Zimbabwe: Buy Zimbabwe - Logic or Magic?

"When you demand logic, you pay a hidden price: you destroy magic!" That rather provocative statement is credited to Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of Ogilvy and an outright advertising and behavioural economics genius.

After your initial gag reflex over that quip, take a deep breath; chew on those words slowly, and you will begin to appreciate the profundity they contain.

Marketing campaigns must, naturally, be alive to logic; the functional benefits and price of the product being sold. These are foundational and may even form the building blocks of

competitiveness. But no one sells a house by extolling the virtues of its foundation and the strengths of its cornerstone!

Brand campaigns that require loyalty as an outcome must do more than just speak to a customer's head; they must speak to her heart, where loyalty is formed and held. And therein, lies the problem with the Buy Zimbabwe campaign.

The Buy Zimbabwe Campaign celebrated its eighth anniversary in August this year. Given the strategic national importance of such a campaign, and the lofty goals that were aimed for at

its inception, we must begin to ask ourselves uncomfortable questions regarding its less than stellar performance to date.

I will not claim to be privy to the inner workings of the campaign, but from what is in the public domain, one can be forgiven for concluding that the campaign has overly relied on the cold, logical, rational side of marketing endeavour at the expense of infusing some emotion and character to the campaign.

With all due respect to the able marketers and communication experts who have been involved in the campaign, we have to agree that the campaign has sailed pretty close to the unimaginative and uninspiring.

A few humble observations about the campaign:

The Name

Buy Zimbabwe may inadvertently focus our efforts and attentions on the buying or shopping to the exclusion of deeper motivations for why we buy. Contrast this idea of "buying" with the more successful "Proudly South African" campaign, which addresses the more powerful and intrinsic motivation of national pride and is not exclusive to commerce.

The concept of being "proud" of their country that they tapped into, allowed musicians, sports people, artists, historians, churches and civic society an entry point into the discussion in a way that an invitation to "buy" does not.

The Language

The Buy Zimbabwe campaign has been dominated by technical language, which may be too stilted and formal to appeal to the consumer who is the target of the campaign. Terms like value chain development, import substitution, market linkages, standards assessment and beneficiation belong more in boardrooms and conferences than in consumers' everyday language.

And that may explain why the campaign has largely remained in those places and failed to reach the common man on the street.

The unique selling proposition

The campaign has the unstated presumption that the consumer will automatically feel some sense of patriotism based on the fact of their birth circumstances or geographical location, and that it is this patriotism that will cause them to prefer local products and support the campaign.

This may be inaccurate, given that even a casual observer will note that the level of patriotism in the country may be at its lowest ebb in years. Zimbabweans need some source of national pride they can rally around, first.

Buy Zimbabwe's efforts may be better placed looking for and emphasizing this 'fuel' to feed the fire of patriotism, so that the sales may then be realised.

Focus on price and product comparisons

The marketing efforts behind the campaign seem to be focused on pricing and giving better product information and comparisons. This is a classic marketing trap. To assume that people buy products based largely on price or performance. No one buys a Highlanders jersey because it is cheaper than a Dynamos one.

And who supports Arsenal because of its record at winning Premier leagues? If cars were to be judged on some objective index of fuel economy, price and performance, who would buy a Renault? Thankfully, there are more positioning points for products than merely being the cheapest or best. And some of these may actually be more authentic and generate more loyalty and better returns.

The purpose of this article is not to bash the efforts of the Buy Zimbabwe team. I would not be so presumptuous as to imagine that they do not know their work. And if their profiles are anything to go by, they are significantly more qualified than this author.

This is merely an attempt to offer an alternate viewpoint that may strengthen their efforts.

The cold, hard facts are that, until we sort out certain structural and policy defects in our economy, only a handful of Zimbabwean products and companies will be competitive in terms of price and quality on the international scene. Until then, we must actively look for creative ways to position our products that have nothing to do with price and other performance related measures.

Thankfully for us, people are prone to make decisions more on emotional than rational basis. People can have quirky tastes and can root for the underdog. We just have to build our brand more on the magic of emotional benefits than the logic of functional benefits. Emotional benefits drive financial premiums, they command higher prices. They are also longer lasting and provide more competitive insulation in the long term.

I would posit that driving the Buy Zimbabwe Campaign's positioning on emotional attributes would be a rewarding but demanding task.

It would demand that we have the uncomfortable conversations around whether we feel proud to be Zimbabwean, whether we are truly united as a country, whether we have a national culture and how it is expressed, whether we have sufficient trust in our institutions, and whether we feel our opinions are valued and can be freely expressed in creative forms.

Join us in the next installment as we attempt to examine in detail what 'magic' would be needed to build a Brand Zimbabwe that resonates with the general public and ensures that people ultimately 'buy Zimbabwean.'

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