The digital divide remains one of South Africa’s most pressing problems, since a lack of access to connectivity is closely associated with a diminished quality of life, fewer economic opportunities and less social interaction. Since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, which accelerated digital adoption among those with access, the divide has only deepened.

Overcoming this challenge in SA remains a difficult proposition, but it also offers an opportunity for brands to play a role in driving increased connectivity in underserved areas, while at the same time reaching a previously inaccessible audience.

According to Think WiFi’s Chief Operating Officer, Marnus Kruger, the company – in conjunction with CommScope and a number of key brands – is undertaking a project that’s chief goal is the provision of free, uncapped WiFi for township residents.

“A unique digital advertising platform funds the model, enabling Internet access to be provided free to those who need it most. It is a purpose-driven advertising model that provides brands with saliency in township economies, while delivering the industry with performance-driven metrics and positively measured community impact,” he says.

“This model is then utilised to fund the provision of free, uncapped WiFi, which will uplift these communities, reduce the digital divide and ultimately ensure that everyone wins.”

Better connectivity, better life

In fact, the 2021 Township Marketing Report indicates the importance of providing such connectivity, when it outlines that lack of access to information is still a major obstacle for many township residents. With the primary challenge described as being how and where brands communicate with the township consumer, it is clear that better connectivity will improve both access to and communication of information for residents.

The report states that, contrary to popular assumptions that online shopping is the preserve of high LSM groups, a full 28% of respondents noted that they have shopped online. These statistics play directly into the purpose-driven advertising model, as this not only provides a targeted message to residents while encouraging brand loyalty, but in doing so, also offers access to the connectivity needed for them to digitally transact with the brand.

Kruger notes that increased access to the Internet will benefit not only township residents, but also those advertisers that can build brand loyalty. Purpose-driven advertising has proven to be a successful model so far, he adds.

“The purpose-driven approach has enabled us to implement more than 320 ThinkZone free Wi-Fi hotspots in five different provinces. This has so far had a positive impact on the lives of more than 3.5 million South Africans.”

“It is all about reaching a previously inaccessible audience, and doing so in a direct, measurable, and engaging way. This advertising platform enables advertisers to achieve exactly this while helping to drive digital equality, which is our core ambition.”

As an example of how purpose-driven advertising works, he points to a recent campaign by one of the country’s largest banks. He explains that the organisation partnered with Think WiFi, through 365 Digital, with the aim of educating users in specific townships about key financial issues – like money matters, online banking and using high-impact video.

“Through its advertising, it was thus able to fund a campaign that was key to directly helping to uplift people’s lives, while delivering equality through technology.”

Moreover, continues Kruger, by building a relationship with its audience through financial education, coupled to the provision of connectivity, the bank benefits from increased customer loyalty and an enhanced social licence to operate.

WiFi hotpspots vital for townships

Riaan Graham, Enterprise Director for sub-Saharan Africa at CommScope, points out that connectivity is the crucial foundation on which access to the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is built.

“The ThinkZone WiFi hotspots installed by us are vital for all in the township – from the man in the street, to local businesses, and on to entire communities. The kind of connectivity these hotspots provide is key to accessing a wide range of critical services and information,” he says.

“These range from utilising e-government services to online education and development courses, healthcare, and anything else related to the digital economy. Furthermore, it also enables residents to access news and information, entertainment and social media platforms. Freely available Internet also makes it simpler for employers to connect with local skills, while enabling the growth of entrepreneurs by allowing easy market access. It also empowers small business owners, assisting growth and contributing to improved economic activity in the community.”

Think WiFi’s Kruger adds that the company is really pleased with the impact this model has had so far, and is eager to continue empowering people and narrowing the digital divide in 2022 and beyond.

“We look forward to continuing to utilise this model, alongside our many key advertisers and partners, to enable us to take free, uncapped WiFi to those most in need. In this way, we can play our part in creating an enabling environment for all South Africans to leverage the benefits of the 4IR,” he concludes.

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