I am an advertising enthusiast first, because of my profession and secondly, because I am a creative writer. Now, advertising has an interesting history dating back to the ancient civilization of Egypt.
However, the golden era of advertising is considered to be the 1920s to 40s, when advertising had a profound impact on consumer perception and behavior. As the industry evolved, it attracted more professional input. For instance, The Marlboro Man is considered one of the most successful Ad campaigns of all time because of the professional services of an Ad agency.
Philip Morris the manufacturers, had originally targeted women with the Marlboro brand during the golden era. In the 1950s there was a publication of a major study that persuaded 40 percent of Americans to link smoking to lung cancer, this prompted Philip Morris to consider repositioning Marlboro as a men’s cigarette in order to fit a market niche of men who were concerned about lung cancer.
Filtered cigarettes were considered safer than unfiltered cigarettes, but had been until that time only marketed to women. Marketing research revealed that while they would consider switching to a filtered cigarette, many men were concerned about being seen smoking a feminine cigarette.
They enlisted the services of Chicago Ad man Leo Burnett, a former reporter, to reposition Marlboro as a men’s cigarette. After trial and error with several masculine concepts, they settled for the rugged, solitary figure of a cowboy, a role played by rigorously selected models that were enthusiastically christened The Marlboro Man of the season.
As a result, Marlboro’s market share rose from less than one percent to the fourth best-selling brand in the United States. Sustained advertising campaigns around the Marlboro Man eventually saw it achieve number one status in 1972, which it retained for several decades.
Locally, Safaricom has also developed similar concepts around advertising to shore up market share and sustain brand appeal. One of the most memorable ones is the Niko Na Wewe (I am with you) campaign that appealed to our sense of nationhood.
More recently though, you may have noticed that they have also incorporated people with Albinism amongst other physical disabilities in their advertising and changed their tag line to Twaweza (we are able). This cannot be incidental; it can only be a concerted effort towards inclusion.
As illustrated earlier, the process of developing advertising is a long and one with initial overall objectives being identified, followed by conceptualization, scripting, casting, production and finally delivery. The casting part which involves an agency scouting for the right models is a cutthroat affair. It means that it would be unlikely for persons living with disability to make it past the first cut unless of course the rules are intentionally designed to accommodate them.
When you put in mind that the process described earlier is undertaken by third-party providers, chances are the client has little control over the cast. Implicitly, for Safaricom Ads to consistently feature people with disability would require very deliberate action on their part. Unlike The Marlboro man, this does not necessarily translate into the financial return. However, their overall inclusion and diversity strategy seems to be bearing fruit.
According to the C.E.O Bob Collymore, late in 2017, they launched MPESA Interactive Voice Response. This technology is designed to give visually impaired customers, who only constitute 2 percent of the population, power over their transactions and lower the risk of assisted use.
To develop this product, they relied heavily on a visually impaired member of their staff who is among 100 members of staff living with a disability. These bold actions towards inclusivity are not just noteworthy but laudable.
Mid this month they were feted during the National Diversity and Inclusion Awards and Recognition gala night as the most inclusive company of 2019. Clearly, inclusivity and diversity is not just a socially responsive aspiration but a holistic business strategy that permeates advertising, product offering, and manpower. I am confident that their approach will lead to positive social-economic impact, attenuate stigma towards disability and ultimately improve their business performance.