by Herman Manson (@marklives) M&C Saatchi Mobile, the UK based full service mobile agency that is part of the M&C Saatchi network, has launched in South Africa in co-operation with M&C Saatchi Abel. The new local operation of M&C Saatchi Mobile will join a network of offices stretching from London, New York and LA to Paris.

The SA operations will be lead by Zeyad Davids – Managing Partner, Digital at M&C Saatchi Abel.

Zeyad Davids, Managing Director, M&C Saatchi Mobile South Africa, Tracy Kruger, Mobile Business Consultant and James Hilton, Global CEO M&C Saatchi Mobile

Davids says the mobile media market in South Africa will be worth a R1 billion a year by the end of 2012 with annual growth of between 40-50% annually through to 2016.

According to Davids South Africans consume an average of 6 hours of media daily of which 30% is spent on their mobiles – just ahead of television. Unlike TV however usage happens through the course of the day and serves multiple needs such as accessing social media, checking email, games and search.

The agency was originally launched in 2006 as Inside Mobile by James Hilton and Dusan Hamlin but re-branded when it become part of M&C Saatchi in 2010. Hilton was in South Africa for the launch and says the agency had identified the local market as having reached a tipping point. Entering now gives it a competitive advantage and access to local skills as the market scales for growth.

Although the Mobile agency operates as a separate entity it is not a silo within the main agency says Hilton. Rather it champions mobile thinking in 360 degree campaigns. Hilton says the agency wanted talent with local knowledge across the different continents to cater to its international clients’ growing interest in emerging markets such as South Africa. He sees the SA operations as an entry point into the rest of the continent.

Hilton says the SA office has already secured a number of clients. Surprisingly he declined to reveal the client list citing issues around competitive advantage on client side. The agency also doesn’t release case studies on successful campaigns. For an industry still legitimising its credentials to the broader marketing community this is not good news. (The list of clients for the international offices is quite impressive and freely available and includes the BBC, HSBC, Reebok and News International.)

M&C Saatchi Mobile is offering clients media, production and strategy skills. Hilton says the agency champions mobile when it is appropriate to client needs and he doesn’t believe in rolling out technology for the sake of it. Instead the agency aims to understand the community a brand wants or needs to reach and then try and find a point of connection that would resonate with that market. Its solutions offers consumers utility and value – spray and pray has given mobile marketing a bad reputation and it’s something the agency promises to avoid at all costs. Mobile is a personal space, says Hilton, but one where people will engage if they find value.

While data is still expensive in South Africa Hilton says increased Wi-Fi access, access to cloud computing and increasingly lower data bundle pricing means it’s quickly becoming less so. In any case marketing solutions are geared towards low data usage.

Davids says the local mobile display ad market is a healthy one as is search – location based services offer real advantages and will help drive growth and adaption of mobile and tablet advertising. Consumer behaviour is also changing – the Mobile Shopper survey suggests over 25% of South Africa’s mobile internet users are shopping online while 63% planned to do so in future. Some 73% of tablet owners are already shopping online using these devices of which it is estimated there is already half a million active in SA.

Hilton says the agency is geared to embracing opportunities that exist today rather than fretting about what isn’t available in the local market yet. While the mobile media market in SA has traditionally been the ugly stepsister of digital marketing interest from a big agency play is certainly an indicator of both the money at stake and the opportunity that exists for it to emerge into its full potential in a market with 100% plus mobile phone penetration.

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