Why the “Kardashianification” of the Bonang brand can’t work in SA


Last night, some of the cream of South Africa’s glam celebrity crop gathered in Joburg to see the launch of a unique app created by Cell C in partnership with one of the country’s biggest stars, Bonang Matheba.

Now, for those who have no clue who Bonang Matheba is, think of her as South Africa’s Beyoncé (like the singer, she also goes by the nickname “Queen B”) – except she doesn’t sing; presenting is her forté.

Matheba is one of South Africa’s most bankable locally-based celebrities . She’s secured major endorsement deals with international and local brands, travels the world to rub shoulders with Western celebrities and makes a killing doing it all.

She has a huge social media following, with 2.23 million Twitter followers and 1.6 million Instagram followers. This has attracted many local brands to attach themselves to her in order to reach out to her legion of adoring fans.

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Last night’s launch was the latest in a series of big launches for Matheba. 2017 has seen her launch a reality show, an emoji app, a new intimate wear line and a book (which had to be pulled off a major bookstore’s shelves because it’s so poorly written and edited).

The app, titled Bonang by Cell C, offers fans the following:

  • Be the first to know all the latest news about Bonang’s career and glamourous personal life
  • Discover her favourite spots to eat, shop and hang out
  • Learn about the products she loves the most
  • Get inspired by her personal advice and tips
  • Enjoy her favourite videos, handpicked for you
  • Receive her latest social media updates, all gathered in one place
  • Ask her any question and get a personalised answer

You get all of the above for a monthly subscription price of up to R61. That’s right, you pay to consume (strictly curated) content from a local celebrity.

What works in the US, won’t necessarily work in Africa

If you’re not into local celebrity culture, you would probably scoff at this, but in a world where brands are looking to capitalise on growing influencer trends and reach target markets through other channels, this probably seems like a good idea. But here’s why it won’t really take off.

In the US, celebrities like Kim Kardashian have launched games and an apps that have made millions for them. That’s because celebrity culture over there is on an entirely different frequency than it is here. A lot of fans are obsessed with their favourite celebrities and most have the money (or parents with money) to spend on content produced by/for them.

However, South Africans are a lot more chilled about this. While we may really be into a certain celebrity, obsession is a point the majority of us are yet to reach, never-mind spending money (which is already tight for many).

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Also, why would I spend R61 a month on content I can just head to Instagram to see? Matheba is very much an Insta-queen (a pro at using it, basically), sharing videos, professionally-shot snaps of her glam life and keeping her fans in the loop with what she’s doing.

Those who’ve watched her reality show on the Vuzu Amp channel on DStv, have commented that the show (which also promised a real, exclusive “behind-the-scenes” look into her life), is just one big Instagram feed packaged as a TV show.

The show’s ratings have been dismal, not more than 400 000 viewers were recorded last month, when it launched.

Her Bmoji app, also launched in July, with exclusive emojis of her, has also not done all that well. It costs R40 and has not passed more than 500 downloads. Also, you can’t use it on most social media apps.

So let’s say you download both Bonang apps, that’s R101 to get something that isn’t of any real exceptional value.

Now, consider the fact that data costs are so high in South Africa and many of the population can barely afford to buy bundles to do basic things such as send emails, texts and perform downloads. There’s not much of a selling point in asking people to incur additional costs by paying for an app and using data to consume the content there in.

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Trying to imitate the way the Kardashian brand is pushed in the US, will present a number of challenges in a country that is vastly different.

StatsSA yesterday released a study on poverty in South Africa, revealing that a staggering two-thirds of the population are living in poverty. The cost of living is high in South Africa and the average labourer doesn’t earn nearly enough to cater to their every day needs. A previous study showed that the public is gradually cutting down on non-essentials such as entertainment, eating out and more. So naturally, an app that won’t greatly benefit me is not something that’s on my budget right now.

Americans will consume almost any pop culture content thrown their way, but with us, it’ll take a whole lot more convincing before you sway us.

Matheba’s brand is doing pretty well for itself without having to try milk its fan base. She’s one of the most recognisable local celebrities. She already makes loads of money and is very sought-after. She and her team would do well in focusing on carrying on on that path.

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