I’m interested in the idea that tools like Google’s AdWords program let us see what different individuals and organizations are willing to pay for being associated with searches for specific information. I posted an article, cynically titled “Why Genocide’s Worth at Least a Buck a Click”, last year which outlines the methodology I’ve been using to slurp pricing information from Google. I ran a set of keywords – the names of 51 African nations, plus “Famine”, “Sri Lanka”, “Aceh” and “Tsunami” – this morning to obtain pricing information, and checked each keyword on Google to see what sorts of ads ran for each word.
The most expensive keywords – over $1 per click, if you wanted to guarantee that your ad appeared in the top spot – are an interesting mixed bag. The Seychelles, Namibia and Mauritius primarily carry ads for tourism – hotels, discount airfare, visa services, etc… though “Seychelles” is evidently the name of a trendy shoe, which means the eight ads on the Seychelles search are split between travel and footware. (And they’re not alone. “Morocco” delivers an ad for sequin-covered slippers…)
Sudan and Rwanda each have top ads priced at over a dollar per click – five of eight of Sudan’s ads are for relief organizations, the other three for news coverage of the nation. All three ads on a Rwanda search are for relief organizations, though two of the three ads are raising money for Darfur. (“darfur”, by the way, goes for $1.51, making it more expensive than any of the words in this set.) Searches for “Sudan” and “Rwanda” both include two special left-column ads, something that appears only very few keywords – these two, plus “famine” and “tsunami” – all the ads in these special slots are for relief organizations. (One possibility is that these are ad spaces donated by Google for special purposes.)
The odd man out in the >$1 ad space is Eritrea. While it’s one of the countries currently in danger of famine, two of four ads served are aimed at expatriates (“Eritrean Radio Online”, “Meet Eritrean Guys and Girls”), one advertises an online news service and the final is a generic eBay ad (which appears to run thousands of ads that read “Looking for items related to Blah? Shop on eBay!”.)
Niger ads are in the dead center of the set of keywords, costing $0.51 per click for top billing, ranking Niger the 23rd most expensive of 55 keywords. Seven of eight ads for Niger searches are for relief agencies, while the remaining one is for news services. While aid agencies are clearly using Niger to fundraise, there hasn’t been the same competition for keywords as there has been for “sudan” and “rwanda”, which have become fundraising shorthand for human suffering, despite the fact that Rwanda’s greatest tragedy was ten years in the past. It’s hard to tell what keywords will have currency: “tsunami” sells for $0.69 for the top slot, with 2 of 5 slots filled by aid groups, while “famine” trades at $0.46, and all eight slots are filled by aid organizations. On the other hand, Aceh – where so much of the Boxing Day tsunami damage occurred – is one of the cheapest keywords in the set, at $0.09, and two of four ads are aimed at domestic or expatriate Acheans, while the other two are for relief groups.
These three basic categories – tourism ads, relief ads and news, and diaspora-targeted ads – characterise the vast majority of the ads within the set. Relief ads represent only 10% of the total ads in the set, but 21% of the highest value ads in the set (over $1 per click for the top ranked ad.) Relief and tourism ads are concentrated in the high cost per click ads, while ads focused on the expatriate community are some of the cheapest ads available. This may suggest that there’s less competition to advertise to Somali expatriates than to Americans thinking about a safari in Namibia, or that the products being sold to expatriates (discount phone calls, dating services, cargo shipping) have slimmer margins than airline tickets…
I started looking at these numbers to see whether accusations that Niger’s food shortages/famines were being exploited by the international aid community for fundraising purposes – I ended up concluding that Niger’s not being exploited as much as nations that have become “disaster brands”, like Rwanda – this is probably a time function. If the situation in Niger continues long enough and gets sufficient attention, it will likely become branded as a humanitarian catastrophe, which makes it a logical keyword for aid agencies to purchase.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about the concept of “national brand” since encountering Simon Anholt’s thinking on the topic. He made a throwaway comment on a recent BBC radio show that “Ethiopia’s brand is conducive to raising aid money, but not to tourism,” an idea that struck me as sufficiently wise that I went online and bought his new book.
He’s right – very few nations (Uganda, Zimbabwe) generate ads for tourism and for relief – the two categories are otherwise mutually exclusive. But African national brands appear to be more complicated than I would have thought. Somalia – which I mentally associate with chaos, failed states and open-air weapons markets – carries ads for cheap airfare, Somali dating services, Foreign Policy magazine, and terrorism-focused research services. In other words, the brand “Somalia” has for me, and many Americans, is clearly very different than the brand it has for a Somali audience…
As always, my data set is available for your perusal, usage, pleasure and corrections – access it here. A topline summary of my findings is below: