IF AFRICA’S boosters and detractors agree on one thing, it is that the continent’s image is poor. No matter how hard the boosters try to sell the wares of this vast and diverse continent, they find it hard to shake off clichés about “heart of darkness” or television images of the emaciated fly-blown child. That is why the football World Cup, held successfully in South Africa, was so important. It was a rare month of good press coverage for the continent. Now a group called the Africa Leadership Retreat is trying to ride this wave of goodwill by bringing Africa’s marketing brains together to promote a brighter image for the continent with a so-called “Africa 2.0 initiative”.
Branding a country is hard enough, let alone a whole continent, says Julian Smallwood of Havas, a French advertising firm. If a country sells itself as business friendly, it needs to fulfil its promises. That makes branding a continent a lot harder. The swankiest advertising campaigns can be ruined by the antics of a dictator—Muammar Qaddafi, for example—or by the sudden outbreak of a new war or famine.
One plan is to give Africa its own internet domain. Many companies doing business in Africa will soon move their sites to a dot.africa domain, so Coca Cola in Africa may become cocacola.africa. “We think dot Africa is a more powerful brand than separate African country domains,” says Sophia Bekele, a Kenya-based Ethiopian, who is leading the project.
In any case, the images of the continent that Africans send each other is more important than what outsiders care to see, says Alex Okosi, a Nigerian who runs the African bit of MTV, a New York-based music channel. What Africa needs, he reckons, is a younger, more urban, more aspirational image. In fact, something closer to an MTV video than a UN film appealing for help after yet another disaster.
One conclusion of the Africa 2.0 initiative so far (and it remains to be seen whether the venture is more than talk) is that Africans is an easier word to market than Africa. So future efforts to present a sunnier image of the continent will likely concentrate on people, particularly women.
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