South Africa: More consumers use cellphones than listen to radio or watch TV

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The future - at least, the communication end of it - could be in the palm of our hands. That's my reading of recent statistics from the Nielsen Mobile Insights study into the South African cellphone market.  The researchers' message is clear. Text and SMS are absolutely vital if you wish to reach the cellphone generation - which I define as anyone between the ages of eight and 88.

According to the latest numbers, more Africans have access to cellphones than to clean drinking water. That's a staggering insight. The cellphone is much more than a means of communication. It's a fashion accessory that spells status, social interaction and a sense of community. How else can you explain the growth of the handheld chatterbox?

In South Africa between 2000 and 2010, cellphone usage rocketed from 17% to 76% of adults. More consumers use cellphones than listen to radio (29 million versus 28 million) or watch TV (27 million).

Computer usage lags massively. Only six million South Africans use PCs. This is still higher than the usage of landline phones. At the last count, only five million of us still communicated via strands of copper wire down a phone-line.

In contrast, SMS texting has taken off as the country's fastest growing method of getting a message across. Apparently, texting is nearly 4.2 times more prevalent than email messaging while 69% of consumers prefer sending a text to making a call on their cellphones - presumably because it's cheaper.It's also so cool, though I'm told the preferred spelling among the in-crowd is kewl. (The comparative, says the Wiktionary, is kewler while the superlative is kewlest.)

Which brings us to a key point. Today, mobility is more than a medium. It's bcum (become in sms language) a language as well. Txt-spk is now so complex and so pervasive among the young that US parents are going online to learn how to transl8 the lingo so they can find out what their kids are up to.

There's a contradiction here - the medium is so ubiquitous that many users look for ways of shutting the masses out by creating a private language for their own private space. So, the numbers may indicate the size of the communication opportunity, but they don't tell us how to get on the same wave-length as these media consumers.

This communication platform reaches a mass audience in a personal way, but to really make it work for us we still need creative hooks. At the end of the day (or @TEOTD if you prefer), you need a great idea for a great connection.