The New Media, Cultural Marketing, and Sustainable Development In Africa

The New Media, Cultural Marketing, and Sustainable Development In Africa


By Chinenye Nwabueze



Communication is pivotal to every human activity. Development at any level is a change process that is largely premised on effective two-way communication. Culture is a peculiar system or pattern of living expressed or felt through communication, in fact, culture ” is a communication system through which people weigh and determine the identity of all human groups” (Anigbo, 1998, p.26) communication which entails sharing of ideas, information, values messages etc. between and among individuals, groups,, institutions and other sender-receiver structures, shapes the existence of man in any society. This underscores the pertinence of channels which facilitate the communication process in the life of man.

Traditionally, the mass media – radio, television, newspapers, magazines play major roles in facilitating the communication process in a large scale. However, the sophistication of today’s world largely brought about by technological advancement has led to the perception of the world as an information society or network society. The technological advancement in contemporary society heralded the arrival of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTS) that have enhanced the existing communication process and the entire manner in which individuals interact with the world. The ICTs have expanded the frontiers of communication and information dissemination popularizing an increasingly dominant category of communication channels referred to as The New Media.

These ICT-driven communication channels include online information services, cable television, satellite dishes, the internet and World Wide Web, among others. They have enhanced the traditional mass media or what are now described as the ‘old’ mass media – newspaper, magazine, television and radio (Oso, 2007, p.116). The new media have expanded the horizon of communication, made the world smaller and the communication process more rapid.

The crucial role of the new media in fostering cultural marketing for sustainable development is the focus of this paper. The mass media no doubt, play essential roles in cultural marketing (promoting the life style of a group of people with a view to making it acceptable to other people), and sustainable development (development or change process that stands the test of time). How can the new media be harnessed in the area of cultural marketing for sustainable development in developing nations? How can the internet for instance, be harnessing in promoting cultural values that attract sustainable development in a nation? These are among the questions that this paper seeks to provide answers to. The paper further takes an expository look at the key concepts of this discuss such as the   new media, culture, cultural marketing and sustainable development. The new media constitute a media category which cannot be ignored in any meaningful, result-oriented communication campaign in contemporary society.

Explication of concepts

Working definitions of the key concepts in this work are essential to put the discuss in an understandable perspective. These key concepts are as follows;

Cultural marketing: It is pertinent to define the concept of culture before relating it to marketing i.e. cultural marketing. Culture has been defined as “the entirety of norms, values, belief systems and life patterns that give a group of people an identity” (Nwabueze, 2006. p. 184). It is a boundary marker which not only makes man different from animals from the broad sense of it but also sets groups of people apart from one another (Anigbo, 1988, p.27). It is the totality of learned, socially transmitted customs, knowledge, material objects, and behaviour (Schaefer, 2004, p. 51). Simply put, culture is expressed in the value that members of a given group hold, their languages, the symbols they respect and revere, the norms that guide them, including the material goods they create, ranging from tools to clothing (Giddens., Duneier, and Appenbaum. 2005, p.53).

Culture is dynamic, its dynamism is largely a function of the exposure to unfolding events, including intrusion by or interaction with other people’s culture. Culture connotes life style, socially acquired traditions of a given people, their way of thinking, feeling and acting. It affects every sphere of the society leading to such concepts as political culture, religious culture, economic, educational, communication, business, health, etc. culture.

Cultural marketing therefore, refers to the application of marketing principles to cause exposure to evaluation, appreciation and acceptance of, including willingness to identify with a people’s culture (Nwabueze, 2006). It further refers to the promotion of a group of people’s way of life, belief systems or values, directly or indirectly, to a target audience with a view to achieving acceptance and possibly adoption of such culture. This serves as a working definition of cultural marketing in this paper. Cultural marketing process could be direct where life style or norms are being promoted in message e.g. a message promoting Fulani clothes or the numerous billboards of British American Tobacco Company which promotes life style of Nigerians, The process could be indirect, whereby the lifestyle being promoted is embedded in a product advert message or a television programme aimed primarily at satisfying entertainment needs of people e.g. teenagers in India who watch channel “O” or MTV and end up asking their parents for more westernized clothes and other symbols of American pop culture and values. Cultural marketing is not only aimed at exposing other people to ones culture but also retaining or sustaining ones cultural identity by protecting ones culture from undue invasion by foreign culture.


