“Please Call Me” & South Africa’s Mobile Heritage

“Please Call Me” & South Africa’s Mobile Heritage

We are now halfway through South Africa’s annual Heritage Month.

According to that online custodian of all earthly knowledge, Wikipedia, Heritage Day is a South African public holiday celebrated every year on 24 September. On this day, and indeed increasingly during the whole month of September, South Africans are encouraged to celebrate their culture and the diversity of their beliefs and traditions.

This commitment to marking our joint heritage in general terms had me thinking specifically about South Africa’s unique mobile heritage. Those of us who were there at the start, when the mobile floodgates were thrown open in 1993, would be familiar with South Africa’s cellular journey. It’s been a long and impressive trek indeed, with a whole host of mobile innovations being developed by South Africans for our unique conditions.

I remember the first “cocus plumosa” base station disguised as a palm tree being erected in Sandton around the same time prepaid cellular was taking off in 1996. Brolaz Projects, local designers of the palm and other tree varieties, went on to build hundreds of them right across Africa and elsewhere. Vodago, now about 20 years old, was billed as the world’s first successful prepaid cellular system. There are literally hundreds of locally-developed mobile innovations but for the purposes of this mobile advertising platform, let’s zoom in on prepaid.

Prepaid cellular should be celebrated as the ‘grand dame’ of mobile marketing because it led to so many mobile advertising platforms that are now available to the marketer. Chief amongst these are the text tags that are appended to the free ‘Please Call Me’ messages that practically every prepaid cellular user has – at some point – had to send to friends, loved ones or business associates. While we know that the ‘Please Call Me’ service has an impressive home grown heritage, what’s less certain is who came up with the idea. Records from a recent legal wrangle show that former Vodacom CEO Alan Knott-Craig claims to have invented the idea while watching two security guards trying to communicate with missed calls.

InTarget clients interested in the best home-spun mobile advertising platforms only need to know that the local cellular market has an impressive South African heritage and things are only going to get more interesting!



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