by Mongezi Mtati (@Mongezi) More often than not, when brands launch new products, they tend to want to reach out to the ‘influential’, to the people with a large following. In my less-than-humble opinion, the general perception is still the notion that megaphones increase market share.


While Cell C was running ad campaigns about existing and new offers, a disgruntled customer last year thought up a campaign that would hit as hard on the brand as any other well-funded one. The all-too-familiar Cell C customer complaint that took to the streets one quiet morning caused an upset on social media as well.

Google Image Search: Cell C bannerUnlike most broadcast, TV and print campaigns that go without so much as a mention in conversations, this one attracted the attention of both news platforms and individuals with varying levels of influence.

On any other day, that customer probably sent a disgruntled tweet or two, a status update that reached a small number of people and chances were someone saw it and it was marked as negative. Everyone moved on. Those mentions were probably filed as having been responded to and the customer was supposedly ‘sorted out’.

Generic responses

One of the challenges of big brands on social platforms is they tend to have some generic responses to complaints, ones which take the ‘problem’ out of the public’s gaze and news sites that may quote you the next day. Or the very same hour.

On Thursday, 6 November 2014, Joe Blog was not only moved to the front of the queue; he probably became a priority.

Unlike any other occasion when the customer just hangs up the phone, upset after talking to a customer care agent, or just leaving the store because nobody seems to want to help, this time, the once-nameless customer called a design agency and booked space outside a busy shopping mall to air the laundry of his mobile network.

The man who changed it all

George Prokas was the man who changed it all. He had a name and a banner that was erected at the busy intersection of Beyers Naude outside World Wear shopping centre, which according to Eyewitness News cost R60 000.

Instead of surprising the customer with something meaningful, building a connection and opening communication lines, Cell C — the once-loved new kid on the block with a sultry voiceover in all their earlier ads — sued George Prokas. And lost.

Brand-evangelist research shows that staff and converted customers are trusted more than adverts. They are the ones who build street movements that help brands to spread their message.

In a parallel universe

In a parallel universe, brands are using their social listening tools to understand customers and follow conversations that may have a bearing on their communities. There are some tell-tale signs that go far beyond a tweet and a comment on Facebook. These platforms provide a base from which to start — a place to open the lines and become ‘human’ on social platforms, where there is relatively affordable advertising and more affordable ways to interrupt people.

If the customer-led banner complaints against FNB and Cell C, less than a month apart, are anything to go by, customers are sending a message that they will no longer be ignored.

When the social-media buzzwords first emerged about individuals being media owners, the pain of a well-positioned banner — as a kick in the shin and the fact that those, too, are getting cheaper — was relegated to advertising campaigns.

What to do

Start here:

  1. Listen to your community at all times.
  2. A quick response on social media is not always the solution.
  3. It starts inside the organisation (while this has been said more times than you care to remember, it remains true).


Mongezi Mtati


Mongezi Mtati (@Mongezi) is the founding MD of WordStart ( Apart from being a kiteboarding and sandboarding adventurer, Mongezi connects companies and brands with measurable word-of-mouth. He contributes the monthly “The Word” column on word-of-mouth marketing and social media strategy to MarkLives.


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