Friday, December 19, 2008

Spreading the message well

Exciting news! Eating local is in. Especially when it comes to Ghana Rice. EWB and the Ghana Ministry of Food and Agriculture are running a marketing campaign that promotes Ghana rice.
It’s taken just over a year but the message has spread! Just over a year ago I made a pledge, to only eat rice grown in Ghana. I’ve kept to this pledge out of commitment to the farmers I work with and to make a humble statement about the injustice of the situation of rice in Ghana – highly subsidized rice is imported and has been marketed to an extent that Ghanaians have shifted their preferences towards the whiter and less nutritious imported grains. This has been tough – rice is good! And at restaurants it’s rare to find local rice on the menu.
Some rice farmers enjoying Ghana Rice during a meeting! This was the first time EVER that the Ministry served Ghana rice at a meeting. Before then, it was always imported rice.
I am working on a marketing campaign that will help spread these messages. It’s an exciting initiative that tries to even the score for rice farmers in Ghana. They want everyone to know that their rice is more nutritious (it’s processed in a way that keeps the outer skin on which contains most of the nutrients). They want people to recall that it’s fresh (imported rice often sits in warehouses before being shipped overseas to be sold). Too bad we aren’t marketing to Western consumers. Nutritious and fresh food is what we Canadians are demanding these days!
But we are marketing to urban Ghanaians. The ones who eat rice more often are from middle-upper class families. So this is our target audience. Ghanaians do care about nutritious food, they value strength and in turn food that will make them strong. So that’s our pitch – nutritious rice.

Meymuna and Hawabu proudly marketing their quality rice.
The people who buy rice are often cooking it because they don’t have time to cook traditional meals. So rice that’s easy to cook is good. Unfortunately a lot of Ghana rice has a lot of stones in it. The stones come from when the rice is threshed and dried on unclean surfaces. The stones need to be removed manually before cooking which takes a lot of time thus defeating the purpose of cooking rice! Not all rice is dirty! The rice we’re marketing is so clean! That’s our second pitch – clean rice.
Drying rice on a clean surface.
Check out the jingle to hear for yourself! This jingle is being broadcasted across Northern Ghana. Listen to it three times and you’ll catch yourself singing this catchy tune about quality Ghana rice! Some of my friends love it so much they’ve put it as their ringtone!

Click here to go to the Ghana Rice jingle!

The campaign has been delayed by about 5 months due to the need to keep so many people informed. This has been frustrating but it’s ensured that any assumptions I make are questioned! The main one came when I was deciding what advertising medium to use.
Initially when I was designing the campaign strategy I hardly considered the radio. I figured the power of advertising would come from a really big signboard on the main road. But as the campaign went on I received some critical input that the message will be more strongly spread through the radio than visually. I made a classic mistake. I, and you, come from a world where visuals are important – who doesn’t own a TV? Who doesn’t know how to read? In Ghana, the radio is an essential element in most households. What’s spoken on the radio is taken as ‘the word’. I wonder how many outsiders make the same mistake as me, design their program making assumptions about the context and misunderstand the way people learn and what they need.

The visual - a big signboard will still be posted along the main road in Tamale.
My guess is too many! I tons of development projects that chart their course for failure from the beginning when they fail to understand ground realities. A crucial yet often underestimated element when a project is being designed from the ivory towers of Rome/Washington/Accra. This is where EWB comes in. We move from the ground to the towers using our credibility and mobility to communicate realities. We don’t normally design and implement development projects – that’s left to Ghanaians, this case is an exception that I’ve indulged in! We’ve found a niche in communicating ground realities to help ensure development decisions are well-informed. This is my mission for the next couple of years. It’s a new sort of job for me but one that I look forward to! A new medium for messages!