African Echo: The business of copy & paste in Africa
by Siwe Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) The tyres screeched on the tarmac of yet another airport. Yip, my team and I were back at it again, in Zambia this time, to lead another workshop… and lap up insights on all things ‘Zambian’ in return.
It was slightly overcast as we drove into a bustling Lusaka where the streets had more taxis than Ugandan boda-bodas. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, though… because it felt as if I’d landed in a place that, in many subtle and obvious ways, felt like home. According to a study released by Trading Economics, Zambia’s second-largest trading partner is South Africa. That was accurate: there were hints of retail Mzanzi on every corner, pasted with the brand colours of Shoprite, Pick n Pay … and Turn ’n Tender (yes, you read that right). It’s like a South African copy-and-paste. Or is it?
After learning a new term, rate of sales (which essentially tells the shopper who cares to glance at the figures attached to the shelves how many units every product on that shelf has sold that week, and that month), I took a closer look at the local Pick n Pay and discovered a whole new level of copy-and-paste.
Shelves and shelves of mirrored products, copied in terms of packaging design and name and produced locally (as far as I could tell): everything from washing powder and cleaning materials to biscuits, milk and — most recently — a move into the snacks realm. I was stunned to discover how many products had a locally produced version that looked very, very similar, cost a lot less and, you guessed it, had a much higher rate of sale.
In short, intellectual property be damned!
It gets worse. While doing some desktop research. I discovered that marketers there even copy old ads. Take a look at the advert for a locally produced energy drink called Kung Fu.
Now see if you can spot the difference between what you just saw and this old Castrol ad…
Look, Moreo’s will never be exactly the same as our beloved ‘twist-lick-dunk’ but, truth be told, the quality of the packaging and products isn’t bad, and the price is better. So, it’s a well-rounded competitor and it obviously sells well, if you look at the rate of sales. But how is this okay?
According to the Zambian Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, fairness is about competitive pricing, efficient and innovative creative, and low cost of production. If that’s in place, then it’s fair game. I’m not an expert in every market, but Zambia is worrying … and that same desktop research shows that a number of neighbors such as Zimbabwe and Tanzania show a similar trend.
What does this brazen disregard for intellectual property mean for building multinational brands in Africa in future? As the continent becomes one of the most-attractive investment destinations globally in the next 100 years, how do we ensure protection for our clients, so they value investment in brands, not just products?
I believe the answer lies in redefining the role of bodies such as the Competition Commission in South Africa to be more Pan African. The Advertising Standards Authority of SA’s replacement and the Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA) should look beyond our borders to not only develop local intellectual property in new markets but also protect intellectual property of global clients who want to move into our region.
Devoid of creativity
Without this, we will build a future African marketplace that will be devoid of creativity, because it’s not valued. It will have products that lack distinctiveness because they will be copied so fast that any new direction or point of view will very quickly be swallowed by an uncontrolled wave of sameness. Most worryingly, there will be no brand value, so products that all look, taste and perform more or less the same.
I personally think we should fight as hard as we can as custodians of ideas on our continent to make sure that what matters most to us continues to matter in every market in Africa. If we don’t, I fear this will be an issue that grows while we sleep and will be unsolvable before we can say copy-and-paste.
- Insights session at the AdLab agency in Lusaka, Zambia
Siwe Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) is a qualified South African chartered-accountant-turned-creative-strategist at FCB Africa and a working photographer (all pics in the featured image are hers). She has three years’ experience in strategic planning on some of South Africa’s big brands in different categories and industries in the ATL space. African Echo seeks to unpack markets in Africa, highlight business opportunities and share insights into what works and what rebounds.
“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.