computer.

And let's talk a second about Facebook and South Africa.

The core consumer marketplace is defined as people between the ages of 21 and 60. That's 9,300,00 on Facebook within South Africa. 

"Yes James, but many of those people are rural or not really our target."

Okay, how about the 1,700,000 people that are 21 to 60 that live in Cape Town?

Or the more than 700,000 people who are between the ages of 21 and 60 who live in the Western Cape who have a college or advanced degree? 

Facebook is more than its ad platform. It's the ability to create community and have that community share your content (although that costs money and is part of its revenue stream.) Facebook is the ability to link a nonprofit project in South Africa with donor partners in the United States. (We did this in 2006 with (RED) and it was great. We had the people buying an (RED) iPod in the same Facebook community with the doctors at the Global Fund clinics in Zambia.)

In the face of that, we've had clients who literally have had sites that aren't mobile optimized or even load on mobile. We have clients who are thinking about building new sites but really it's about building mobile. 

And we have run into very few people who are using the Facebook platform to the maximum benefit. 

Where are the consumers in all of this?

Ah, that's the rub. They are way ahead of the businesses.

Because remember - a core principal of marketing and media planning is that you have to reach the consumer right? Consumers in South Africa, just like consumers in the entire rest of the world, are sending each other messages on WhatsApp; they are sharing on Instagram (part of Facebook remember like WhatsApp) and they are posting on Facebook. 

They are sitting at coffee shops and reading the latest news online. If you believe what some South African marketing experts will tell you, while the rest of the world is on mobile - the South African consumer is diligently reading the newspaper and has no clue about Instagram - it's simply not true. 

The lag in South Africa is nothing more than an opportunity.

While some companies will continue to proclaim that print is king, radio rules, tv is the best and newspapers matter and who is on Facebook anyway, more will see that the future is not coming - it's here.

AuthorJames Cannon Boyce