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Spoken Ink: Kali Illunga

A young entrepreneur captures the youth market through innovative mobile campaigns that meet their needs.

Juliet Pitman

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Kali Llunga of Spoken Ink

When Kali Illunga did his learners anddrivers licence tests – and failed them repeatedly – he knew there had to be abetter way of going about things. “I remember my frustration with the wholeprocess – from the corruption to the lack of access to really goodinformation,” he recalls. Some preliminary research revealed that1,95 million people do their learners and drivers licence tests each year, andon average fail three times. “There is a 55% pass rate but those who arefailing are failing many times over,” he says.

Fillinga gap

It was a gap that couldn’t be ignored.Illunga, through his company Spoken Ink, set about creating a mobile campaignto help young people pass the tests. “We filmed teaching videos, animated themand made them available on mobile phones, along with practice tests. We got thedepartment of transport to endorse our campaign through Arrive Alive, andMcCarthy sponsored it to gain exposure for their Chery brand,” he explains. To entice users, some 20% of thecontent is free; the remainder can be downloaded for a small fee. Within thefirst 13 weeks, Spoken Ink’s Chery K53 MobiAssist site had 135 000 users, 13 600 competition entrants and was thesecond most popular brand on MXit. “The concept is simple and effective –almost every youngster in South Africa has a mobile phone. They may not beable to afford to buy a driving test book or pay someone to give them lessons,but they can download our content onto their phone. The idea is to give youngpeople great mobile content that can educate them to help improve their lives,”says Illunga.

Meetingyouth market needs

It’s an idea that underpins SpokenInk’s mission. “We identify youth market needs and develop great, relevantmobile content to meet them,” Illunga explains. Sponsorship from corporatebrands like McCarthy covers the cost of creating the content and running the campaign.It’s a win-win situation for all; young people get the content they want,brands such as McCarthy get exposure to a notoriously tough youth market, andSpoken Ink generates a profit. “But the secret ingredient to all ofthis is great content,” says Illunga, “A mobile or new media campaign doesn’tnecessarily make your brand cutting edge or innovative. It doesn’t help youreach the youth market effectively if your content is condescending orirrelevant to their needs.”

Learningfrom lessons in print

As a 22-year-old, Illunga has a goodsense of what the youth market is looking for, but he also draws on his pastexperience in print media. While still at school, he launched War Cry, amagazine aimed at the top 60 high schools in South Africa. It was a publicationdriven by passion and very little else. “We were 17 years old and all we knewwas that we wanted to create a great magazine for high schools,” says Illunga.He sold adverts to corporates from public phones between classes. The magazine was a relative success butits real value lay in teaching Illunga some important lessons. “I learnteverything I know about business and the youth market from that project,” hesays.

Movingto new media

But the experience turned him off printmedia. “We had great content but it was only available every three months andfor this market, three months is an eternity. The costs were also ridiculous,”he says. While working at an agency, Illungawanted to start trying out new media campaigns. “I kept thinking ‘This wouldwork so much better if people could download it as a Podcast or onto theirphone’,” he says. But clients were afraid to launch into a medium few of themunderstood. “So all credit to McCarthy for taking aleap of faith with the MobiAssist campaign,” Illunga interjects. The company’sconfidence paid off, allowing the Chery brand to speak to youngsters withdrivers licences who were looking to buy a car. “And the numbers get very bigvery quickly because young people tell their friends and soon everyone isdownloading the content,” he adds.

Scalingthe business

Spoken Ink’s K53 MobiAssist campaignwas just the beginning. Since then, Illunga has identified other youthmarket needs and is launching more and more sponsored campaigns to meet them,targeting clients who want to market their products and services to the youth.Over the next five years he plans to kick off campaigns that will reachmillions of South African users. Africa’sgrowing mobile phone market also presents opportunities for expansion. “I wantSpoken Ink Campaigns to be the go-to place for mobile upskilling andeducational content across Africa,” he sayssimply. Is it a tall order? Sure. Is he up toit? You bet.

  • SpokenInk
  • Player:Kali Illunga
  • Est.2005
  • Contact:www.spokenink.co.za +2776 846 2448, +27 11 326 4618

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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