Popular culture, mobile advertising and the knowledge economy in africa
Pan Atlantic University
Popular Culture, Mobile Advertising and the Knowledge Economy in Africa.
Popular culture in Africa has become more dynamic with the internet as an intervening variable. The creation, distribution
and commoditization of information/knowledge requires high technological skills and high communication technology
investments in fibre-optics, broadband distribution and infrastructure. The stagnation of Africa on the telecommunications
front and infrastructural deficit is being obliterated through geometric adoption of mobile phones. Mobile devices have
served as a catalyst, helping Africa leapfrog advancements made by developed countries. Lately ,more data enabled phones
are being shipped to Africa and the developments in the mobile adoption landscape has seen companies like Google,
facebook , Eskimi and 2go set up shop in Africa. The population of Africa is projected by World Bank to be the youngest by
2015. These young people have previously orchestrated change in their societies through online platforms and more engage
with mobile phones for retail activities ,communication and information. They are targeted by mobile advertising networks
such as InMobi, Twinpine and Admob by understanding their tastes. The nature of popular culture and its deepening
through the internet requires a new set of skills. This era of globalization demands knowledge for wealth creation, also
information arbitrage is more effective and instantaneous on the internet. It is imperative to understand the requirements
for a knowledge economy, and how the knowledge economy drives popular culture. The most critical understanding to be
derived from this paper is how knowledge creation and innovation around the digital ecosystem and popular culture in
Africa may prove to be disadvantageous in terms job exportation to countries that have the technological knowledge. This
paper would also reflect on local innovations around popular culture as well as innovation systems in Africa.
Keywords: Innovation, Knowledge Economy, Mobile, Advertising ,Popular Culture.
The significance of popular culture can be attributed to its association with mass culture
which in turn derived based on the influence of the mass media in increasing distribution of
leisure and cultural products. Strinati (2004).
Pascal and Montaigne have identified the sources of the growth of mass culture to the 1920's
and 1930's. This leads the conviction that the debate on popular culture and its origin are not
entirely new. Lowenthal (1957), traced popular culture to the rise of a market economy.
In a another vein Burke posits a modernist idea of popular culture to be that which is
associated with the growth of national consciousness, where intellectuals made efforts to
convert popular culture into national culture. The distinction, for example, between popular
culture and ‘high’ or ‘learned’ culture is to be found in this period in the writings of the
German poet Herder (Burke 1978:p.8).
1) Examine meaning and themes of popular culture
2) Appreciate the mobile advertising landscape
3) Draw links between the internet and popular culture
4) Make recommendations on how Africa should proceed in diversification into a knowledge
economy, exploring the usefulness of popular culture.
This paper depended on secondary materials and expert opinion to address the objectives of
1.3 POPULAR CULTURE
The mass culture came as an upheaval as a response to opinion leaders and elite to the
repressive nature of mass media as a magic bullet, one that pierces the sensibilities of people
in society.(Baran and Davis, 2010, p.138) This nature of rhetoric has been grouped under the
mass society theories which assert that the mass media would disrupt order, most particularly
the folk and high culture that were the hallmark of culture. Horn (2012, p.28) identifies two
common features that are constant in the explanation of popular/mass culture; manipulation
and the reach to all people.
Mass society theorists often underscore the debilitating effects of industrialisation and
urbanisation. They argue that the rise of large-scale and mechanised industrial production,
and the growth of massive and densely populated cities, have geared the disruption and
eroded the societies and values which previously held people together. They appreciate the
gradual loss of elite/high culture and folk culture. William (1963)
These radical changes included the eradication of agrarian work tied to the land, the
destruction of the tightly knit village community, the decline of religion and the
secularisation. (Webster 1988, pg. 5)
On the other hand , it would be reductionist to express the popular culture theory in its
epistemology and ontology to be sourced only from the mass media and to assume its
semioses is uniform, standardized. Strinati (2004) explains that three themes mark the
development of popular culture. The first one, asks who determines popular culture, people
expressing their autonomy or forced upon them as some form of social control; what we can
call the technician perpetuated culture. The second angle to understanding the development
of popular culture is by asking whether is rises up from people below or imposed by the elites
above, or an interaction of both agencies. Thirdly, whether its arises from commercialisation
The coming of the mass media and the increasing commercialisation of culture and leisure
gave rise to issues, interests and debates which are still with us today. The growth of the idea
of mass culture, very evident from the 1920s and 1930s onwards.
Others argue that popular culture has always been with us, pointing to the ‘bread and
circuses’ function of popular culture in the Roman empire. More convincingly, Burke
suggests that the modern idea of popular culture is associated with the development of
national consciousness in the late eighteenth century, and results from the attempt by
intellectuals to turn popular culture into national culture. The distinction, for example,
between popular culture and ‘high’ or ‘learned’ culture is to be found in this period in the
writings of the German poet Herder (Burke 1978:8).
