The state of digital content in Zimbabwe

By Paul Brezhnev Banda

Zimbabwean digital consumers mostly consume level 1 content. That is your skits, local comedy, music videos, local celebrity gossip and the news. Its general interest material meant to appeal to as wide a number of people as possible. If you look at YouTube trending results everyday like I do you will notice this trend.

Level 2 content involves general talk shows, soapies/general interest documentaries, skits with some news in them (Sort of what Magamba TV is doing, Stanford Joni and Stewart Nyamayaro are trying to do this type of content as well). At this point you will see and less of that content being produced locally.

Level 3 content is that Is interest specific e.g; crime or space documentaries and there is almost none of that emerging locally.

As a content creator therefore if you’re looking for something to make, you immediately would want to make something in level 1 – there’s more of a possibility of return on investment. The problem with this model is that it collapses on itself. We keep making level 1 content because it pays the bills and the public keeps consuming it to the detriment of all other types of content. Level 1 content becomes all that’s produced and all that’s consumed.

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As an advertiser – I’m in a quandary. Do I direct my clients budget to what’s there (as good or as bad as it might be) or try a different approach and encourage them to make their own content e.g Old Mutual Zimbabwe with the #Amazing Voices singing contest? Truth is – damned if I do damned if I don’t. If I put a budget into level 1 content I’m promoting it, even though it might not be what I or the client wants. If I don’t – I’m almost making sure my clients budget won’t reach the best possible audience, size wise. Now what to do? Do I approach influencers? Great idea if you’re selling make up.

If you are asking well, “Why don’t brands just sponsor their content on social media?” The answer is; They will go broke before they start realising their return on investment. The moment a brand is on social media they want to start selling because they need to make that money back. Unfortunately that is the opposite of what the should be doing. The first rule of social media is DO NOT SELL, OFFER VALUE. But good luck telling that to your MD. The company wants its ROI on social media today. The result is – the marketing team or agency will pump out content that doesn’t engage anyone 3 times a day. They will sponsor adverts that don’t attract attention and complain that social media doesn’t work.

The social media consumer is now wary, and smarter than ever – they don’t like being advertised to, they will use your social platform and expensive advert to lodge complaints. Can you hear me ZOL & Steward Bank?

If I’m using my own data and time and I’ve liked your page, you better not try to sell me your products 24/7. Offer me value, tell me something I don’t know, entertain me, amuse me – Anything but adverts.

I have a proposal but first – Here is curious thing if you have noticed it on YouTube. Almost always the number 4 / 5 trending result in Zimbabwe is a South African soapie “Isibaya” that a lot of local viewers have to read subtitles to understand. I’ve tried to watch it and its not remarkable in any way except … and this is big … it tells a story and audiences love stories. If South African content can trend in Zimbabwe everyday. Maybe we ought to rethink how are spending our advertising dollars. Maybe brands should start treating people as audiences not customers.

The seemingly obvious solution for a client is to create your own content and your own channels. It has been successful before – Edgars Zimbabwe did it with their own magazine and it’s a brilliant model. The issue however becomes about creating compelling content each time and with budgets being cut all over, companies will resort to in-house production. The result can be captured in one question; How many times can I see pictures of people posing wearing Edgars clothes before I lose interest?

And so my proposal is (as obvious as it sounds) – Brands should create their own channels and their own amazing content. We have very talented content creators that can help them do that. People love stories whether fun or tragic. Brands should tell stories. If you’re not telling stories you are selling and no one likes being sold to.

Right now Wadiwa Wepamoyo is trending everywhere and brands want to jump on it. Have they stopped to think – what if they actually owned the content and stopped relying on trying to get 30 second slots? Brands creating content is a win- win. Content creators and talent get to have profitable work and brands get to tell relevant stories instead of trying to jump on whatever is trending regardless of whether it suits their messaging or not.

And it doesn’t have to be a soapie, it can be a competition, a documentary or literally anything that can engage an audience. Brands telling stories allows them to create relevant narratives that sell their propositions better. And YES this means offering content for free ( I can almost hear the winces from marketing managers)

The digital consumer is a long sell, after all Digital & Social is not sales you have to offer them something first before they can even look at you. Which is why historically tactical competitions have always worked. It’s the same psychology. It’s a negotiation. You want their attention? give them attention – serve them something.We all know Idols is an extended advert for Telkom but we don’t care.

If you’re now asking, “But what should we create?” you’re now asking the right questions.

Paul is the the Chief Creative Officer at Jean Gray Creative Studio. You can contact him on paul@jeangray.co.zw

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