About SABC 1 - Mzansi fo sho


The SABC1 Brand has remained South Africa’s most favourite television channel for the past decade, with over 15 million current viewers per week (Amps Survey) SABC1 is a full-spectrum national television channel providing a programming mix of enlightening, informative, educational and entertaining material predominantly in the African languages and English. Within the SABC television portfolio of brands, SABC1 is positioned as a TV brand that represents youthful dreams and aspirations. It reflects a youthful society that is currently in motion and progressive. SABC 1 is a channel defined by courage, like the youthful South Africa that it serves. It is an inspiration and a guiding light for youthful people, values that put the brand in line with its Public Service mandate and commitment. 


SABC 1 comes off the base of an extremely successful positioning campaign in 2003, namely ‘Ya Mampela’. The channel has remained South Africa’s most favourite TV channel. As an integral part of the SABC Corporate model of ‘self-funding’ the channel has had to ensure a balance between the achievement of its Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) mandate and being financially competitive in an increasingly competitive market; objectives that it has met successfully. 


In mid 2005, SABC 1 conducted audience research which culminated in the revision of the strategic direction. The research found that the ‘Ya Mampela’ positioning gave the broader SABC1 target market feelings of alienation due to its ‘youth’ proposition and further feelings of alienation through the channel being seen as Jozi-centric (strong Gauteng influence).

SABC 1 needed to evolve its ‘niched-youth’ positioning to one that was more inclusive of older viewers subscribing to a youthful value system. It also needed to broaden its audience appeal, extending it beyond the boundaries of Gauteng to one that was reflective of a broader and more diverse South Africa. These would build on the channel’s vision of creating ‘popular public service’ owned and shared by all South Africans who subscribe to this youthful value system. The channel also realised that some of the values inherent in the ‘Ya Mampela’ positioning, though relevant at the time, were no longer so in post 2005 South Africa. Though seen as positively bold, fiery and straight-talking, it was however also seen as highly gritty and rebellious.


Despite the dominance of ’Ya Mampela,’ as it was known in the marketplace, a management decision was taken to reposition the channel to reflect this new terrain.


SABC 1 thus needed to develop a positioning territory that could mirror the potency of ‘Ya Mampela’ in its prime, ensuring the building of a position of preference and enduring resonance in the consumer’s mind. From the heady days of the Rainbow Nation ‘Simunye’ platform, youthful SA had been constantly on the move. They had moved on from pipe dreams and unsubstantiated hopes - many had learned harsh life lessons. It was a ‘school of hard knocks’ that left young South Africans looking for authentic engagement beyond the pretty words and pictures of conventional advertising campaigns. The world of conventional image advertising with its too beautiful people that showcased contrived racial harmony and unreal perfection was a trap that Simunye had fallen into. While it may have worked then, a more worldly and sassed young person just was not buying the proposition nor its image any longer.

Research bore out the market’s need for real, ‘tell it like it is content’, for tools, empathy and insight, for routes to personal freedom and individuality they could negotiate themselves. Helping them engage with their reality, make some sense of it, for survival, prosperity and the construction of their identities in an uncertain environment. For brands that acknowledged their reality and their experiences as valid and worth engaging with - there was a great store of admiration and regard to be acquired.

For SABC1 this is a new and differentiating intrinsic proposition, born out of the tension between the mandate and the marketplace’s regard for entertainment. It is a position that has been developed over time, an ability to uncover stories that resonate with the South African condition consistently. Relevance and realism - people had come to appreciate and hunger for programming that they could identify with as reflecting their own sorts of stories.

This is the route that the channel will pursue going forward - authenticity as a principal territory that enables us to connect with our audiences from an original perspective. 


In an increasingly competitive environment, it was not enough to be in Public Service, we needed to be in Popular Public Service. What did that mean to be ‘popular’? It meant to be well known and well-liked - even well supported. To be part of the popular culture of South Africa!

We surmised that the culture vacuum we perceived in South Africa was an opportunity for a powerful media brand like SABC1 to step in and play the role of cultural elder.

The team’s preoccupation with this led to the realisation that the future for the channel lays in its ability to impact values, lifestyle and ultimately culture. From the mission to be in Popular Public Service, was born the channel brand vision which reinvented the PSS role of the channel, providing new direction. It is an insight, a revelation and ultimately an inspiration for everyone associated with the channel, the idea that: “More than TV. We are in culture.” 


From that foundation, a brand communication blueprint was developed. This built the communication thinking from the ground (external environment) up towards a differentiator and communication essence at the apex. We considered the following:

  • New competitive landscape
  • New insights
  • Significance of new programming
  • The ultimate role of a public broadcaster
  • Our vision of impacting culture


‘Living in Mzansi’
This essence roots the brand. ‘Mzansi’ is shorthand for South Africa - but not just any South Africa. ‘Mzansi’ is a post-Apartheid youthful notion of our county. It is a colloquialism that emerged from youthful popular culture in this county. Living in Mzansi grounds the SABC1 brand in youthful, contemporary South African culture. It positions SABC1 as an insider and participant rather than just an observer. As the youthful consciousness in South Africa evolves, this essence ensures that SABC1 is of its very fabric.  


The brand’s differentiator was its ability to reflect, create and tell stories that originate from youthful democratic South Africa – which Mzansi is shorthand for. This was our way of tapping into the need for authentic engagement we found in consumers. The channel’s rationale for the richness and relevance of this direction was articulated as follows:
‘Story generation and storytelling is part of Southern African social and societal fabric. Our parents grew up hearing stories told by their parents and grandparents. But in a new democracy and a critical conscious modern world, ‘the story’ has taken on a new form.’


In summary, like ‘Ya Mampela’ did, SABC1’s new positioning needs to provide a reference in a complex world. It is about a perspective on the world that people can engage with constructively.

It means a departure from trademark and transient rebellious branding, the SABC1 brand has to fulfill a role with more substance in people’s lives. The brand role is summarised by the following plug-ins to key consumer and market insights:

  • Provide entertainment /edutainment that speaks to consumers
  • Celebrate a youthful mindset through popular culture
  • Foster a sense of purpose in youthful SA (Youth Consciousness)
  • Be responsive to consumer expectations and needs
  • Engage and involve audiences going beyond conventional TV.

“BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE” Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)