Black Khaki Wired – Big Blue, Makhulu Polane 2006
For South Africa, the Big Blue Makhulu Polane campaign is ahead of its time. It demonstrates
the reach and credibility the internet has to offer when WebPR tools are employed
responsibly in a targeted public relations strategy. The latest online trends of user-
engagement, social media and informal viral marketing were used to meet the campaign
objectives and maximise costs.
The explosion of information available online has meant that internet users have become
more discerning. A successful website must function as a dynamic public relations tool; it is
no longer sufficient to offer a stagnant digital showcase.
During 2006 Black Khaki Wired (BKW) introduced their client, Big Blue, to the public relations
possibilities the internet offers to creatively and effectively build brand communication.
1. STATEMENT OF PROBLEM/OPPORTUNITY
(a) Nature of the company or institution for which the programme was conducted:
Big Blue has 14 South African retail clothing stores nationwide, some of which incorporate
their other brand, Kitsch & Kool. Big Blue can be characterised as being fiercely independent,
anti-establishment and truly South African. Each store is uniquely designed to incorporate its
own quirks and personality and they purposely avoid the cloned formula look of corporate
branded stores by stocking innovative and progressive styles that are designed and
manufactured only in South Africa.
In their early years Big Blue felt the effects of economic and artistic sanctions and had no
choice but to manufacture in South Africa, since then they have elected to remain a South
African clothing store and are passionate about local design talent and job creation. Big Blue
currently represents more than 60 local manufacturers and designers and estimates that this
supports around 400 jobs.
(b) Specific problem or opportunity addressed by the programme:
Black Khaki’s Online company had recently redesigned the Big Blue website
www.bigblue.co.za the opportunity presented itself to utilise this unique, creative website
as a public relations tool for the Big Blue brand. Two possibilities existed:
a. To attract traffic to www.bigblue.co.za using niche ‘underground’ methods so as
not to commercialise or explode the Big Blue brand.
b. To utilise the website to create an online mouthpiece through which to promote
Big Blue’s loyalty to South African talent.
(c) Geographical area in which the programme was conducted:
National, via the internet
Initial meetings and planning sessions with Big Blue uncovered their passion for South African
design and unique, creative ideas. Big Blue’s unconventional way of thinking and openness to
creativity and new ideas allowed Black Khaki Wired (BKW) to investigate cutting-edge online
opportunities. Big Blue’s recent investment in their website meant that we were eager to
utilise this medium effectively to maximise their limited PR budget.
Strategy meetings with Big Blue established that t-shirts were their best sellers, t-shirts are
traditionally unisex, widely worn and easy to manufacture, and the only restrictions are the
colour of a design vs. colour of t-shirt.
BKW conducted extensive online research and by tracking websites, blogs, forums and
design collectives were able to assess the latest trends and specifically online events in the
design industry, and more specifically t-shirt design, both nationally and internationally. The
research confirmed that an original South African T-shirt design competition had never been
developed, marketed and managed online before, the market was wide open for Big Blue.
BKW proposed an annual t-shirt design competition to be owned by Big Blue, this vehicle
would meet both the objectives stated in 1.b. The competition would be open to everyone who
felt they could create a saleable t-shirt design which included all genres of designers as well
as any members of the public. The PR campaign would be conducted primarily on the internet
to drive traffic through to www.bigblue.co.za.
The research also determined that in the online arena competitions that offered ‘fame &
fortune’ were the most successful ones. For the winner, Big Blue offered a cash prize and
agreed to sell the winning design in their stores for a period of two months, a % of each t-shirt
sale would also be given back to the designer.
(a) Detailed statement of the programme’s objectives and establishment of
measurable criteria for success:
The competition objectives were clear:
Creatively promote the Big Blue brand and its associations with local design by
establishing an annual event owned by Big Blue which would have longevity and
scope for development.
Discover local design talent to uplift the industry, the spin-off was the addition to
Big Blue’s in-store catalogue.
Drive traffic to www.bigblue.co.za to publicise their brands and image.
Accessibility to all, no demographic to be excluded (all that was required was a
one time access to a computer to upload a jpeg image. The image did not need
to be computer generated and could be hand drawn or painted and scanned.)
Measurable criteria for success:
Number of entries received would determine whether the market will adopt this as
an annual event.
Quality of designs received was the most important criteria for Big Blue.
(b) Identification of publics to be reached and actions desired of them:
The competition was open to all, entrants needed to register at
www.bigblue.co.za and submit their designs.
Online media: websites, blogs, forums and communities associated with design,
marketing, advertising and the youth.
