Africa – The Continent of Opportunity
Weighing in at three times the size of Europe, Africa is not a continent to underestimate.
But African countries are often just an afterthought for digital marketers. Today’s digital marketer is constantly seeking the elusive and expensive consumer in North American and European countries—otherwise known as Tier 1 countries.
African countries, on the other hand, are consistently placed in the ignominious “Tier 3” category. Of course, there are exceptions (such as South Africa), but in the overwhelming majority of cases, African countries not only aren’t on the list digital marketers, they actively avoid them.
Not familiar with the Tier system? Read all about it here
But this is changing.
The African continent, as it stands now, offers ample opportunity for the digital marketer with a higher tolerance for risk. And the rewards can be concomitantly higher as well. Often, much higher.
Table of Contents
- Why it matters
- As it stands
- A complicated continent
- Northern Africa
- Exceptional Countries
- It’s all about the phone
- Strategies that are working
- The future
Why it matters
One of the primary reasons Africa is going to matter in the near- and mid-term is simple demographics. It’s growing while the rest of the world is not. To the surprise of many a Malthusian, the populations of most European and East Asian countries are actually shrinking.
But Africa isn’t just growing; it’s booming.
According to recent estimates, its population could rise by as much as 50% by 2035. And it is expected to become the most populous continent on Earth (displacing Asia), by the end of the century.
These trends show no sign of slowing. And over the coming decades, this demographic trend (combined with Africa’s immense natural wealth) will vastly increase the economic weight of the continent.
As it stands
However, there is no need to wait for the future. Even as it stands now, the continent is more than wealthy enough to merit the attention of digital marketers.
To put this into perspective, the total GDP of India is currently around 2.94 trillion USD.
On the one hand, this comparison of an entire continent to a country (though itself a subcontinent) does illustrate how Africa still has quite a way to go insofar as development. But it also goes to show that even now, there is already a great deal of money to be made there.
Africa certainly receives much less international interest than India – at least where the economy is concerned.
And we’re going to try and remedy that.
A complicated continent
One of the reasons that Africa currently receives relatively little interest from a digital marketing perspective is its low per-capita nominal wealth.
But this is also the case in a large number of Southeast Asian countries that receive intense interest from digital marketers.
But Africa could be even more attractive than Southeast Astia for digital advertisers and affiliates. The thing about Africa is that there is much less competition for views and clicks. And, better, English can be used for digital advertisements in huge swaths of Africa, making it much easier to break into than many other developing areas.
However, this depends massively on the nations that you are targeting. One of the biggest mistakes that one can make when setting out to launch campaigns in Africa is to treat it as one homogenous market.
What’s true in Egypt, likely isn’t in Morocco and certainly isn’t in South Africa.
Breaking down the entire continent by country is beyond the scope of this article (and the capability of this author), but one can broadly break it down into several different a couple of categories with a handful of important exceptions.
Africa is a continent that remains deeply marked by its colonial past. Beyond its somewhat arbitrary and haphazard borders (a common problem in post-colonial regions), perhaps nowhere is its past more obvious than in language.
If you are marketing in Africa, you will likely be using non-African languages (normally French or English) and which one you’ll use will depend on the region.
Northern Africa really cannot be lumped together with the rest of the continent. One of the world’s largest and most unforgiving deserts drives an enormous wedge between these two regions.
In economic terms, these are often some of the wealthiest and most stable countries on the continent. That is to say, that they often merit the first look if you’re looking to start running campaigns in Africa.
But the first thing to look at with North Africa is language.
Language in North Africa
Like most of Africa, North Africa has layers that one needs to peel back. The dominant languages of North Africa are various dialects of Arabic. This is a relic of the Arab invasions of the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. After the Arab conquest, Arabic largely supplanted the autochthonous Coptic language of Egypt and the various Berber languages that were found further to the west of North Africa (naturally there were many other languages as well).
While these languages still exist to differing extents, the dominant languages are local dialects of Arabic.
However, there is also an overlapping history of (primarily) French colonization in most of Nothern Africa (but especially in Libya, Tunisia, etc.). An effect of this is that much of the educated middle and upper classes in these countries speak excellent French. Indeed, it has become something of an educational and bureaucratic language.