According to (MacDonald 1957:60)
"Folk art grew from below. It was a spontaneous, autochthonous expression of the people,
shaped by themselves, pretty much without the benefit of High Culture, to suit their own
needs. Mass Culture is imposed from above. It is fabricated by technicians hired by
businessmen; its audiences are passive consumers, their participation limited to the choice
between buying and not buying.… Folk Art was the people’s own institution, their private
little garden walled off from the great formal park of their master’s High Culture. But Mass
Culture breaks down the wall, integrating the masses into a debased form of High Culture
and thus becoming an instrument of political domination".
Put simply, we can say that mass culture refers to popular culture which is produced by the
industrial techniques of mass production, and marketed for profit to a mass public of
consumers. It is commercial culture, mass produced for a mass market. Its growth means
there is less room for any culture which cannot make money, and which cannot be mass
produced for a mass market, such as art and folk culture.
1.4 THE INTERNET AND POPULAR CULTURE
The progression of media from print till the rise of the internet surely has implications for
popular/mass culture. The print, radio and television are characterized by mass dissemination
of information, the radio and television media can reach large audiences of people, thus the
audiences are commoditised based on ratings as appreciated by Dallas Smythe. Fuchs ( 2012)
The internet revolution has redefined media and is inherently challenging mass society theory
and upholding the limited effects theories which assert that the media only reinforce existing
social trends. This is so because with the internet particularly web 2.0 people now produce
and distribute content. The feedback mechanism in communication on the internet is
immediate and people create new literal cultures with is evident on social media platforms
such as facebook, twitter, BlackBerry Messenger. This new literal cultures and various fads
in turn are exploited by advertisers and brands in the marketing campaigns.
Terragon group in its research on the "State of Digital in Nigeria" identifies the figure of
Nigerians with access to the internet to be 48,366,177 , Terragon (2013).
Terragon also notes that the rise in the number of people with access to internet users came
with investments in the West African Submarine Cable (WASC) , MainOne Cable, Glo-1 etc.
Many of these access the internet through their mobile devices. Companies such as Google,
Nokia, Apple and facebook have reviewed their business models and strategies to reflect the
reality that the future is mobile.
The future can never be mobile without the human factor of course. People through their
feedback, tastes and behaviours through interactivity on various internet based media as well
as usage of mobile and web applications.
There is also a postmodernism angle to this discourse, with the attendant emphasis on style at
the expense of substance; what (Harvey (1989:347–348) calls the "designers ideology". It is
germane to emphasize on style and visual stimulation considering the emphasis on design and
beauty of products of information technology that are used to interact with cultural content.
Such products include mobile devices such as the iPad, iPhone, Android devices, blackberry,
laptops etc. The devices are not the only items worth considering, the platforms, content,
mobile applications etc all things that make the internet space attractive contribute towards
creation and distribution of popular mass culture.
The human computer interaction element is factored in the production of these devices and
platforms. The content on these platforms takes note of existing culture; basic culture of
greetings, relationship engineering and new modes of courtesy online. This is usually
achieved by qualitative researchers such as ethnographers, through contextual design that is
customer designed and derived through data from field work. (Chennail 2009, p. 2)
The spread of the various technologies expresses the innovative capacity in today's
knowledge economy and the inherent ability to get the devices into the hands of people
globally. Most importantly, their spread and adoption amongst human computer interaction
researchers means a satisfaction of psychological, sociological and
information/communication theory requirements. Huang (2009)
2.0 MOBILE ADVERTISING IN AFRICA.
The number of mobile subscriptions is almost the population of the world. We have
6.8billion mobile cellular subscriptions in a world with 7.1billion people. ITU (2013)
ITU affirms that about more than half of that is in the Asia-Pacific region, with 3.5billion.
The developed world has a penetration rate of 128%, while developing nations have a
penetration rate of 89%.
According to the international telecommunications body, Africa's penetration rate stood at
63%. The number of internet citizens stood at 2.7billion, with most of them being females
Mobile broadband penetration stands at 11%, while a meagre 93million people have internet
connection in Africa; a continent of over 1billion people.
