Opinion: Africa Is The Next Frontier For Design And Advertising Innovation

Opinion: Africa Is The Next Frontier For Design And Advertising Innovation

Hailing from Jamaica, but American by way of higher education and culture, I’ve spent much of the last three years in countries all around the African continent, and I am excited by the potential for design and advertising innovation in Africa.

I’ve spent time in Morocco and Egypt in the north, Kenya and Tanzania in the east, and South Africa and Lesotho in the south, among other African destinations in between.

Before the first trip my wife and I took to the continent, I assumed I would find a rudimentary form of life sewn through all aspects of architecture, music, art, design, entrepreneurship and business acumen, but western media would prove to fail me in its image of Africa.

From innovations in agriculture, pharmacology, food science, mobile payments, connectivity, and the gig economy all the way through all aspects of art and creativity, Africa has blown my mind.

Sure, I might walk down the road in Zanzibar past a few goats and trash burning, but I’ll turn the corner and see incredible furniture craftsmanship that Design Within Reach would die for.

I’ll go to a restaurant with a group of friends in Maputo and fumble around for my credit card to cover the bill, and by the time I look up, someone’s laughing at me because they already paid the bill in 10 seconds from their phone with mPesa.

Need groceries delivered in Nairobi? They’ll take about an hour to show up at your door. In New York City, it takes 5-to-18 hours.

Africa needs more entrepreneurs

There are Africans firing on all cylinders within every discipline, but wealth is still on its slow trickle down from imperialist and royal families to the masses. Africa needs more entrepreneurs, but is crippled by the lack of a robust credit and loans system that allows access to capital.

There are innovations on the way there, but it could be years or decades before there’s widespread access to startup capital. Until then, the best prospects for new business owners are in capital-light, service-based businesses.

I’ve worked in digital advertising technology in the U.S. and Europe for the last nine years and I’ve had a front-row seat to witness the demand exploding for digital content – still, video, and software.

Even four years ago, when my startup was managing all Facebook ads for companies like Samsung, Red Bull, and McDonald’s, it was nearly impossible to keep up with the demands needed to reach and engage everyone in their target markets.

Today, the requirement for good, quality content for Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat is a bottomless pit and agencies are racing to improve, optimize, and scale production. With virtual and augmented reality around the corner for the mainstream, this will only further compound, and this is where I see opportunity for bright and hungry young Africans.

Creativity – The secret weapon of African entrepreneurship

Now equipped with 4G internet, the decreased cost of PCs, the gig economy, society’s increased consumption of digital content, and their most valuable and unlimited resource — creativity — I foresee a massive wave of creative African entrepreneurship entering the global market. From Asia and Central America came tailors and tactile labor, from India came software engineers, and soon, from Africa, will come creatives.

As I’ve traveled the continent, I’ve found countless troves of highly skilled, digital savvy creatives that speak English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, German (and more), who would thrive off of a $2,500 per month salary due to the low cost of living in many cities around the continent.

This salary is half or even a third of the cost of creatives in the U.S., making them strategically more viable for almost any brand. Graphic designers, media buyers, copywriters, video producers, video editors, voice actors, animators, web designers and more who are highly skilled, fluent in international languages, professional and ready to work.

These disciplines as well as others that I, as a full-time-traveler, recommend that people learn in order to make money while traveling the world, are skills that I believe can change the life trajectory for many people in the largest generation of Africans ever.

What will make these new African business people become the most successful is if they pull in revenue from outside of their country, and outside of the continent.

Building up a network and client base in Europe and the U.S. could draw in revenues two to five times higher than what they could net from local clients.

A Facebook ad media buyer in Cape Town may earn $2,500 per month, if they’re lucky, but a full-time contractor with U.S. clients can easily pull in $10k per month. Given that it will be a stretch for some U.S. companies to outsource their work so far away, there’s a happy medium at around $6k per month that should more than make up the difference.

Remote work opportunities

Companies like Andela have seen this opportunity and are already racing ahead to educate and employ Africans around the continent in ‘remote work.’

Andela focuses on full-stack developers, much like what companies have been successfully doing in India and Bangladesh, however, what I’m predicting for Africa is that a proliferation of similar companies focused on the digital visual arts and digital marketing services will start to break into the global market.

If you start looking around the continent, there are world-class digital marketing and design studios with mature businesses that can compete at every turn with shops out of San Francisco, New York, London, Berlin, and Singapore.

What these companies in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Lagos, Casablanca, and Cape Town are missing, is access, and those who focus on cracking that code will gain access to a waterfall of business opportunities from abroad.

Even one or two appearances at conferences like Grow.co, Mobile World Congress, or Mobile Growth, where the world’s leading minds and spenders in digital ads collide, has the propensity to change the trajectory of their businesses and their lives.

Huge potential for design and advertising innovation

African creative businesses are no longer shackled by geolocation, and they have more resources than any generation ever before to define their own futures. They can solve their ‘network’ issue with a multi-pronged strategy.

  • Build Relationships: Lean on and challenge super-connectors, create new technology to bridge the gap, or tap into the existing gig economies on Fiverr and Upwork.
  • Change Market Perception: Some companies on the global market will be apprehensive about the distance, and it’s up to African business to band together to create a new narrative. They should create content that addresses their fears and tells the African story, before promoting it.

The global market needs to start looking to the once dark continent to be the new shining light in their design, ux, and marketing departments. The talent is there, the collaboration infrastructure is there, the cost-savings are there, and a deep well of rich, innovative creativity is waiting for global companies to tap into.

In summary, the only infinite resource we can control is our creativity. There are more diverse sounds, smells, colors, and ways of life that Africans are exposed to on a daily basis than most westerners are in their rapidly homogenizing societies.

People can use this complexity, draw from the environment and challenge themselves to create content and digital business that the global market can’t afford to ignore.

If they can do this, they can severely undercut b2b market rates, given the lower cost of living, with the great quality of life that they have access to.

In this day and age, a small few, and mostly foreign citizens are making billions of dollars in wealth for themselves by extracting finite resources from the African continent. A way to bring wealth back to the the people, en masse, is by individually exporting their own arts and creativity.

Guest post by Andrew R. McDermott, a customer acquisition and retention marketing expert. Andrew was on the founding team of Spruce Media, one of the first and formerly largest Facebook ad technology firms, overseeing almost $400 million in Facebook ad spend. He has been traveling the world full-time since July 2014 under the moniker @heyheyAndrew (Instagram) and is co-founder of the charity fashion line, The Robe Lives.