‘GitheriMan’: Using trending topics to market products

Martin Kamotho has risen to fame. PHOTO | Jeff Angote | NMG
Martin Kamotho has risen to fame. PHOTO | Jeff Angote | NMG 

Kenyan companies this month embraced a viral social media hash tag, #GitheriMan that was trending during the election period, using it to sell their products and draw attention to their brands.

The hashtag #GitheriMan was born after Martin Kamotho was pictured in a voting queue in Kayole, Nairobi, eating boiled beans and maize from a polythene bag.

The image’s social media takeoff was driven by the fact that most people had to queue for more than two hours in order to cast their votes, hence seeing the image of a voter who went to buy food and proceeded to eat it on the queue touched on the realities of their long wait.

So strong were voter passions over the queuing that a study released on August 12 by Odipo Dev, a data analytics firm based in Kenya, found that Kenyans on social media discussed Kamotho in the days after the casting of their votes more than the alleged election irregularities.

Kamotho was the second most discussed topic, in over 60,000 posts, after the IEBC, which was the most discussed topic at over 100,000 posts, while the hacking allegations drew fewer than 20,000 posts.

Against this backdrop, Kenyan brands moved to be part of the conversation and engage with online consumers by embracing the then social media trending hashtag #GitheriMan.

Biscuit maker Britania Foods, for instance, posted an animated photo of Kamotho holding the polythene bag of githeri on its Twitter page.

It offered a reward to whoever introduced its brand to him. The post received 1,700 retweets (shares), 102 comments and 2,000 likes.

When he was finally introduced to the brand, Britania Foods posted another photo of Kamotho with a caption that read, “Semeni ng’we! Tuangushe collabo githeri flavoured biscuits,” (dare us and we will launch githeri flavoured biscuits).

Such moves can transform the relevance of products, according to experts. “It was a timely and resonant strategy that got the attention of consumers.

It works in PR value. However, whether it will result into a favourable outcome depends on the context of the brand,” said Odanga Madung, data science lead at Odipo Dev.

Indeed, context is important when a brand is considering embracing a viral social media hashtag to sell its products. In some cases, trending topics are not ideal as vehicles for product marketing and can lead to consumers lashing at the brand’s move to exploit real issues to drive a company’s agenda — harming the brand’s reputation.

An example of a damaging brand post using a trending hashtag happened in 2011. US online clothing store Kenneth Cole included the trending hashtag #Cairo in a post on its Twitter account that read; “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumour is they heard our new spring collection is now available online…” it was then followed by a link to its website.

At the time, Cairo was experiencing political protests against President Hosni Mubarak. The tweet triggered an uproar as consumers classified it as insensitive due to the violence and deaths occasioned by the protests.

It was later deleted and the company apologised. As Kenyan brands continue adopting innovative ways to connect with their consumers, it is important to understand which trends on social media are relevant and can form the basis for conversations to increase brand awareness and sales.

- African Laughter