Youth brands working with the grain of culture

Why a deep understanding of society is vital for brand success.


In order to thrive and enable change, our cultural brands need to have a deep-rooted understanding of the people and community they are designed for. We create youth brands, which build from and evolve culture, leveraging multimedia, digital technology and networks.

This is why Girl Effect’s teams always conduct formative research to understand the experience of being a girl in her culture from her perspective and those around her. We design bespoke research to unearth insights relating to gender, culture (including visual identity using methodologies such as semiotics), audience and media. These isolate and tightly define the role, look and feel of each brand, and the media mix we employ in market to reach our audience.

For example, research finding for our most recent brand - Zathu in Malawi identified a real gender divide between how girls and boys are perceived and treated as teenagers. This divide is further pronounced in Malawi because platonic, mixed gender friendships are not valued in society by the older generation. Therefore, a key strategic role of the Zathu is to positively promote the mixed gender friendship as a way readdressing the balance and forge a more equal society.

Armed with this insight, we created the premise for Zathu - a group of girls and boys coming together to create ‘a new sound’ for Malawi – and brought it to life in formats and media that is most accessible to our audience: music, radio, drama and clubs. In designing the central Zathu band characters, we included boys as well as girls, which celebrates and promotes the notion of mixed gender friendship.

The more our brands are tailored to our audiences’ lives, the more likely they are to be receptive to the meaning and message they carry and in turn, the more impact they can have.

All formats of the brand, whether fictional like the drama or factual like the talk show, deliver entertaining content that resonate with Malawian girls and boys: from relationships to confidence, friendships to sexual reproductive health so Zathu can increase the perceived value of girls - both to girls themselves, and those around them

“It’s important that we understand the market landscape of a country we work in, primarily of the girls living there,” says Ruth Hoyal, Senior Manager, Brand Strategy. “We need to understand what’s culturally appropriate in the country and communities we are working in. The last thing we ever want to do implement a brand that has no relevance or bearing on their lives.”

Crucially, our teams recognise the value and power of creating a brand from within that is designed specifically for our audience. We believe the more our brands are tailored to our audiences’ lives, the more likely they are to be receptive to the meaning and message they carry and in turn, the more impact they can have.    

While much of Girl Effect’s work is strongly focused on girls, we are committed to a spirit of inclusion based on our Theory of Change, so that boys, parents and the wider community are visible and highly involved. This means that we design our brands specifically to target girls, but actively develop formats that have a far wider appeal. We continually use data to evaluate and evolve our brands to ensure they have maximum impact. For example, Ni Nyampinga recognized an opportunity to create an element of the brand with broader appeal to boys as we know this is critical to creating change for girls and so  launched Sakwe, a new radio drama about Friendship, support, creativity and Music, in September 2017.  

Learn more about Girl Effect’s youth brands.