Traditional media: design press, community print and 25 design colleges were
targeted to broaden awareness to communities who do not have access to the
(c) Formulation of messages to be communicated to the publics:
The branding of the t-shirt design competition needed to fit with Big Blue’s humorous,
irreverent and independent character. The name ‘Makhulu Polane’ was created which loosely
translates to ‘Big Idea’; it was catchy, uniquely South African and cross-cultural. A logo was
created to support this, the greyhound dog with wings was perfect for Big Blue; outrageous
and kitsch yet proud and inspirational (thanks to the wings.) The message was: “Show us
your Makhulu Polane and we’ll make you famous!”
(d) Selection of communication channels e.g.: print media, newsletter etc.:
Optimised content media releases to online community; design, marketing,
advertising & youth portals, blogs, forums.
Informal posts and comments on blogs and forums.
Viral informal e-mailers.
Fashion and graphic design colleges and the THINK design council.
(e) Creation of vehicles to carry the messages into the media e.g. activities:
An effective WebPR campaign needs to take into account SEM (Search Engine
Marketing); all media releases contained optimised copy to boost search engine
ratings, as well as the Makhulu Polane logo to encourage visual coverage.
Competition module for www.bigblue.co.za.
Posters for in-store communication and installation at design colleges.
Launch advertising banner and editorial campaign with Cherryflava media on
www.Cherryflava.com and www.jetstreaker.com – two of SA’s most popular
(f) Action taken to consult with management and secure its support for the campaign:
BKW has a privileged position in that Big Blue are open to creativity and not afraid to take
risks, this allowed BKW the freedom to explore informal, pioneering options to position Big
Blue online. The Big Blue Makhulu Polane campaign was cutting-edge as it was the second
campaign in the country to launch through blog media.
Big Blue is positive about the future of South Africa and embraces original, creative initiatives
to promote and support local talent. They have been extremely satisfied with the results of the
Makhulu Polane PR campaign and during 2007 BKW and Big Blue will explore the wider
scope this initiative has in terms of different design mediums and associated events.
(a) Description of the plan’s implementation:
Informal blog and forum comments were posted on relevant sites to drive traffic to
The Makhulu Polane brand and artistic look and feel was developed.
www.bigblue.co.za competition page and entry mechanism was developed.
Posters and window displays were installed in all Big Blue stores.
Cherryflava media was earmarked as a suitable blog launch platform and
advertising and editorial space was negotiated. Blogs make up a large
percentage of the online social media community and links and track backs to
and from other blogs add credibility and hype.
Posters and explanatory e-mail details were distributed to design colleges.
Makhulu Polane media releases were distributed to marketing, design,
advertising and community media. (Pre ‘announcement’ releases and post
‘winner announcement’ releases.)
All pre and post communication elements included links to www.bigblue.co.za.
(b) Adjustments to the plan introduced during its implementation:
The immediacy of the internet allows for flexibility and BKW could instantly respond to online
coverage and capitalise upon similar industry stories.
The Makhulu Polane competition was open for submissions between 1 Oct – 31 Oct 06. The
deadline was extended by one week to accommodate many e-mail requests from late
(c) Difficulties encountered:
WebPR is in its infancy in South Africa and formal media tracking and evaluation of
widespread online coverage is not available. The debate is ongoing to agree upon a formula
for evaluating online PR coverage in relation to associated online advertising costs.
Where possible, BKW had to utilise tools like ‘Google alerts’ and ‘Technorati tags’ to monitor
internet coverage. It must be noted that these tools are reliant upon websites having effective
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) through keywords, i.e. additional online coverage may not
have been picked up by search engines, and therefore it’s likely that the online exposure may
have been greater.
In addition the Big Blue website hosting contract did not lapse until Dec 2006 therefore
although we ran the competition through their site we do not have access to traffic stats over
the Makhulu Polane period. BK Online now hosts the site and will be able to evaluate
coverage more accurately in 2007.
For this reason the success of the campaign was evaluated by the number of entries
received, quality of online posts / articles tracked and ultimately sales of the winning t-shirt
204 people registered during October to submit entries.
At the close of the competition 197 entries were received which far exceeded Big
Big Blue printed 100 t-shirts on the first print run, 80% were sold out within a
week. The second print run is a larger quantity and the t-shirt is being sold in
store until February 2007.
This competition appealed to a niche market; in addition Big Blue did not want it
to be too commercial. The coverage received online was through very specific
design / marketing websites which met the objectives.
Makhulu Polane 2007 is planned and will expand into other areas of design.
Refer to point C. SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS for additional information and visual material.