The danger of a single story in marketing

Converse All Stars were initially basketball shoes. They did well for some time, until other brands came in with more sophisticated shoes and interesting technologies imbedded in them. They could’ve changed direction and sold the shoes differently but chose not to.

Chuck Taylors were known as artists’ shoes outside basketball courts — Converse didn’t pay attention to this market. Irrespective of how Converse viewed them, the streets continued defining themselves with the shoes. Money ran dry for the company as competition became tough in the courts to a point Nike intervened and bought Converse. To resuscitate their new asset, they changed direction and re-positioned themselves to what All Stars are what we know and view them as today.

What’s the point? A one-sided perspective has big risks! Especially if you’re a business or brand which still views and clubs people in large generic groups. Not taking the time to study the people to whom your products or services are aimed. Lacking cultural curiosity.

Example: The township of Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg, at the face of it, has absolutely no hope at anything. A quick Google Search reveals stories and articles about drug abuse, poverty, helplessness, and high levels of crime, amongst other unfortunate stuff.

Until recently, with the building of a R428 million mall (first phase), a Google Search now reveals bits about property adverts. I even caught a glimpse of a positive story about the township in the Jo’burg city website.


In late 2014, I spent a lot of time with friends along a main road in Extension 7A. I started seeing my own neighbourhood in a different light, I saw beyond the helplessness. I started seeing people frequent ikasi in their German sedans. A lot of them, actually.

You must be thinking, “It’s a few cars you and your mates saw, so?” Well, as a result of that I began paying attention to some of the trends which prevailed and how people, especially young people behave and shape these trends. How they interact with brands. How they value products and services sold to them. What these brands meant to them, amongst other things.

What leapt out at me was that many brands don’t pay attention to their customers in areas which don’t represent glitz and glamour, as it were. If they do, it’ll often be a billboard written by a Copywriter who knows little about the people he’s selling to.

Here’s the biggest reason to change gears in our marketing: demographics meant a lot in the old world. But today, a kid living in a township owns the same mobile phone, wears the same clothes and listens to the same music as one in a suburban area. The emphasis needs to shift to how customers think, instead of where they live.


I attended an acquaintance’s party early in the year of 2015. It was an eye-opening experience. The value of me being at the party was to be amplified beyond me having a good time with friends.

At one point I stood a few steps away from where the party was happening, to get a sense of what was unfolding. I looked up from my phone, and something struck me. Guys standing in a large group, around 10 to 15. All of them wearing a combination of Nike Jordan and Airmax sneakers. It was an interesting sight. “This is an opportunity for Nike South Africa to get to know these guys and talk to them on a personal level, immaterial of where they live.” I thought.

I have friends whose possessions I look at closely, because curiosity. They own interesting stuff from brands which never take the time to know them. And because of the internet and a broader and easier access to information, people are (especially young people) are becoming quite savvy and discerning about a variety of things. We are fast becoming one small world.

Speaking of discerning, when it comes to communications, a lot of people become attached to the story you tell, the value you add to them and HOW you speak to them is becoming more important than ever. What this means is: it is not enough in this day and age to speak to people and treat them like the places they live in.

Simply put: it is risky peddling a one-sided story that’s void of any cultural curiousity.