An exception here is Egypt, which was more profoundly impacted by the British Empire.
What this means for marketers is that advertisements in Northern Africa will likely be in French or Arabic. The latter, however, tends to dominate.
An upside of Arabic is that, while dialects may differ greatly from region to region, the written form of the language is much more uniform. So, in this case, regional variations are much less of a concern, and, often, the whole region can be included with Arabic-speaking Middle Eastern countries insofar as campaign targeting.
Subsaharan Africa is the center of the population boom and, therefore, will likely merit more attention in the years and decades to come. However, it deserves more attention, as is.
Parts of the Subsaharan region are already significantly wealthier than one might expect, and the larger population centers are now home to relatively robust economies (think Nigeria, Kenya).
Some countries, like Botswana, have done an excellent job insofar as leveraging their abundance of natural resources in order to increase the standard of living of its citizens and, hence, their value as consumers.
The media and business, broadly speaking, treat most of Subsaharan Africa as a problem area, but the opportunity that it presents is no longer going unnoticed.
However, those that do recognize this opportunity often depict is as being something of the future. Well, in this case, the future is now. Sure there will be significantly more opportunity in the future, but there is already so much of it now.
The population is exploding, most national economies are growing at very healthy rates, consumerism has been embraced with enthusiasm, and mobile phones (and thereby, internet connections) are ubiquitous.
Language in Subsaharan Africa
Subsaharan Africa, like Northern Africa, is also profoundly marked by colonialism. However, it didn’t last nearly as long and its impact can be divided into two principal regions: West Africa and East Africa.
The French Empire profoundly shaped West Africa and the British Empire East Africa.
Since the periods of colonization were not so long as seen in the North of the continent, native languages are still the norm when it comes to going about daily life. However, bureaucracy, media, and education are generally the purview of the respective (post)colonial language.
In West Africa, that language is French. In post-colonial West Africa, this language has remained the lingua franca and language of diplomacy and trade for the region.
In East Africa, English enjoys a similar position.
As we have been saying throughout the article, this is not a continent that can be so easily put into one box or category.
While the groupings outlined above do allow us to divide the continent into similar groups for the sake of practicality, others don’t fit – even roughly – into any of these categories.
There are several countries that are especially different and that one might describe as outliers. Of these, one might count Botswana, Egypt, South Africa, Angola, etc.
However, two of these are especially important and merit closer attention.
These two countries are South Africa and Egypt.
Egypt stands out for two reasons. One, unlike other North Africa Countries, Egypt’s population is enormous and growing quickly.
Further, being geographically and culturally so close to Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and Syria, it is often better to add Egypt to campaigns targeting the Middle East rather than North Africa as a whole (where one may simply run French campaigns, for example). Or, better, to develop or find offers that are specific to the country.
While the other Northern African countries are linked by language and religion to the Middle East, their much starker post-colonial past and enduring cultural and economic connection to the formal imperial powers set them apart from Egypt.
South Africa is an exception for two reasons. One is linguistic, and we address that below, the other is economic. South Africa, unlike the surrounding countries, has long been a developed or quasi developed country.
Consequently, the level of personal wealth is significantly higher, and, on that account, it merits considerably more attention from digital marketers.
The good news for marketers is that South Africa can often just be added to any English-language campaign with worldwide targeting. That bad news is that to best extract value from this country, you’re going to have to be prepared to deal with some linguistic particularities.
South Africa – a linguistic exception
As the wealthiest Subsaharan country, South Africa seems to be an exception in just about every sense. When it comes to language, it is a complicated mixed bag. Having endured successive waves of colonization and, importantly, immigration, the nation is significantly more complicated than its neighbors.
Not only does South Africa have a large number of native languages that are still in common use, it has two non-native languages: English and Afrikaans. While English is more common and spoken across all demographics, Afrikaans (closely related to Dutch) is spoken by the large and wealthy European demographic.
So, depending on who you want to target and what your goals are, South African ads could be in either of these two languages.
It’s all about the phone
It’s unlikely that there has ever been a more obvious case of technological leapfrogging than mobile phone adoption in Africa. Due to the extremely high cost of installing traditional telecom infrastructure from scratch, most African countries have skipped that stage entirely. Instead, they are building much less expensive and much more versatile mobile networks.