Asides the disparity between the actual population and mobile broadband subscription in
Africa, the region still has higher growth rate compared to other regions. The adoption of
mobile broadband increased from 2% in 2010 to 10% in 2013. ITU (2013)
The implication of the figures expressed by the telecommunications body is that more
internet businesses would spring up in Africa. They are already here with the likes of Google,
Facebook, Yahoo, Addynamo doing web and mobile businesses in Nigeria
According to Frost (2010)
"In Africa, mobile ad revenue is estimated to be at $2 billion by 2014. As with the Asia-
Pacific region, SMS-based campaigns are leading the way in mobile advertising. However,
due to the number of prepaid users in developing countries and the high costs of data
services other forms of richer media mobile advertising doesn’t seem to be a viable option
The subject of interest here is the mobile platforms/device. They are most important, because
they would determine largely through their pervasiveness the future of internet business,
connectivity between people, locally and globally. As a matter of concern to us, they would
be very influential in shaping, creating and distributing cultural and political products-by
social I mean, engineering revolutions, political advocacy etc. Greg Lindsay (2012) at a
gathering in America explained how China fuelled the Arab spring. China has pirate phone
producers who had saturated the Chinese market and looked for ways to develop their
markets. The next stop was the Persian gulf and Arab states, the outcome- The Arab Spring.
Here, we are concerned with the consumer ethic and why people consumes and what fuels
consumption. Gitlin (2009)
"Consumption—what we buy and what determines what we buy—is increasingly influenced
by popular culture because popular culture increasingly determines consumption. For
example, we watch more films because of the extended ownership of VCRs, while advertising,
which makes increasing use of popular cultural references, plays a more important role in
deciding what we will buy".
The mobile device can be said to be fulfilling the utility of VCR's and their forms of media.
Media convergence, mobile devices, data enableness and increased investment and lowering
of barriers of mobile phone acquisition would give more access to people in the society and
the culture they engineer popularly.
The mobile advertising landscape in Africa is dominated by foreign companies such as
Buzzcity,Admob, Bloovue, and Twinpine- an indigenous Nigerian Pan-African mobile
In an interview with Twinpine publisher lead- Gabriel Dada, I learnt that the mobile
advertising model requires thorough knowledge of data regarding specific types of mobile
operating systems, such as J2me,Android, iOS and Blackberry , original equipment
manufacturers, advertisers needs and publishers.
He said they target people based on data on specific time of usage of mobile internet, which
most people according to Terragon (2013) use late evenings. The nature of products to be
advertised is also considered. If it is a product that appeals to women, the ads are served on a
publishers platform that has a large number of female visitors. Speed is also considered as
people may not be tolerant enough with low bandwidth or endless referrals to get what they
want on such platforms. With mobile advertising, there is a need for intelligence and
consumer insight and how they want to interact with the mobile interface. Huang (2009)
3.0 IMPLICATIONS OF INTERNET GROWTH , POPULAR CULTURE AND THE
In short, a knowledge economy is one that creates, disseminates, and uses knowledge to enhance
its growth and competitiveness. Dahlman and Utz (2005).
The concept of knowledge economy should not be mistaken to be a new thing. According to
Mansell, the proliferation of knowledge workers and tools necessitate for policies and further
studies on political economy of the internet to be made.
Peter Drucker (1999) identified Frederick Taylor Winslow to be the first to appreciate the use of
knowledge to boost productivity. He asserts that the entire debate about knowledge economies is
largely about "productivity". America according to him was the revolutionary i setting the pace
for other countries such as Germany, then Japan to improve manufacturing processes. The first
global proof of the need for knowledge work lay in the ingenuity of America in fighting
Germany. America had more troops to fight Hitler and they were producing more war equipment
to prosecute the war. Drucker says application of Taylorism increased productivity 50 times than
The term knowledge economy however became popular with Fritz Machlup's seminal work
"Production and distribution of knowledge in the United States" in 1962. Much of his work
reflected on the growing role of information. The methodology he employed dwelt on growth
accounting, instead of the popularly sanctioned "national accounting tool".
Knowledge economy research recognizes that knowledge is not accommodated within the
production function and is considered largely as an extraneous factor. However, the World Bank
has developed a "Knowledge Assessment Methodology" to compute how countries are faring in
the various indices that the "KAM" addresses. They assign the "Knowledge Economy Index"
based on their calculations. These indices include ; Economic Incentives, Innovation Systems,
Education and Information. They use these various factors to understand the state of the
knowledge economy in various countries Dahlman and Utz (2005). The Scandinavian countries
have been consistent in rankings as they excel in the various indices.
Currently, Scandinavian countries rank top five, with Sweden coming first. South Africa comes
first as an African country and ranks 67 on the scale. Nigeria ranks a distant 119, with Tunisia,
Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Kenya and Senegal ranking: 80, 85, 89, 107, 111 and 114
respectively. World Bank (2012)
The economic incentive regime perpetuated by the World Bank seeks to encourage government
to support initiatives that are largely based or ancillary to knowledge work or services sector
within a country. The education element of seeks to ensure more school enrolment and funding of
educational institutions. Innovation systems drive the knowledge economy according to the world
bank, hence the increase in number of patents, scientific breakthroughs, individual or corporate
innovations in all spheres including the creative economy are acknowledged.
