by Marguerite Coetzee. The time into which a generation is born shapes the way that they view the world, and the impact they make on the world.

Generational theory

In South Africa, baby boomers grew up in a highly racialised, segregated and uncertain time, while the world welcomed innovations in health and safety (birth control pill, polio vaccine, seatbelt, smoke detector) and challenges to civil rights when Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech.

Gen X saw the end of the Vietnam war, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the introduction of new technologies (laptop computer, the World Wide Web, cellphone). Although SA lagged behind with the introduction of television and experienced violence and volatility during this time (Soweto Uprising, state of emergency), it miraculously made progress of its own (first heart transplant, Nelson Mandela freed from prison, democratic negotiations).

Millennials/Gen Y (born frees in SA) saw continued efforts in fighting for human rights (combatting HIV/AIDS, legalising same-sex marriage) and improvements made to technological innovations (Hubble telescope launched, MP3, electric car). Centennials/Gen Z and the Alpha generation were born into the euphoria of SA winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup and hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but have also seen the horrors of xenophobia and the frustration of loadshedding.

In order to better understand an age group — and to more effectively connect with, respond to, and communicate to them — we need to consider both their life stage and their historical context. There are social dynamics and power shifts constantly at play which influence the way people experience the world.

Knowledge is power

We can often tell a lot about a country’s present condition by what it considers to be ‘utopia’. This is a time and place in the future imagined to be ‘perfect’. Usually, people will point out the things they imagine in a utopia as a response to the negative qualities they experience in the present. Gillette’s portrayal of masculinity indicates how the brand imagines we could combat present gender-based discrimination and toxic forms of masculinity for a more-flexible future. AirBnB’s “We Accept” and Diesel’s “Make love not walls” were responses to present forms of exclusion and resistance to difference for a more-inclusive future. Nike teaming with Kaepernick was a statement against racial injustice, and Nando’s tackled ‘you people’ stereotypes for a more-informed future.

Brands create culture. They impact the way people see the world, how they make sense of their experiences, and what decisions they make. It’s vital for brands to use their platforms wisely to communicate purposeful messages, and to follow through with their promises. Be considerate, compassionate, and courageous. Support and spark movements while avoiding glorifying, glamorising, or commercialising serious social issues.

What’s next

Social shifts and power plays are of concern in Africa, particularly in terms of enforcing colonially created national borders that result in xenophobia and restrictions on trade and collaboration on the continent, perpetuating the idea that Africa is underdeveloped by Western standards, disregarding the exploitation of Africa for its mineral wealth, provoking racism and considerations of emigration, or even conjuring up notions of Africa as a dependent, undisciplined, dangerous place. These thoughts all shape the notion of power in Africa. Pay attention to what concerns consumers today, in order to anticipate and shape what futures might unfold.


Marguerite de Villiers Marguerite Coetzee is an anthropologist, artist and futurist who provides research and insight services through Omniology. FastForward, the latest series in her regular column on MarkLives, takes an intellectual, scientific and artistic approach to the future – particularly the future of Africa.

— One subscription form, three newsletters: sign up now for the MarkLives newsletter, including Ramify headlines; The Interlocker, our new monthly comms-focused mailer; and Brands & Branding, launching soon!

Online CPD Courses Psychology Online CPD Courses Marketing analytics software Marketing analytics software for small business Business management software Business accounting software Gearbox repair company Makeup artist