With its slogan, Yona Ke Yona (“this is it”), YFM was formed to fill the gap left in local radio after the fall of apartheid in 1994. At the time, most radio stations in South Africa were controlled at least in part by the South African Broadcasting Corporation and aired music that one would be just as likely to hear in any part of the world on MTV or VH1. DJs spoke English or Afrikaans. Local music and local languages were largely ignored in favor of international content.
YFM decided to narrow in at the street level and reach black listenership whose music and culture were largely ignored by the local radio stations of the day.
In 1997, the newly launched station embarked on a massive campaign to reach black listeners using a miniscule budget. The strategy was to take over the streets, literally, by slapping eye-catching stickers emblazoned with the letter “Y” on murals, traffic lights and street lamps across Johannesburg. The company also drove a trailer around the city carrying a YFM banner and playing original tunes by local artists.
YFM’s music ranges from hip hop to house and from R&B to kwaito. Fifty percent of the play list comprises South African bands. In its first week, YFM boasted an audience of 611,000, a record-breaking number for a regional station in South Africa, and a number that has since tripled to nearly two million. It is now the favorite radio station among 16 to 24 year olds living in Gauteng (the industrial and commercial heart of South Africa), with 54 percent more listeners in this market than its nearest competitor.
YFM brand manager Lindy Zokufa reports that YFM’s listenership has “grown for the sixth consecutive time in as many years – by 14 percent between 2002 and 2003 alone.”
“We take the research that we do, use it creatively and be consistent with the messaging that we send out there,” she explains. “[YFM sponsored] events, which feature the various music genres for tiered incomes and age groups, have been vital to our constant interaction with listeners and keeping the brand real.”
YFM has gone so far as to literally write the book on its market by self-publishing the Scamto Dictionary, which as Zokufa explains, “is a dictionary that takes ownership of the urban street lingo.” It’s an internal document that media planners can use to better understand the environment and culture of the consumer.
A key part of YFM’s success is in defining itself not as a radio station but as a cultural movement. In addition to radio, the station now offers Y-Mag, YWorld, and Y-Shoppe, a clothing warehouse.
By finding a market that wasn’t being served YFM managed to carve a niche in South Africa’s airwaves. By understanding that market, YFM manages to grow to other aspects of its market’s lifestyle.
Fashion Remakes History
Nkhensani Manganyi started the clothing brand Stoned Cherrie in 2000 with the aim of growing a cool fashion label that would move conceptions away from the traditional beaded skirts, headdresses and muumuus that dominate the way western women think of African fashion.
Creative director and CEO Manganyi, who spent her childhood in the US, embraced an “urban African” fashion with a unique twist to reclaim black South Africa’s past. To help reach this goal, Manganyi signed a deal with Bailey’s Historical Archives in Johannesburg to attain the exclusive right to use images from the Afrocentric Drum magazine directly on the fabric.
Speaking with South Africa’s Sunday Times, Manganyi said “We saw it more as a test phase to see if people would actually wear an outfit with a photograph of a black man with his fist in the air” (April 20, 2003).
Manganyi’s idea to use images from Drum magazine has a special resonance in South Africa. The 1950s is often looked upon by locals of all races as not only the beginnings of the modern anti-apartheid movement, but also the beginning of a black protest culture. Drum was the era’s primary print outlet, and its black and white images have a bittersweet poignancy. By wearing Stoned Cherrie clothing, black South Africans can feel they are taking back the censored past of their parents and grandparents.
“[Stoned Cherrie’s] approach has been to make history part of pop culture,” says Manganyi. To this end, the brand is “about our identity and pride, and about who we are.” Her clothes offer people a “talking point.”
Stoned Cherrie has kept to its mission of taking back history through a series of outreach programs that, Manganyi says, serve to directly communicate the brand’s stance. Stoned Cherrie, she says, has become a “mouthpiece for an expression that never found a vehicle,” and a reaction to pessimism that black South Africans could not make a mark in a fashion scene so dominated by Eurocentric designs. She says she positioned the brand “where people needed a voice,” and gave local fashion culture a sense of renewal.
To this end, she says, Stoned Cherrie targets “more of a headspace than a focus on a special racial demographic.” Citing the universal appeal of the clothes, she says, “The brand is really about celebrating who you are.”
Starting from the Streets: Loxion Kulca
Started in 1999 by Wandi Nzimande and Sechaba Mogale, Loxion Kulca (street slang for “Location Culture,” a reference to the apartheid government’s designation of townships as “locations”) has grown tremendously, and already spawned two labels: Zweto and Deletso.
The story goes that as the two out-of-work friends found local interest in their crocheted skullcaps, they hit upon the idea for a clothing line. The first Loxion Kulca retail “outlet” was the trunk of their car. For a year the brand focused entirely on skullcaps and beanies.
Since then, the brand has branched out to include utility-style clothing, shoes, bags, sunglasses and even a kids’ line. The two founders insisted on keeping a legitimate street presence, but also hit upon the idea of going right to the source of street culture everywhere around the world: the music scene. Loxion Kulca gained an association with local music culture by ensuring local DJs and musicians have ready access to the clothing. One hot local hip-hop group, H20, mentioned the brand in a song entitled It’s Wonderful, further boosting Loxion Kulca’s following.
The road has not always been smooth. When the partners approached local clothing manufacturer Brian Abrahams for help, some of their customers, accused them of selling out to a white-owned industry. The two struck back quickly, printing the number “99” on a new clothing range, which in local slang means “straight up” or “genuine.” They then communicated the idea to buyers that they were not ashamed of their business partner’s background, and that Loxion Kulca would always be real. When Brian was killed in a motorcycle accident, his son, Gideon, stepped in to fill the void as the manager of the Loxion Kulca brand and clothing line.
In an email interview, Gideon Abrahams writes that Loxion Kulca “has now become legendary in locations from Alex to Kathlehong, from Sandton to Jeppe, from the newspaper vendor to the local bank manager.” The brand has reached television, he says, by dressing the coolest young black presenters of popular talk shows. Gideon attributes the success of the brand to the fact that “the clothes are fun, modern and uniquely South African but still manage to keep us with modern trends.”
Finding the Right Market
Each of the brands here has one thing in common: they reached out to an underserved population and combined imagination with available resources to craft a shrewd strategy for gaining appeal.