by Alistair Mackay (@almackay) One good thing to have come out of this #ayisafani debacle, I hope, is that it has taught white South Africans a bit about conjugation in isiZulu! The phrase, which translates as “it is no longer the same”, has been expertly used by the Democratic Alliance in a recent campaign across TV and social media.

Alistair MackayThe first TV ad, iANC ayisafani, caused a spectacular ruckus by getting banned by the SABC. The ad featured DA Gauteng Premier candidate, Mmusi Maimane, talking to himself in the mirror, and explaining how the current ANC government is taking South Africa backwards.

Pulled no punches

Set against rousingly dark music, Maimane pulled no punches as he slated a government “for the connected few”, e-tolls and Nkandla. Most controversially, the ad states that the current government’s police force is killing our people.

It is this last point that the SABC used as reason to pull the ad. It incites violence against the police, the broadcaster claimed. Much to-ing and fro-ing ensued, whereby the DA challenged the ruling with ICASA, the SABC agreed to air the ad again, SAPS laid a complaint and ICASA upheld the SABC’s ban.

I am not a fan of negative campaigning and was disappointed that the DA was harking back to its old ‘Stop Zuma’ days. But, if the objective were to gain attention, ayisafani has clearly worked.

Guaranteed to get the public worked up

Accusations of censorship are guaranteed to get the public worked up, and I noted friends who are not at all DA voters — some who are fiercely anti-DA, in fact — giving loud, vocal and furious rants on social media as to the importance of freedom of speech and an impartial SABC.

The ad has racked up more than 660 000 views on YouTube since 8 April 2014.

The campaign is excellent for social media, using an unusual, catchy, memorable and short hashtag (#ayisafani) that is emotionally engaging and lends itself to spreading virally. But it was not until 28 April that I came to appreciate the genius of this campaign.

Second ad in the series

The second ad in the series turns the idea of change back in on itself: iDA ayisafani. The ad features Maimane walking confidently with celebrating DA supporters in the background. Set against upbeat music, he talks about how the DA has changed and is growing — how the party can change South Africa for the better.

The message is positive and inspiring; offering a clear picture of what the party offers and how it plans to improve lives.

If it were planned from the start, the campaign is amazingly well-orchestrated. It uses confrontation and conflict to gain attention, and then follows through with a positive message that resonates with first-time voters who are now paying attention.

It highlights the sad reality that drives the media industry and frustrates PR practitioners around the world: scandal sells papers and gets you hits in the press, even though it’s probably not what will inspire your intended audience.

Lessons for marketers and brand-builders

The problem, though, is that elections aren’t won through newspapers and TV commercials. And that is another lesson for marketers and brand-builders in the private sector: advertising may be the sexiest and most fun part of marketing but it’s not necessarily the most influential.

To use the terminology of politics — you need to win the ‘air war’, but it’s the ‘ground war’ that changes votes.

Political parties mobilise their enormous networks of people on the ground to win elections. Their branch members, politicians and volunteers work tirelessly, trekking from one part of the country to the next, organising rallies, going door to door, meeting, greeting and kissing babies. They know that politics, like marketing, is about people. And people respond well to the personal touch. They like knowing that someone stopped by to say hello, that someone high up has heard their grievance. They like putting a face to the party and being spoken to like a real human — not in scripted, perfect phrases broadcast from mass media but in a dialogue.

Winning on the ground

Marketers should learn from this. It’s important to have great advertising and a message that resonates with your target market but, unless you’re winning on the ground as well, it all falls flat. Is the staff in your stores as inspiring and compelling as your advertising? Can your consumers relate to them and engage them? How about your customer service desk?

The greatest way to build your brand is to delight the actual, real-life people who come into contact with it. There is no substitute for a powerful brand experience. Ensure that every important touch-point reinforces the brand promise. And collaborate with the people in your target communities to make the marketing really relevant to them — whether they’re consumers, employees or new markets whom you are trying to win over.

Listen to them, educate them and give them the tools and information to be volunteer evangelists and activists for your brand. Let them take ownership of its symbols and messaging, and make it their own so that they can communicate with authority and confidence when they talk to their friends.

Inspires people to influence others

Powerful marketing is that which inspires people to influence other people. To do that, you need to get the messaging exactly right to catch attention and inspire an emotional change, but you also need to ensure that your network of people is equipped and ready to deliver exactly the right brand experience. You need to win the air war and the ground war.

The rules of branding ayisafani.

Alistair Mackay (@almackay) is marketing manager and head of content at Yellowwood, (@askYellowwood) a leading marketing strategy and brand development consultancy. He has experience both as a brand strategist and as the digital media manager for the Democratic Alliance, and believes that innovative, insightful and generous marketing is both good for business and social change in South Africa. He contributes the monthly “Brand Politics” column, exploring lessons brands can learn and apply from politics, to MarkLives.

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