This process has allowed huge tracts of land and large portions of the population to be rapidly brought online.
As a result of this infrastructure construction, smartphones and feature phones have become the default means of getting online – especially as mobile network speed has been increasing exponentially over the last few years.
Cellphone penetration in Africa has skyrocketed, and, in less than a decade, they have become almost ubiquitous.
What does this mean for you?
If you’re interested in getting started with digital marketing in Africa, then mobile should be the first word on your lips.
In the developed world, mobile digital advertising has recently taken over traditional desktop advertising, but in Africa, there isn’t even a contest.
Mobile is what matters.
Strategies that are working
As we just spent the last couple thousand words illustrating, Africa is a complicated place, and it can be dangerous to generalize too much.
However, after spending all that time leading you to believe that it is a horribly complicated place, we’re going to start looking at what does work, generally speaking, in Africa.
Where Africa really differentiates itself is in mobile content offers.
Mobile content (or PIN Submit) was quite common in the developed world in the early days of the cellphone revolution. Likewise, they have become and remain very common in Africa, as the continent finds itself going through a similar transition right now.
What is mobile content? Check out our short article here
These offers include paid wallpaper downloads, ringtones, and a host of other kinds of content (hence the name) that is bought by receiving an SMS pin and typing it into a webpage to confirm a purchase.
The purchase itself is then charged to the user’s cellphone bill.
The fact that a purchase can be made without a credit card is crucial in Africa (especially Subsaharan), where banking infrastructure often lags far behind telecom infrastructure.
PIN submit offers also do not always require a PIN… In many cases, purchases on such offers can be made by simply pressing a button or even by just arriving on a page.
These dead-simple payment flows make conversion significantly easier (which is very important on offers that are often low-payout). In Western countries, click-button and pay-on-arrival conversion flows have largely been eliminated by regulation to cut down on accidental payment.
However, that is not the case in many Africa countries, and that makes conversion significantly easier.
If you’re looking to give advertising in Africa a shot, PIN Submit offers are likely going to be some of the most attractive you’ll find.
Likewise, single opt-in Sweepstakes are always a good move. Sweepstakes are popular the world over, but sweepstakes with an easy opt-in tend to be winners in African economies.
Low-cost app installs
While Africa has been growing by leaps and bounds, the reason that most of these countries fall into the third tier is because the purchasing power of the average citizen of an African, especially Subsaharan African country, is still relatively low.
However, low-cost apps and budget e-commerce is a booming sector for many African countries, and it’s certainly not an opportunity to be missed!
Most people like things that are tailored just for them. Naturally, this is also the case in Africa.
Now, the populations and economies of various African countries are growing at an extraordinarily fast clip. For the most part, who new industries and sectors have to be built from scratch.
This means that a lot of Africa-specific applications, services, etc. have a ton of room to grow as, not only is the population and economy exploding, many industries simply don’t have a dominant player yet.
There are a lot of new players focused on various African GEOs that are itching to expand ASAP. For digital marketers and affiliate advertisers, this provides an extremely exciting opportunity.
If the present situation in Africa is replete with hidden gems, the future looks to be, well, even more bejeweled – and a lot less hidden!
Between abundant natural resources, rapidly expanding economies, and a population that is exploding as most of the rest of the global population enters a period of stagnation or shrinking, Africa has a lot going for it.
And the smart adtech companies, digital marketers, and affiliate advertisers are already pivoting toward the continent.
Right now, easy convert/small payout offers are doing best (in our experience), but as African economies grow and as African consumers become richer, this is sure to change.
Africa is an extremely complicated continent. But due to its exploding population and rapidly growing economy, it is playing an increasingly important role on the global stage.
Now (not later) is the time for Affiliates and Digital Marketers to start breaking into this space. Not only is there more than enough profit to be made, but the experience gained could also be even more valuable as the continent grows in wealth.
This article has given you a short, superficial introduction to the general layout of the economy and what strategies are working now.
It’s up to you to put them into action!
While digital marketers have traditionally shied away from the continent as a whole, nowadays, there is plenty of opportunities to be found in these GEOs. And there will only be more and more over the years to come.
What’s working now? Try sweepstakes, PIN submits, and Africa-specific CPI offers.
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