Sustainable development: Development is a widely participatory, change process which creates opportunities for people to increase their skills, better their standard of living, uplift moral and technological status, among others. The target of development in any society, according to Akpakpan (Cited in Uduak, 2005) is to achieve the following;

  1. Increased capacity to produce needed goods and services,
  2. Reduction in level of unemployment;
  3. Reduction in economic inequalities;
  4. Reduction in level of absolute power;
  5. Increase in real output of goods and services (i.e. economic growth);
  6. Improvement in literacy and the levels of social and political consciousness and participation;
  7. Improvement in the quality of life, as measured by access to clean and safe water, adequate health services, good road, provision of constant power supply and decent accommodation.

Sustainable development, which is the focus here, refers to development that considers not just today’s beneficiaries but also tomorrow’s beneficiaries. It is “a process of instituting projects that impact on the economy positively and the projects are viable enough to stand the test of time” (Uduak, 2005, p. 119). Development efforts here do not produce transient results, it is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Commission of Environment and Development, cited in Abdul-Qadir, 2005).


Sustainable development aims at realizing the goals of development but what is emphasized here is the ability or capacity of the development policies, projects and plans to last, i.e. to uplift the life of present and future generations, provide opportunities for both present and future generations to maximize their potentials and utilize opportunities around them in improving their standard of living and the society. This concept of development is simply saying that change agents and policy makers should bear in mind that their development efforts should stand the test of time. Not the ‘brand’ of development witnessed in some developing nations where for instance, inferior materials are used in building and construction projects, where projects that do not consider the priorities and needs of communities are imposed on the communities, thereby generating rancour and rage against government, where for instance economic plants are used in making bio fuel without considering implications to food security and food availability. Sustainable development thrives largely on participatory communication platform.

The New Media: These are new communication and information technologies which have made the means of acquiring, storing, processing, retrieving and disseminating information relatively faster, easier, cheaper and more accessible. They are ICT-based media which have enhanced the performance and widened the frontiers of the traditional ‘old’ mass media and other communication channels. Fordham University Graduate School of Business (cited in Adedina, Adeniyi and Bolaji, 2008, p.301) explained the concept of new media in these terms;

media and communication activities made possible by the

digital revolution and distinguished from traditional mass media. They are both the technical means of acquiring information: storing and retrieving it as well as the content delivered to the consumer and users in this system.

Difficulties exist as to what comprises the ‘new media’ – a term which has been in use since the 1960s. Much of the features which define the new media apply to the traditional ‘old’ media but the main features which distinguish the new media from the ‘old media’ according to McQuail (2006 p.38) are as follows; their interconnectedness, their accessibility to individual users as senders and/or receivers, their interactivity, their multiplicity of use and open-ended character and their ubiquity and delocatedness Thus, the new media are products of on-going information technology revolution which have separated the old communication technologies basically those used prior to the advent of computer, for example, telephone (land line), electronic news gathering camera analogue radio and television, video text, wireless intercom system etc. from the new communication technologies – computer, Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS), digital radio and television systems, the Internet and World Wide Web, GSM phones, among others. Furthermore, Adedina, Adeniyi and Bolaji (2008) opined that the new media which have extended the frontiers of mass communication, have been associated with a revolution in information technology and the rise of the computer. In their words;

At first, new media included only online information services, cable television and satellite dishes, but with the rise of the internet and the World Wide Web as platforms of choice, the concept of new media has taken on 3 larger and further meaning

Oso (2007) describes the internet as the most ubiquitous of the new media. The Internet and the World Wide Web could be described as major pillars of the new media category. Most often when the term ‘new media’ is mentioned, the first things that come to mind are the Internet and the World Wide Web, although other forms of digital, computer-facilitated communication media fail into this category. The Internet, for instance, played a major role in bringing to the world, inside stories about post-election protests in Iran from, angles which received no mention in government-owned media in that nation. Iranians, especially protesters, used camera phones, YouTube, i-report platform, and blogs to send out flash points and other inside information about, the crisis to the world. The international media got the bulk of inside information about the crisis from the internet. Iranian government began an attempt to block websites such as Twitter, Yahoo, etc. which served as channels through which Iranians on ground sent across photographs and other messages on the crisis to the world. This attempt was however unsuccessful, further underscoring the power uncensored power of the new media in information dissemination. The concern of this paper is on how the new media as described here play crucial roles in cultural marketing aimed at achieving sustainable development in any society.

Theoretical base

This paper is anchored on the Technological Determinism theory which primarily states that communication technologies impact greatly on the society. The theory recognizes a strong link between media technology culture and the society in general. The proponent of this theory, Marshall McLuhan was of the view that changes in the communication mode largely determine the course of history (Nwodu, 2004, p.73). McLuhan saw communication inventions as pivotal in the society, noting that it is specifically changes in the modes of communication that shape human existence (Griffin, 2000. p.315). The theory views technological inventions associated with the media as not only enhancing the way information is processed, stored, retrieved and disseminated, but also crucially influencing human perception and interpretation of human existence.