Information infrastructures no doubt play a huge role in dissemination of knowledge when it is
produced. They also constitute the production of innovations or new knowledge itself. The
information infrastructure component itself has received more attention and more power seems to
be skewed to it. It requires a certain level of cognition for some workings of it to be exchanged
and the most fundamental skill in this age- programming originates from its dynamics.
Countries such as India have become the headquarters of outsourcing for information services
and others have adapted knowledge to improve production of various products. Countries like
Kenya and South-Africa have proven themselves to be leaders in the areas of mobile money and
creative economy and mining respectively.
The need for Africa to establish itself in the knowledge economy space cannot be over-
emphasized, because the commodities led livelihood is too fickle. Drucker (1999) acknowledges
the importance of manufacturing , but asserts that countries that would have the greatest
competitive edge are those who create and manage knowledge better. In this case, not only
explicit knowledge, which is formal knowledge, but also tacit knowledge which is inarticulate
knowledge that only a certain level of knowledge workers are more capable of. This brings us to
what UNESCO(2005), traces to be a cognition requisite that ensures the production of highly
skilled workers. Thus we need to ask whether our curriculum accommodates for the type of
sectors that are booming in today's world; entertainment and cultural industries, database systems,
information technology which requires huge tacit knowledge base. How can all of these utilize If
programming is the language the world speaks, how many can speak it in Africa? How can we
get a critical mass to avoid outsourcing services and software creation to the tune of billions of
dollars such as Nigeria. ICT Policy (2012)
It is imperative that we assess the political economy of knowledge creation in Africa. The sources
of popular culture Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo etc are not African. Though they are
creating jobs, the economic implication in the long run would see Africa to be a continent that has
the best consumer ethic and not a producer ethic. We have our successes, where Safaricom's M-
PESA in Kenya has been recorded to be a global success. Hillary Clinton has labelled it as a
"brilliant innovation" and wondered why it wasn't in America. Nevarajan (2012) According to
Dan Senor and Saul Singers (2009) book- Start up Nation a small nation such as Israel get more
venture capital 350 times more than China, 8times more than United States of America. Africa is
a continent of over 1billion
In a world that is largely driven by competitiveness, cultural perpetuation and capitalism, the
attendant effects of globalization is felt in every corner. Therefore, it becomes imperative that
the understanding of popular culture its political economy and technological considerations
are grasped at every point in time to design policy means through which society may grapple
with them. The spheres for consideration largely are the creative industries, education and
cognitive development, innovation, economic incentives, ICT infrastructure and policies that
govern these areas.
The appraisal of the knowledge economy should not be restricted to broadband and IT
initiatives. UNESCO (2005). The possibilities of engaging rural populations with previous
media as well as setting up telecentres where IT professionals can engage people through e-
governance mechanisms and knowledge diffusion innovation is imperative.
Above all, African countries need to have deliberate plans to ensure technology and
knowledge transfer through engagements with trade partners. South Africa seems to be the
only nation with a knowledge economy policy in Africa. Nigeria does not have a knowledge
economy policy, neither does Kenya, though Kenya has some knowledge economy actions,
just like Nigeria. The determination of cultural rejuvenation to support policy directions need
to be established and clear as possible. In Japan, they have Kaizen. In China, they have gone
through a cultural revolution. In Africa, we need to determine the cultural, not only economic
Popular culture must not be seen only from the angle of harmful effects on morals, music and
fads alone. It must be seen as a tool for competitiveness for Africa and its diasporas. There
are the choices of scholarly emphasis on the effects of popular culture on societal values as
mass theory bothers, the tendency of production of hybrid citizens and the economic
potentials of popular culture. Bearing that in mind, it's evident we have a lot of considerations
to support our judgement. To this end the town and gown in Africa must co-create ideas to
leapfrog Africa into the knowledge economy.
Finally, with the current dearth of African grown knowledge, we must ensure proper
channelling of Africans in the diasporas, knowledge transfer, engagement of our rural
populace with conventional media such as radio and TV with local content, then we must
encourage the design of our educational curriculum to accommodate the logic behind the
current dispensation of the spread of popular culture through the internet platforms-
programming. Programming is the fundamental thing that engenders innovation in this age.
Until we get hold of it, we would keep exporting billions of foreign money abroad and be
grateful for it. We can engineer a new generation of humans that can make Africa the
headquarters of the knowledge economy and outsourcing just like India is currently. Africa's
population would double by 2050 according for Fareed Zakaria (2013). The implication of
this is that Africa would either have a population of consumers of popular culture and
economic products or producers and consumers of such since there is a widespread cultural
and economic exchange. If I were a policy maker, I would obviously choose the latter.
Choosing it is easier, pursuing, implementing and evaluating is the real task. Many things
need to be done obviously, we need to act fast and precisely because the world we now live
in demands it. The knowledge economy demands it.
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