The Villager (How Africans Consume Brands) by Feyi Olubodun
Published by: Cognix by Ouida Books
Release Date: 2018
Genre: Non-Fiction; Business
Source: Publisher (Review Copy)
When Feyi Olubodun, CEO of one of West Africa’s leading creative agencies, witnessed one too many cases of brands failing in the African marketplace he began to ask himself questions:
- Why did brands, both global and local, so often fail to connect with the African consumer?
- What was it about the African market that brand owners were not seeing?
He began to reflect on his own marketing experiences and out of this emerged the framework for The Villager.
In Feyi’s view, the African consumer begins his life’s journey by moving from the village, his rural dwelling, to the city, carrying with him not only his own dreams but also the dreams of his community. He is a highly aspirational consumer, motivated to succeed, and he becomes the economic portal for the rest of his community back home. Although he may be exposed to global influences and technology, his essential identity remains largely intact. This is why Feyi calls the African consumer a Villager.
The Village is no longer a physical space; it is a psychological construct that defines him and the filter through which he engages with and consumes brands.
You know, this book surprised me. It took me a minute to get into it because business book = Ugh! but I was wrong. In The Villager, Feyi Olubodun attempts to give insight to any self-respecting brand looking to sell anything in the world’s fastest-growing economies. According to this book, Africa will make up 54% of the world population in less than 40 years.
As the title gives away, Feyi Olubodun explains why the average African regardless of education or exposure is inherently a villager. He has a lot of facts to back it up too. First, he goes into detail defining what makes the Villager/African and it’s uncanny. We may not like to admit these truths but the author knows what he’s talking about.
A lot of new concepts are introduced to me in this book. Maybe not new as in no one ever heard of it before, maybe only new to me. The most interesting bit to me was the Collectivism vs Individualism & Power Distance discussion. According to the author, and I’ll admit this true, Nigeria has a collectivist culture. In the sense of how involved the community and their opinions matter in the lives of the individual.
The Village is no longer a physical space, since the African Consumer has left there. The Village is the psychological construct that defines him.
Now, while I can say the observations and insights the author provides into the African consumer are correct, I am concerned about selling this insight to foreign investors. My reasoning is simple, it has been made obvious over time how flawed our patriarchal systems are and I may have written some variation of “Fuck the patriarchy” all over my copy of this book as I read it.
As Feyi Olubodun states, the African population is the youngest in the world. 70% of Nigerians are currently below 35 years old and while The Villager uses these results to stress the importance of investing in an “Africa Strategy”, there is no corresponding insight into how this young population is moving away from the traditional Villager mindset.
Unfortunately, the villager who has been carefully profiled in this book is losing relevance as more young Africans are migrating towards individualist thinking. While the core of the African is indisputable, e.g. the importance placed on supporting your family, being good ambassadors for your people etc, many behaviours and norms are already being resisted today. In 40 years, I don’t expect the following to be the popular school of thought. Even in Nigeria.
Community sanctions is a system of negative reinforcements and sometimes severe social punishment that exists within a culture to discourage undesirable behaviours from members of the community… By the time the individual is an adult, he unconsciously avoids those behaviours, even though he often cannot articulate his reasons.
It is ‘just the way things are’.
Firstly, millennial question everything and Generation Z is even more inquisitive. Accepting things just because that’s “how they are”. That thinking needs to die and will die if we have anything to say about it. So, while The Villager is factually accurate and filled with a lot of information that will be useful to brands looking to gain insight into the current African mind, it holds a flaw so massive I can’t comprehend how it could have been overlooked.
What is this flaw? The complete disregard for the young African, who is feminist, non-conformist, tolerant of queer humans and is unlikely to stay in a marriage because of societal pressure. By failing to take this vocal demographic who process the world in such a wildly different way to the norm, a group of people who will make up 54% of the world population in 40 years into account, the author has effectively blinded any brand who turns to this book as a guide.
The Villager who will attract investors to Africa doesn’t think like the villager of today. This is important information for brands with plans for the future. Unfortunately, that insight into the future villager is absent in this book.
I’ll still recommend The Villager to anyone with even the mildest interest in marketing to Africans. Just expect that the millennial and Generation Z will probably disagree and/or resist whatever you come up with.