Date: 2021/02/21

From Mobile First to Mobile Forced – What SA Marketers need to know…

South Africans became “mobile forced” during lockdown. As marketers, when planning our mobile marketing campaigns, we need to learn how to overcome the challenges, leverage the trends, and take advantage of the opportunities arising from this “mobile forced” environment, by enabling the right mobile technology available to us. Let’s unpack what the stats are telling us and showcase local solutions that became award winning campaigns. 

South Africa has always been called a “mobile first” country. In other words, South Africans generally experience the Internet on a mobile phone “first” before they see it on a big screen on a desktop. 

Since lockdown in March 2020, we have seen a new phenomenon emerge: South Africans have become “mobile forced” because being locked down in their homes, their mobile phones have become their lifeline, connecting them to their loved ones, and to what is happening in the world around them. 

In turn, SA Brands and Marketers have also become “mobile forced” as it became the best, dare I say only, way to reach out and talk to their customers. 

It is one thing to know that you must communicate with your customers via their mobile phones, yet the question remains as to how we best leverage the challenges, trends, and opportunities for mobile marketing in South Africa, while considering what we need to for the Protection of Information Act (POPIA). 

Let’s unpack the answers to some of the most pertinent questions that arise around mobile marketing in South Africa today:

1.   How can marketers overcome the challenge of airtime and data costs?

2.   How to leverage the trend of instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp Business through Chatbots?

3.   How to take advantage of the opportunity of Video by making it personal and engaging?

Challenge: Cost of Data & Airtime?


I believe the biggest challenge we have seen in the marketplace, that affects the use of mobile media and marketing, is the cost and availability of data, especially during these times.

For a while now, data could cost financially constrained South Africans 100 times more when purchased in small bundles, and during lockdown this issue has only escalated.

Adding to that the limited access to[i] Wifi at work, schools, community centres or in shopping malls, and the limitations and inconvenience of not being able to physically purchase more when needed, has led many South Africans to not have airtime or data when marketers need them to respond.

To overcome this challenge, let your brand sponsor your customers’ engagement by reverse billing their costs. How?

 For Web & Apps:

Cloud based technology allows us to eliminate the mobile data cost barrier by enabling the use of the telco ‘reverse billing’ model.

Basically, we create a mirror image of your site on a reverse billed IP address range (domain) and pull the content from your site to that page. Whomever you want to experience #datafree, can be sent the link to that domain rather than your original one.

It can work for apps, and mobile websites and campaign sites. There are some limitations on certain website technologies, but it is currently available in SA across all the major networks, and on Airtel in Nigeria.

Obviously, the more we compress our site’s images and videos, the less the brand will have to pay in reverse billed traffic costs. Using AI (Artificial Intelligence) compression technology, we can substantially decrease the size of your media files by up to 90% whilst not impacting the quality and load times – with the added benefit of allowing you to use more video on your website and improving your Google score and online sales.

 For USSD:

With millions of South Africans NOT on Smartphones, USSD is still a must! Yes, those *120* dial codes are still very popular. In fact, we just ran a campaign for a mobile survey on reverse billed web and USSD and 78% preferred dialing the USSD code. The reverse billed USSD codes starting with *134* have been in high demand during lockdown as government and brands use it as a platform for essential communications and engagement. Furthermore, now, as we prepare for POPIA’s 1 July 2021 deadline, providing a “free to consumer” USSD channel is a quick and convenient way to collect, refresh and augment data, consumer profiles and consent (opt-in) for communication.

 For SMS:

The past few years have shown us that having a reverse billed SMS Short Code as a call to action on your ad, where the consumer does not pay a cent to SMS the brand, generates much more response. We have seen an increase of up to 6 times the response rate, just because it doesn’t need the consumer to have any airtime or data on their phones to send the SMS.

Nowadays, you should even reverse bill your SMS replies… why? Because the POPIA Act’s Section 69 (Direct Marketing by means of unsolicited electronic communications) says that you have to offer an easy way to opt-out on each communication, that is free of charge! So, you can offer a reverse billed SMS reply, SMS short code or USSD code to dial to allow them to opt-out.


Two great examples of local award-winning campaigns that ran during lockdown are:

NIVEA #TakeExtraCare

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