Tuned: When Jozi meets Soweto
by Thabang Leshilo (@Thabang_Leshilo) My birthplace is a melting pot of opportunities, a contrast between an enduring dream and the unapologetic realities of life.
The streets are forever alive with the sights, sounds and smells of human and mechanical traffic hurriedly going somewhere. The characters are truly an expressive bunch; unafraid to walk tall, speak swiftly, and at all times appear to know where they are headed — even if they don’t.
This is the city that raised me, matured me; it gave me spirit and character. Yet, to a large degree, it is a city ignored by marketers and advertisers, who often deliver project stereotypes.
In Europe, the constant hustle and bustle of the Metro in Paris or London’s Tube creates a sense of community, ‘sameness’ and equality. Business men and women travel alongside street vendors, school children and people of different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds; all are simply trying to reach their various destinations. Even if people don’t verbally communicate or engage with one other, they are aware of each other, similarities and differences alike.
Jozi is a beast of a different nature.
On the one hand, township life epitomises ‘know your neighbours’. For decades, it has been a place that welcomes people from different places with open arms. An ever-thriving suburb of enterprise and cultural interaction, its street life never loses the essence of the genuine and warm-hearted nature in which people engage with one another.
Influenced street culture
Sowetans, who are unmistakably proud and optimistic, streetwise, socially inclusive and vibrant city dwellers, have certainly influenced Johannesburg’s street culture as they travel across the city into different areas. Be it through vernacular lingo such as ‘Sho Boss’, handshakes and gestures made with much generosity and spirit when greeting someone, everyone in Jozi does it! Unless you are the type to roll up your car window at the stop sign or disregard the security guard who gives you access to your office or home every day, I believe we owe our stamp of ‘friendly’ city to the residents of Soweto.
On the other hand, Jozi is notorious for its isolated suburban life, where the northerners stay north, where east is east, and west is … well, west, and the south continues to sprawl.
However, I believe there is a cultural shift taking place in this city, particularly in central Johannesburg, where people are beginning to move beyond their ‘borders’ and into more-shared public spaces.
Open to all
For example, on a recent visit to Zoo Lake Swimming Pool, I shared the grounds and pool with a mix of ages and races, from all walks of life. According to Wikipedia, when the land was gifted to the city during the time of Colonial South Africa, it was made under condition that the facilities were to remain open to people of all races. The multiracial nature of the park endured throughout the Apartheid era and still maintains this spirit to this present day.
And, with the urban renewal of the CBD, places such as Braamfontein and Maboneng have grown to become cultural street hubs and great facilitators of this very shift. I find moving among people in the street makes you less afraid of what or who you don’t know — a challenge that suburban life has always presented.
As marketers or creatives, I would urge you to get out there, and get a real sense of people. Step out of your comfort zone and into the streets; and, no, that doesn’t mean doing a visit into the trade once every six months. Make it a part of natural habit to place yourself in a different space and place from where you can simply observe.
Talk to people
And, if you’re more of an extrovert (or not), talk to people; get to know them by name if you see them every day. You have nothing to lose by getting to know another person who may live a completely different life to yours.
All too often, marketers and ad agencies design products and produce communication based on typecasts such as BEEs and Sandton soccer moms. Stereotypes are out — real people with real stories are in! And, to find them, you just have to get out there and look around.
Instead of waiting for the annual brand report to tell you who your consumer is, get a natural feel for the insight and step out on to the streets!
Thabang Leshilo (@Thabang_Leshilo) is a project manager (brand) at strategic marketing consultancy Added Value South Africa. As a ‘next-generation’ marketer with fresh and curious eyes looking into the industry, she has a keen interest for brands that are culturally in tune with and able to integrate and immerse themselves into the everyday realities of the consumer. She contributes the monthly “Tuned” column, sharing marketing insight and analysis, to MarkLives.
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