Moving from VAS to Visual Notification Ads – Supa Pesa takes on a major FMCG brand to compete with the likes of Facebook and Google

29 March 2019

Top Story

Digital advertising on African mobile phones has the potential to become a huge business. Mobiles are the most owned devices after radios and well ahead of TVs. Visual Notification Ads (VNA) are still in their infancy but offer one route to grabbing users’ attention. Russell Southwood spoke to Sean Pashley, CMO, Supa Pesa about its largest campaign yet.

In the autumn of last year, a large, multinational FMCG brand placed the largest ever order for Visual Notification Ads with mobile marketing and VAS company Supa Pesa. According to Pashley:”The product comes out of the text ads mobile operators like MTN and Vodacom used to run alongside Please Call Me messages. It takes that idea and turns it into rich mobile media on any mobile data capable device but it does not use the user’s data allowance. It’s been in the marketplace for just over a year and we implemented in early autumn 2018”.

The ad fills the mobile screen and renders based on the handset’s specification. Basic criteria for running a campaign include time of day, day of the week, frequency capped by mobile number and number of impressions. But it is looking to add socio-demographics and other things like different languages.

“With this specific FMCG campaign, you can say I want to target females of a certain age within a certain LSM band. I can then extract them by device and tell the client who can say use that subset for the campaign”.

“That’s been a major revelation. It’s been a paradigm shift for the agencies who see the product. By default, you begin to compete with Facebook and Google on the basis of being able to identify audiences”.

“The FMCG client is promoting a skincare product for mid to low-end market users in terms of pricing and for use with darker skins. In the future, you could also have target predictive language. Someone in KZN is more likely to speak Zulu so it can be predictive but not 100% accurate”. Currently Supa Pesa is working with Cell C in South Africa.

Data is collected when customers get any of the following: a miscall, a voicemail notification, a top up message or a balance check:” It’s never a random push message. These kinds of messages give us the relevant data and we can target the ads”.

Supa Pesa is in discussions with other MNOs and there’s a lot of interest because many want to go beyond text only. There’s also a lot of interest on the brand side because FMCGs, fast food restaurants and retailers can see how they can use it:”It’s like a broadsheet print ad insert in the old days. You can display the product and a price with a link to see more deals. So lots of brands who have not used this approach will come on board with VNA”.

Will Supa Pesa be taking it outside South Africa as it works with almost all the major MNOs and has a presence in over 20 Sub-Saharan African countries?:” We’re in discussions with a Kenyan MNO and we’re also looking at several other markets we could go into. In one to two years time there will be a change in the landscape and our enterprise tam will sell this to core clients. Ghana has quite a lot of brands and Zambia is another one. It’s got a brand infrastructure and presence. There’s also interest from markets like Brazil that haven’t started to capitalize on things like this.

It’s quite expensive from the CAPEX/OPEX perspective to deploy. So we have to be quite selective at the feasibility stage”.

Click through rates vary considerably as they deal with a lot of different verticals.

The current average is 0.95% but that will change as it does more deals. A clothing retailer got a 3.7% click through rate but it’s also seen the rate go as low as 0.05% for a mobile web/mobi site:”We’re using a click meter from an agency so we can be absolutely transparent on returns’.


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