How to launch a brand in South Africa

Localisation is more than just updating a global campaign with a familiar face and South African slang. If you want to successfully launch a brand in South Africa, you need to deep dive into the audience, understand what drives them, interests them, what their needs are, challenges, joys etc. and use these insights to conceptualise a truly localised approach. It’s imperative for brands to understand the wide-ranging SA market before entering it. In this write-up, I’ll be listing seven considerations for launching a brand in South Africa.


Changing media landscape in South Africa: PR is evolving. The ability to write a press release and effectively pitch isn’t enough anymore. Why? The media landscape has been disrupted and the media pool is shrinking in SA. Marie Claire, Destiny and Destiny Man are among the few that have closed down in recent months. The most important trends that are affecting public relations in SA are all digitally focused, and a global brand’s media relations approach needs to cater to the local SA media landscape’s changes and requirements.


Local content: Global press releases are expected to land in various markets around the globe. This doesn’t work in SA, considering the changing media landscape and the importance of locally relevant content. According to Kelly Byrne, “It is important for international clients to understand the SA demographic and also who their niche client segment is in our landscape. European images and releases won’t necessarily speak to our audience – it can even alienate potential customers.”


Local consumption patterns: How are competitor products consumed in SA? Do your own dipstick research – broad stats sometimes miss what is actually happening on the ground. According to Michelle Berman, Senior Account Director at Atmosphere, “With Spotify some of our key insights for the launch came from our own team’s experience trialing Spotify vs competitors.”


Relevance to audience: At this year’s Pop Culture and Innovation talk hosted by Bizcommunity, Trend Analyst & Culture Strategist, Nicola Cooper used our G-Star Uniform of the Free SA launch as a case study. Kelly says Cooper praised the brand for getting it right and urged other global brands to follow suit, “She continuously stressed that providing global brands with a local relevance isn’t a nice to have it’s an absolute must going forward!” The same goes for another client, Spotify – the local trends and local music catalogue was key to driving interest to the platform. “Otherwise it was just another music streaming platform launching which was challenging to break through the clutter,” says Michelle.

Diverse audience: South Africa is truly a melting pot and it’s challenging to ring-fence a specific audience using traditional criteria. Michelle says Spotify’s audience appeal is vast. Since the launch they have focused on a very specific market as it was more appealing to pick a sweet spot and focus on this audience in order to really drive resonance. However, for the launch Michelle’s team needed an approach that would appeal quite broadly to the South African market to drive interest and engagement. They achieved this by adopting different messaging for different audiences to drive appeal.


Diversified PR/Marketing team: Make sure your local PR/Marketing team are made up of mixed cultures, races, languages and religions as this allows for shared insights when trying to localise your campaign. When we tackle a client brainstorm, we’re able to gauge impressions of campaign messages across all local cultures since we have a diverse team. This sense checking practice prevents any negative or offensive connotations, ensuring that any campaign messages are sensitive to all cultures and languages across SA’s multi-cultured backgrounds.


Social Media: Global brands need to develop a local social media presence and amplify user-generated content. This is a great way to develop loyalty with nano and micro influencer groups. According to Kelly, “Influencers love being seen ‘associated’ or ‘working’ with global brands.” What better what to do this than by regramming their content! *Remember to get their permission prior.


Really understanding localisation is key if brands want to successfully launch in South Africa. The market is unique, with so many cultural nuances and challenges – it’s more than relying on focus groups and research, it’s about really immersing yourself in the product and local audience, deep diving into the insights you uncover and getting to grips with what resonates with a local audience. Getting it wrong can spell disaster for a brand before it’s even got off the ground, while getting it right can translate into overwhelming success.

Kathleen Pretorius, PR professional

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