ACCRA, GHANA—It is clear that cell phone business is booming business here. On some streets every wall facing the street is painted with the colors of one cell phone company or another. The red Vodafone and the yellow MTN walls are the most pervasive. And I soon realized that advertising opportunities here are very different than the US.
I was surprised that people would allow their houses to be painted as an advertisement so I asked around. “They are paid peanuts,” I usually heard. (This is especially funny because they refer to peanuts as “groundnuts” here so I don’t know if this expression even makes sense to them.) So for “peanuts” people will allow their houses to be painted. This kind of advertising is most common in rural villages though also common in low-income areas of cities.
Cell phone networks have also cleverly made any shop sign an opportunity for advertising. MTN will print a sign for your shop as long as the background is MTN yellow and the lower righthand corner has an MTN logo. OMO—a laundry detergent, Milo—a hot chocolate mix, Zain—a cell phone carrier and Indo Mie—a ramen noodle brand also make such signs for shops.
Indo Mie has pushed the advertising envelope even further. Recently I saw their advertisement on a “School Children Crossing” yield sign. I have not seen any other yield signs in Ghana so I do not think that this sign was installed by the government but rather Indo Mie took the children’s safety into their own hands.
The last advertising campaign I want to talk about is glo. Glo has bought the most official advertising space of any company. (That is, billboards, TV, etc and not sides of houses, yield signs, store signs.) Despite this massive marketing effort, glo has not sold a single product in Ghana. They are a cell phone network from Nigeria looking to enter the market in Ghana. And enter the market they will, with ease. Already glo is a household name even though no one has used the product. Their advertisements are of the highest quality. (By this I mean they are highly refined. The moral quality is for a different discussion.) Their TV advertisements are the kind of thing you would see in the US. This is the extreme example of how the success of a product can be completely dependent on advertising alone. The actual product up to this point doesn’t even matter.
So for people in advertising out there, I would suggest that you visit Ghana. The rules of the game are different. The opportunities are different. You won’t believe it until you see it.