by Alistair Mackay (@almackay) It was impossible to watch the swearing in of our newly elected Parliamentarians last week without having your senses affronted by a bright red block of people. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs stood out like an axe wound in the decorum of the National Assembly, their symbolic domestic worker and labourer uniforms catching attention and capturing imaginations.
Capturing attention is something that the EFF has done brilliantly well since it was founded. In nine short months, it has dominated headlines and front-page photographs; it has become a household name; and it persuaded more than a million South Africans to vote for it — and all of that without a fraction of the budget of the more-established players.
However you may feel about its politics, the EFF is a master of marketing.
I can think of very few brands that have risen to prominence as quickly as it has. Even Google and Facebook, the textbook meteoric risers, took a few years to establish themselves. The EFF has done it by applying some fundamental marketing principles, and some clever guerrilla-marketing tactics.
Ruthless focus and a strong point of view
The EFF is unbelievably focused with its messaging. Its philosophy is simple, and its policy position may be summed up in a sentence or two. What it stands for is not only crystal clear, it is specific — it involves things to be done, not just ideas.
Where other parties suffered at the polls because of their vague, catch-all policies, the EFF understands that, if you try to stand for everything, you actually stand for nothing. Sometimes nuance and wider appeal have to be sacrificed for the sake of brand clarity.
And the EFF’s point of view is unapologetic and bold. While I don’t think it would benefit private-sector brands to adopt hostility and confrontation such as that, fearlessness and controversy can be very powerful ways to build a brand.
Nando’s, for example, “takes a stand against bland” and tackles some pretty thorny issues, such as xenophobia. Its fiery, irreverent communications have earned it a spot as one of South Africa’s favourite brands.
You can’t stand out if you don’t have a strong point of view, and I reckon most brand managers in this country need a much greater appetite for risk.
Empathy isn’t the first word you think of when you imagine the EFF. But empathy doesn’t have to mean being touchy-feely.
The EFF understands the frustrations and anger of the marginalised and excluded. Its empathy about the conditions of their lives is what allows it to position itself as genuine ‘customer’-champions. It comes across as authentic because it spends time with the communities in Marikana, for example. It feels their pain and it is going to fight to alleviate it.
Frustrations are an excellent way to deepen insight into customers as well. Instead of just analysing purchase behaviour data or asking customers what they need, brands that have a solid understanding of what frustrates their consumers (about their current products, the category in general, or the tasks that they are struggling with) can better innovate to remove those frustrations.
Because the EFF approaches politics as an outsider trying to upset the system, it is quick to identify conventions that stand in its way and to speak out against them or simply ignore them.
Where other political parties try to get into the public consciousness with press releases, the EFF built a house for a poor family in front of the Palace of Nkandla. Where other parties raised millions for elections and election campaigning, the EFF accused the IEC of being anti-poor for requiring registration fees. And, most recently, when other MPs dressed formally and sought to look respectable in Parliament, the EFF rocked up in overalls.
In every instance where the convention is overturned, the EFF is reinforcing its brand proposition as a champion of the poor. If other brands approached their own categories as outsiders and challengers, it would enable them to disrupt the conventions and position themselves as customer champions. Capitec and, increasingly, FNB are doing it. Cell C is doing it.
Who’d have thunk it?
Whoever would have thought that Juju would provide such a compelling best-practice for marketers in the capitalist machine?
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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