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Township Stories Offers New Insight Into Future Markets

Emerging Markets Marketing

Townships are a marked South African phenomenon. People that reside in them are often seen as one indistinguishable mass with little consideration as to how lifestyles, areas, mindsets and perspectives differ. Many South Africans have very little interaction with townships. Their knowledge and understanding is often a guess or a perspective that sits somewhere along a spectrum of shacks to bricks, impoverished to vibrant, danger to mystery. It is a lack of exposure and information that leads to misinterpretation but as we slowly find a South African way of doing things, we are rediscovering the long-neglected places where so many of our people live.

Township Stories, an ethnographic study commissioned by McCann Worldgroup SA, had a core aim: to increase an understanding of the lives of South Africans living in these settlements, and in doing so provide a point of reference when communicating with this diverse, seemingly "one-dimensional" group of South Africans.

Martin Hummel, group Chief Executive, McCann WorldGroup SA says, "As there is little doubt that townships represent a substantial mass of the economic and social landscape of SA, and will undoubtedly play an increasing role in the markets of tomorrow, we were confident that an investment in understanding these markets would benefit our company, our clients and the industry as a whole."

He continues, "While studies have been done that highlight aspects of these areas predominantly economic, there still remains a very real gap in understanding this market's day-to-day existence."

Township Stories was undertaken to ease the hearsay and give real substance to the lives of those living in the townships; the hope and despair and the impact of investment and western culture. As a pilot project, the research focused on the lifestyle differences between three of Gauteng's biggest townships: Soweto, Alexandra and Orange Farm.

In using a compare and contrast methodology Township Stories seeks to highlight the differences between townships. "From the very inception of the research it is evident that the townships investigated are at very different stages of development, but equally evident is the different mindset that exists in each area," comments Alistair Duff, Strategic Planning Director, McCann Erickson. "Varying dynamics give each township its own unique sense of personality and identity, and that's what we have explored and brought to life through this project."

To capture what has been described as the soul of these townships, individuals from these areas were filmed, photographed and interviewed. This personal approach assisted in penetrating the shroud of mystery that exists and the township differences serve as a foundation to many of the conclusions drawn in the report. Of equal importance are the evident similarities.

A key finding in each location was the reaction to the introduction of a more formal economy. Increasing investment in townships has facilitated an element of convenience to peoples' lives and the construction of malls is seen as a symbol of hope for continued progress.

The three townships share very similar concerns regarding both the impact and the intent of new developments. Many of those interviewed were cynical about where their money is going to at the end of the day. Pastor Mukpu, Soweto, says, "The people building the malls and those who won the shops are not from here, so they are just taking the money somewhere else." The stereotypical "fat cat" leaving the township each day and heading back to the northern suburbs was a consistent theme.


"It seems that the best way to relieve this, issue would be to invest directly into the community in which new outlets are situated," comments Duff. "Initiatives tasked should include ensuring that jobs are given to the surrounding residents and that an active and perceivable involvement in community upliftment exists."

Duff continues, "Through this brands and services will elevate themselves from convenient choices to loved and respected members of this current and future economy. This new realisation that tarred roads, well-lit streets, and safer neighbourhoods may serve as better brandbuilders than t-shirts and billboards will hopefully lead to a more relevant approach by SA marketers who recognise the potential to be found in these townships."

McCann Worldgroup SA firmly believes that successful agencies should mirror the culture that surrounds them; for this reason Township Stories marks the beginning of an ongoing commitment to enhancing the understanding of the diverse and dynamic cultures of South Africa.

For more information regarding Township Stories, please do not hesitate to contact Nicolle Caldwell, GGi Communications on Nicolle@ggisa.com / or Tamaryn Barnes, McCann Worldgroup Tamaryn.Barnes@McCann.com  

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