Will Agang take off?

So Mamphela Ramphele, South Africa’s last great hope if we’re going to break the impasse of our current political landscape, which cynics might summarise as a choice between self-interested thieves and self-righteous prefects, has finally announced what we’ve suspected for some time: she’s launching a political party. Wait, not a political party, a political “platform”. A sort of placeholder for something that will contest the 2014 elections.

Well and good, but will it have any impact? Because I’m primarily a marketing strategist, and Agang is in the business of winning votes in 2014, I’m going to take a very quick look at this morning’s launch at Constitution Hill from a marketing point of view. My opinion will evolve as more information emerges, but this is my first take on the first new entrant on our political scene in some time.

First, the good: Agang got great coverage. It’s all over the news — luckily Oscar’s court appearance is tomorrow, or it would have been lost. So it has a narrow window of opportunity to make an impact before we get distracted again. Agang has a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter handle, all very necessary in an age where what happens on Twitter spreads everywhere else too. Ramphele will need the media and influencers on her side, especially as she’s asking for donations.

Here’s what I’m not so sure about:

The name. Brand names should be differentiated, memorable and meaningful. Agang scores on all three — it’s African, which is great — but fails on one important one: it lends itself to all sorts of puns on “a gang”. Already it’s being called a gang of instrumentals, jokes are being made about the Famous Five, and comparisons are being made between A gang and B gang. All of this distracts from the message and increases the likelihood that they’ll be regarded as a joke. Can you cope with a gang? etc etc.

Apparently, an alternative is “Akhani” which could conceivably be rendered in Afrikaans as “Ek kannie”, but on the whole doesn’t lend itself to unfortunate puns. Something tells me the entire concept behind this was not properly stress-tested. Ramphele herself hasn’t ruled out the possibility of it changing.

Still, it’s possible we’ll move on. After all, when the iPad launched, everybody made iTampon jokes, and those were soon forgotten as the term became generic. Maybe that will happen here.

The positioning. What is a “political platform”? A precursor to a political party, I suppose. But this was not well-understood by the journalists covering the event, who expressed irritation. If you’re loved by the media, but you manage to annoy them with your launch, you’re doing something wrong.

The target audience. Who is Ramphele going after? The poor and dispossessed? The slacktivists on Twitter who can’t bring themselves to vote for the DA? Everyone? Maybe she’s still figuring that out.

The message. Same old, same old, has been the general response. This is nothing we haven’t heard before. Ramphele’s speech was big on noble ideals, but short on practical solutions. How is she actually going to get this off the ground, beyond more talking?

Overall, this is a classic case of a launch that promised much, but failed to deliver. Ramphele set up huge expectations with her announcement, very carefully located at Constitution Hill to communicate what she wants this to be about.

If I were part of Agang, I’d have delayed the launch until they had something more solid to offer. They have one chance to get this right. Ramphele needed to kick off on a positive note and get interested people involved while everyone was on an emotional high. Instead, the overall tenor of the response has been cynicism and scepticism.

This is a huge pity, as this is supposed to be the change so many of us (myself included) have been looking for. I think it’s great that we have a new energy on the political scene, but I was wanting more. Let’s hope there is actually more substance to what, right now, seems like little more than good intentions — and we all know where those lead.

Sarah Britten (first published in the Mail & Guardian’s “Thought Leader”).