How influential is the power of being a Big Brother headline sponsor for tech companies?

Dennis Da-ala Mirilla
How influential is the power of being a Big Brother headline sponsor for tech companies?

For logo-branded pyjamas, loafers, towels, two-piece sets, hoodies, bathroom robes, entire walls, weekly challenges named after them, and brand names repeated during live broadcasts, founders of tech companies in Africa have been paying billions to snag the coveted spot as headline sponsors of various interactions of the Big Brother franchise in Africa.

In a series of sponsored content plastered on news websites and their social media pages, headline sponsors of the Big Brother Titans, the latest from MultiChoice’s biggest event, Big Brother, this season featuring Nigerian and South African housemates, made the announcements that they were now on board as sponsors of the show.

Paul Harris, the Country Manager of Flutterwave South Africa, said that the show would give Flutterwave access to reach millions of Africans.

“Our collaboration with the Big Brother Titans helps us speak to our extensive reach across Africa. This show would be broadcast across 40 African countries, an opportunity to support businesses in these countries. Big Brother Titans will open up more opportunities for SMEs on Flutterwave to access a larger audience. With this sponsorship, we’re telling businesses in Africa, wherever they are, that they can start anywhere and go far,” the statement from Harris reads in part.

Wasiu Abiola, Cluster Media Lead – West Africa, Nigeria Breweries Plc, another sponsor of the show, said that the giant is glad to keep contestants and viewers refreshed.

“Africans are celebrated worldwide for our beautiful cultures and lively spirit. Africans are bold, confident, and talented and enjoy spending quality time with friends and family. As an organization, we strongly believe that the 2023 BB Titans show presents an opportunity for the world to witness the blend of two great countries, foster interactive conversations and boost both economies. This is why Nigerian Breweries is glad to keep contestants and viewers refreshed as the show runs in the upcoming months,” Abiola”s statement says.

While a company like Nigerian Breweries, with decades of profitability under its belt, can conveniently come on board and sponsor Big Brother, for young tech startups, the case might be different, especially as foreign investors withdraw their chequebooks.

Read also: BBN sponsorship is Nigerian tech companies’ new path to massive market adoption

This year, the long list of tech companies that have come on board as sponsors includes payment solutions company Flutterwave, the investment company Bamboo, crypto company Bundle, and betting company LottoStar.

For the Big Brother Naija: Shine Ya Eyes slot in 2021, Abeg, which has now changed its name to Pocket by PiggyVest, according to BusinessDay, paid ₦2 billion to be the headline sponsor of the show. Patricia, the crypto company, paid ₦1 billion to be the associate sponsor that year.

As the Big Brother franchise in Africa has exploded over the years, tech companies have seen it as one of the quickest paths to attract customers, recruiting new users by the number after paying millions for the spot.

But the ongoing season, Big Brother Titans, is specifically important for companies that have struggled to present themselves, in words and deed, as pan-African.

How influential is the power of being a Big Brother headline sponsor for tech companies?

Many payment provider startups have struggled with profitability partly because local grassroots integration is difficult for companies, especially with investors breathing down their necks for profits. The alternative blitzscaling, which includes getting multiple licences to begin robust operations across the continent, has been tedious for many of these companies.

And so when Big Brother offers them continental reach to tell many Africans about their brands, even if they were not yet licensed to operate in those countries, they latch onto it tightly to better drive their message as first, African companies.

Is sponsoring Big Brother enough?

But if history has taught us anything, it’s that while Big Brother can bring customers, retaining them will be solely left to how these startups can create products that reach Africans where they are.

Over the years, as the shows have gained more notoriety, little-known tech startups with still-cloudy products have bid and gotten headline sponsor slots.

When Abeg first sponsored the show in 2021, it was a little-known company whose idea was difficult to understand. Its interface was similar to Instagram, and the premise is that users could use it to share money with their followers.

Thousands of Big Brother fans registered, as celebrities and influencers dolled out cash. But when the show was over, the stars stopped the cash giveaways, and the dust settled, then users found out that they were trapped. They realised there wasn’t a clear-cut feature to delete their accounts at the time.

Abeg eventually changed its name to Pocket and pivoted to become a social commerce platform.

Quidax, the crypto company also part of the sponsors, saw increased users signing up late last year. At times, for hours after Quidax’s advert ran on the show, users complained that the app might have crashed under the weight of users signing up. But after the show, the company recently laid off staff.

While those high numbers of users signing up for the product could have been an epitome of success in another time, as the tech world was wrecked by terrible quarters from last year, investors have become more scrupulous about startups they cut cheques for. The days of showing millions of users as the definition of the prospect the companies have are now fastly dwindling.

What this underscores is that the problems that have beleaguered African startups – profitability and market integration– since the very beginning don’t come from a lack of Africans coming on board as users of these products. But instead, on startups’ failure to create products that meet the needs of the average African living in Africa. Startups are having trouble converting signups to active users.

In more recent times, startups have been shifting their positions from purely pan-African companies to now global companies with the hope that they will be better positioned to win the hearts of Africans in the diaspora who are more inclined to use their money remittance products.

It’s still too early for experts to determine if Africans in the diaspora are enough to lead tech startups to profitability.

This year, African countries have started giving out licenses to foreign African companies looking to enter their market. But none of the big startups has gotten the key licenses they seek in Kenya or South Africa, where the market reach for a foreign African startup remains a long shot.

How influential is the power of being a Big Brother headline sponsor for tech companies?

But with this investment as headline sponsors of Big Brother Titans, they stand a chance to position themselves even better for the license. It’s only a matter of time before citizens begin requesting these sponsors’ products as part of the BB Titan craze. At that time, founders must act swiftly to convert signups to active users.

Till they can do that, the great power of the Big Brother headline sponsorship slot does not have the power to take tech companies to profitability.

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