Brands in South Africa & Their K’s

By Lethabo Nkome

The concept of being the face of a brand excites many but it’s the process of sending out countless emails to the “right” people in hopes of being considered their perfect candidate that tends to wear you out.  

After the 50th ignored email, one begins to ask themselves; who exactly is a perfect candidate to a brand?  

In this digital age, brands engage in numbers on the screen meaning follower counts, page hits, etc. The influencer marketing strategy has only gained momentum in recent years. It has become the go-to win-win strategy for any brand setting out to increase their social media and digital visibility. They follow this strategy by hiring social media influencers, informally known as “K’s”, to promote their brands.

But do brands in South Africa have a realistic view of what an influencer should be in a local context? Is it only the girl who fits eurocentric beauty standards with a large following based on her aesthetic? Or the gent that happens to date an “it” girl for some time and as a result becomes part of a social media relationship goal? Has it reached a point where we follow the lives of people with no substance and consider their bare minimum efforts as influential? Or is it the brands that are making this mistake and expecting us to continue in supporting them?

Many local brands follow this strategy because they blindly believe in the “numbers don’t lie” ideology and obviously running to the largest follower counts (without checking if they are real or purchased) is the easiest option to market themselves. But, for how long will we sit back and watch the same faces get opportunities and advance their superficial brands?


A recent campaign by familiar foreign brand Carvella is a notable example of a brand chasing numbers instead of insight into their real market share. The #LoveMyCarvellas campaign launched in late 2016 and cast a group of South Africa’s social media popular bloggers and influencers to take on the brand, a move which left consumers confused. 

Locally, Carvella’s signature moccasins are usually associated with your everyday skhotane or the guy next door from a township but none were represented in the initial content. The campaign caused an uproar on social media with fans and bystanders alike questioning if there was even any research done to best present their re-branding to the South African market. Sure, they got their precious numbers on the screen but was associating themselves with not-so-great influencers who don’t buy their products in order to get the masses’ attention worth alienating their core market here?

Mpho – the guy next door from Moroe Street – would have loved to represent Carvella in a campaign as he is personally invested in the brand and could even teach us all a thing or two about how to clean them or put together a complimentary ensemble. He would have been the better option but too bad his attempts to send emails to get such brands’ attention fell on deaf ears due to his poor English and lower follower counts.

The sad story is researching templates on how to email your ultimate favorite brand is almost futile. Your heartfelt email might as well automate itself to the trash bin with no recovery option because brands and their allocated agencies will ignore you for not having “enough” numbers.

In our country, the whole process of brands and picking associations desperately needs to be re-evaluated. Mainly because our difference in culture and economic issues should no longer be swept under the rug in favor of the privileged few being the only ones getting these opportunities.

There seems to be no space in the industry for faces that represent the majority of South African consumers and that’s what we really need to change.  Brands need to open themselves to be represented by those who don’t necessarily fit the current criteria for a successful influencer but rather those who earn the position because they are passionate, creative, loyal and speak to their actual loyal consumers.  Not the ‘I believe I am Margaret Zhang and I can change the industry without any real substance’ brigade that has plagued our industry for long enough.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below?