After observing that new technologies radically alter the entire way people use their five senses, the way they react to things, and therefore their entire lives and the entire society, Marshall McLuhan then concluded that “the medium is the message” (Griffin 2000, p.315). Similarly, McQuail (2005, p. 104) summarized the tenets of the technological determinism theory as follows; communication technology is fundamental to the society; each technology has a Dias to particular communication forms, contents and uses; the sequence of invention and application of communication technology influences social changes; communication revolutions lead to social revolutions.

With specific reference to this discuss, the New Media could serve as catalysts to development by promoting the culture of a people within and across national frontiers. Here, communication technologies which enhance the gathering, processing storage, retrieval and dissemination of information are used to bring about positive changes in the society through the marketing of a people’s culture. The Internet and the World Wide Web which constitute major technological advancements in the communication sphere play crucial roles in actualizing the tenets of the technological determinism theory.

The new media and cultural marketing

The mass media greatly impact on the culture of a people it is largely through the mass media that the culture of a people is projected or marketed to the world, thereby fostering globalization, cultural imperialism, cultural homogenization or synchronization, and cultural transmission of all kinds Opubor, 1985; McQuail, 2005; Salawu, 2005; Nwabueze, 2005). The new media (especially the Internet and World Wide Web, and Satellite/cable broadcasting) are also recording palpable impact on the marketing of culture around the world. The internet which is a convergence of all forms of communication into a digital, interactive, electronically-based, computer facilitated system, has heralded newer forms of mass communication such as chat rooms, bulletin boards, forum, internet groups (such as yahoo group, Goggle groups), teleconferencing, Blogs etc. (Adedina, Adeniyi and Bolaji, 2008).

Today, what the digital broadcast media and the print media are doing with the conventional stations, they are also doing electronically. Broadcast media operate simulcast i.e. both conventional and internet versions. The print media also have web sites that people easily access. The broadcast media, with the advent of satellite broadcasting, tends to be fostering what could be described as international cultural marketing, especially marketing western culture to the world. Kotler and Armstrong (2004, p. 604) make the following observation about the impact of cultural marketing through satellite broadcasting:

critics contend that exposure to American values and products erode other cultures and westernizes the word. They point out that teens in India watch MTV and ask their parents for more westernized clothes and other symbols of American pop culture and values. Grandmothers in small villas In northern, Italy no longer spend each morning visiting local meat, bread, and produce markets to gather the ingredients for dinner. Instead they now Shop at Wal-Mart supermarkets. Women in Saudi Arabia watch American films and question their societal roles.

Through global radio and television which were brought about by the digitalization (a feature of the new media), home countries or initiators of the communication process market their culture to the numerous audiences across the globe.

The Internet and World Wide Web have virtually taken a prominent position in the front line of cultural marketing. Virtually every nation across the world and in some cases, states within countries, have websites where they not only market their culture but also seek to attract investors with development interests in their nations/states. Nigeria for instance, does not just have such website as a nation but states within the country do have websites. Cross River State for instance, has recorded progress in this area with the marketing of its eco-tourist attractions – TINAPA, Obudu cattle ranch aesthetic quality of Calabar, the state capital – to the world.

The YouTube innovation has further bridged the communication gap that may have existed between senders and receivers, a feature which facilitates the sending of a message to even a mass audience (where the message is rebroadcast through CNN for instance) from the remotest part of the world.

Today, i-reporters are everywhere, reporting for Cable News Network (CNN), transmitting all kinds of information, including cultural information across the world. Internet awareness is on increase in developing nations of Africa, although the growth is at a snail pace. People go to the net, download American hip hop songs, movies and interesting programmes. They consume these messages and want to emulate the lifestyle of the stars they watch their movies or listen to their music. The question is do westerners also download African movies and music the way Africans consume foreign programmes? With the GSM phone and its sophisticated facilities, mobile marketing of largely foreign culture is the vogue in Nigeria today. Ring tones and stored movies /videos are mostly western. The flow in the cultural market created by the new media is largely one-sided i.e. from developed to developing nations, due to the sophistication and technological edge the developed world have over the developing world. This re-echoes the agitation in the 1970s for a New World information and Communication Order (NWICO) which was championed by developing nations in their bid to strike a balance in information flow This scenario is summarized by Payne (2001, p.181) who notes that “while technology has made the world smaller, communication more rapid, and access easier, it has also created a new set of problems, and new issues concerning the use of the ‘gadgets’ available to us.” What does cultural marketing through the new media portend for sustainable development in any nation (whether the nation is at the receiving end or not)?

