It’s 1975. The war of the colas is at its highest. Pepsi launches “the Pepsi Cola Challenge”. They go to shopping malls, randomly invites shoppers to their stall for tasting. They blindfold me and give them drinks to take sips. Its Coke and Pepsi. They asked them to say between drink A and B, which ones tastes better. They say their choice. Pepsi has won.

They don’t share the findings with the tasters.

Then they remove the blindfolds. They offer the same tasters two branded drinks: Coke and Pepsi. The majority say Coke tastes better.

I will not go into the nitty gritty of the Pepsi claims and Coca Cola’s counterclaims but only indicate that the objective of the exercise was to demonstrate that although perceptions may not represent the true reality, the bottom line was that perceptions are considered real in the minds of the consumers. That’s why brand management is that marketing science whose battleground is the consumer’s mind: what images does your name or your product create in a customer’s mind? 

Perceptions are quite critical hence marketing is essentially the art and science of perceptions management. These are deliberate efforts to shape or influence people’s perception of an individual, organisation, event, or idea. It involves various techniques and strategies aimed at controlling or manipulating how others perceive information, particularly in the fields of public relations, marketing, politics and warfare.

Perception management techniques can be employed to create a specific image or narrative, manage reputation, sway public opinion, or gain a strategic advantage. These techniques often involve the strategic use of media, communication channels, messaging, and psychological tactics to shape perceptions and influence behaviour.

I’m making an impatient please to African countries to respond to a number of customer perceptions studies that rank them very poorly. What bothers me most is that our silence inadvertently endorses these misperceptions. The latest two studies are Fraser Institute’s “Investment Attractiveness Index” for the mining sector which has just ranked the mining industry in South Africa and 7 other African countries in the worst bottom 10 out of 66 countries; and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Democracy Index” that indicates only 8% of the world’s population actually lives in a full, functioning democracy; another 37% of people live in some type of “flawed democracy”; 55% of the world does not live in democracy at all; while only 12% of African countries live in some type of “flawed democracy” and they have lumped the rest of the African countries into the bottom 8%.

We should also be mindful that while investors and tourists regard these as part of their research in deciding which locations they should take their investments, tourists also consider them on deciding which destinations to visit. It is therefore pertinent that we challenge every atom of misrepresentation of Africa and her countries in the media. The media has a significant influence on shaping public perceptions and attitudes toward different regions of the world, including Africa. Unfortunately, Africa has been subjected to various negative stereotypes which can lead to biased and distorted views of the continent.

Here are some ways in which Africa has been stereotyped by the media to push negative perceptions:

  • Single Story Narrative: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author, coined the term “single story” to describe the portrayal of Africa as a monolithic, poverty-stricken, and conflict-ridden continent. The media often focuses on limited narratives of war, famine, disease, and poverty, neglecting the diverse cultures, achievements, and progress found across Africa.
  • Poverty Porn: Media outlets frequently rely on images and stories that exploit poverty in Africa for dramatic effect. This “poverty porn” approach reduces Africa to a continent solely defined by destitution, ignoring the vast economic growth, urban development, and middle-class populations that exist in many African countries.
  • Lack of Context: Media coverage often lacks historical, social, and political context, resulting in a simplistic understanding of complex issues. This can perpetuate stereotypes by failing to explore the root causes of problems and focusing solely on the symptoms or immediate crises.
  • Homogenisation: Africa is a diverse continent with over 50 countries, each with its own unique history, culture, and socio-political context. However, media coverage often homogenises Africa, treating it as a single entity and overlooking its regional and national variations.
  • Exoticism and Othering: Africa is frequently exoticized, depicted as a wild and untamed land, reinforcing stereotypes of it being “other” or fundamentally different from the rest of the world. This can create a sense of distance and perpetuate an “us versus them” mentality.
  • Underrepresentation of Positive Stories: Positive stories from Africa, such as innovation, entrepreneurship, and cultural achievements, often receive less attention in international media compared to negative narratives. This imbalance can reinforce negative stereotypes by failing to provide a balanced perspective.
  • Sensationalism and Selective Reporting: Media outlets sometimes prioritise sensational stories that grab attention, focusing on conflicts, corruption, and crises. This selective reporting reinforces negative perceptions while neglecting stories of resilience, progress, and positive change happening in Africa.
  • Lack of Diverse African Voices: African perspectives and voices are often marginalised or absent in mainstream media coverage. This lack of representation perpetuates a narrative dominated by external perspectives, limiting the understanding of Africa’s complexities and perpetuating stereotypes.

It is important to critically analyse media representations of Africa, challenge stereotypes, and seek diverse sources of information to develop a more nuanced and accurate understanding of the continent. By promoting balanced and responsible media coverage, we can combat negative perceptions and foster a more comprehensive and respectful representation of Africa.

Here are some common methods which we could use in perception management:

Media Manipulation: This involves strategically disseminating information through various media channels to influence public opinion. It can include the use of press releases, news articles, social media campaigns, and targeted messaging to shape the narrative and control the flow of information.

Propaganda: Propaganda is the intentional spreading of biased or misleading information to influence public opinion and shape perceptions. It often involves appealing to emotions, employing persuasive techniques, and selectively presenting information to support a particular agenda or viewpoint.

Image Building: This involves crafting a specific image or brand identity to shape how an individual or organization is perceived. It can include strategies such as creating positive associations, highlighting achievements, managing crises, and engaging in public relations activities.

Spin and Framing: Spin refers to the deliberate interpretation or presentation of information in a way that supports a particular agenda or viewpoint. Framing involves emphasising certain aspects of an issue while downplaying or ignoring others to influence how people interpret and understand the situation.

Psychological Operations (PsyOps): PsyOps involve the use of psychological techniques to influence the emotions, attitudes, and behaviours of target audiences. This can include tactics such as persuasion, manipulation, misinformation, or even covert operations to achieve specific objectives.

Perception Warfare: In military contexts, perception management can be used as part of psychological operations to shape the perception of the enemy, allies, or neutral parties. This can involve tactics like spreading disinformation, conducting media campaigns, or using information warfare to gain a strategic advantage.

It’s important to note that perception management can be used both ethically and unethically, depending on the intent and methods employed. While some organisations may use perception management techniques to inform and engage the public in a transparent and responsible manner, others may use them to deceive, manipulate, or mislead.

Before signing off, let me invite you to watch my interview on Nigeria’s Central News television channel.

Enjoy your weekend.

Saul Molobi (FCIM)

Publisher, Group Chairman & CEO

Brandhill Africa™

Tel: +27 11 483 1019

Mobile: +27 83 635 7773

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