Implications to sustainable development in Africa

The culture of a people could attract development interests (investors) to the nation. If the culture being beamed to the world through the new and other media is negative, that could discourage development interests from getting attracted to that nation. Put in another way, the preference of a culture by an audience segment would make that audience segment want to identify with the products or cultural symbols of the nation which culture they prefer. For instance, in China, most people never drank coffee before star bucks entered the market but today, Chinese consumers rush to star bucks stores because it is a symbol of a new kind of life style (Kotler and Armstrong, 2004). People in developing nations see American culture portrayed in movies, enjoy American musical videos through the Internet, get to see the lifestyle of Americans through satellite broadcasting, and desire to travel to American. They think that life is going to be as smooth as it seems in the movies and programmes they watch on television. They travel and contribute to manpower required in developing America and other western nations. China and India are among developing nations that are beginning to benefit from migration of Africans in search of greener pasture, largely based on what has been heard or seen about the economic, political, social, educational, etc. culture of the nations people are traveling to.

It is pertinent to note that it is not only through entertainment programmes and interactive music, drama, movies, novels etc. that culture is marketed. News programmes also portray the dominant culture in any society. Economic news for instance, can reflect the nature of the economy of a nation, thereby attracting economic/business interests to that nation. Political stories amplify political culture and political situation of a nation can encourage or retard development, as the case may be.

Nations that have the ability to apply the new media in marketing the good aspects of their culture are at an advantage, in an address on the “Challenges of information and Communications Technology for Development,” Mark Brown, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), described the Internet as

the two-edged sword that is leading the process of globalization, having the potential of wounding those who don’t quickly enough grasp how to use it by leaving them ever further behind, but providing unprecedented benefits for those with the courage and willingness to grasp its potential to drive change” (cited in Amodu, 2008, p.289).

Discussing the negative impact of cultural marketing through the new media dominated by the Western developed nations, on developing nations would simply tantamount to a venture into a vast, in exhaustive topic and revisiting the points already over-flogged by the NWICO debate and its hangover conferences. What developing nations should do is to quit complaining and brace up to the challenges of adopting the new media in cultural marketing targeted at sustainable development. These efforts should be aimed at counter-marketing the foreign culture beamed to Africans from western nations.

Challenges for developing nations of Africa

Having seen the connection between the new media, cultural marketing and sustainable development, it is pertinent for African nations to wake up to the challenges of harnessing this connection to their favour. The basic factors that militate against the effective use of the new media, especially the Internet in achieving development goals in Africa revolve around lack of facilities or infrastructure to operate the new media, lack of access to the new media (especially the internet), computer illiteracy (despite the growing internet awareness in Nigeria and other African nations, a great deal of people are still not computer literate), poverty/harsh economic situation in several African nations (most nations are still battling to provide the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter for their people or create opportunities for the people to provide these needs for themselves). Another factor is Internet application by users i.e. those who are Internet literate, what do they use the Internet for? As Nwabueze (2005, p.113) notes, ‘such issues as subscription to pornographic being eroded? Are these broadcast media serving as custodians of culture by ensuring the conscious marketing of aspects of the culture that will yield positive returns to the society? These questions should spur African governments in looking inwards to find out how to harness their local media in counter-marketing foreign cultural domination or at least, preventing these local media from serving as agents of foreign cultural domination as seems to be the case today.

African governments should be sincere in the fight against corruption at every level of the society because that is a major problem hindering any kind of development in the society. The need to provide the basic needs for the citizenry and the need to pursue technological advancement are retarded by the endemic problem of corruption. Provision of basic infrastructure for operating ICTS cannot succeed if corruption is not eradicated.

There is also the need for the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and such bodies in such bodies in other African nations to wake up to the challenges of ensuring that local media do not turnout to be agents of foreign cultural domination by having a greater percentage of foreign programmes aired in the local media. Since it is difficult to censor the content of the Internet, the search Sight should be beamed on the broadcast stations to adhere to NBC code of ensuring a greater percentage of local programme content for the local media. Furthermore, as Adedina Adeniyi and Bolaji (2008, p.307) suggested, Nigeria and other African nations should work towards increasing their share of internet contents so that their views will be known and the lopsided information dissemination between Africa and the industrial societies can be corrected. This calls for creating opportunities for the citizenry to maximize their potentials and utilize opportunities in ensuring technological breakthrough for their countries. Such scenario can still not be created in an atmosphere of corruption.







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The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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