When I asked a labourer why he didn’t show up for work at 10 am the previous morning as I had requested in the text message sent to his cell phone, his reply was, “Me nuh use my phone dem way deh!” (Contextualized English translation: I don’t use my phone to check text messages).
I was flabbergasted and amused. But mostly flabbergasted.
Who doesn’t use their phone to check and reply to messages?
A lot of people in Jamaica it turns out!
Photo credit: Terrence Bowen
My younger brother’s theory is that this is because a lot of people in Jamaica can’t read. So that made me curious about the country’s literacy rate. I’ve seen the most recent stats, attributed to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica that put it at about 89% when using population data from 2015. So using the most basic definition of literacy, almost 90% of Jamaicans surveyed in 2015 could read and write by the time they reached 15 years old. But what does that really mean in everyday life? Being able to identify the words in a sentence is not the same as understanding their meaning. Neither does it mean you can logically follow an argument from point A to point B.
Then there’s the issue of ‘tech’ literacy; being able to use your computer or cell phone to check emails, open attachments, run your business. I’ve been impressed by a young man who uses a weed whacker to cut yards and walks around with his own point of sale machine, making it easier for customers to pay. Now that’s making tech work for your small business! Contrast him to the labourer mentioned before, who doesn’t use his cell phone to do the very basic task of checking written messages.
My dad also has a thing about phone messages. He’s an educated man who likes to pass the time playing Sudoku on his desktop computer and 4 Pics One Word on his cell. But for some reason, he just will not embrace the convenience of communicating by text message.
I suspect there are many people in Jamaica like the labourer and my dad who will never change. So I’m also left wondering about the effectiveness of the onslaught of text messages sent by marketers to what they believe is a receptive audience. Every time I top up my phone I get between 2-4 messages from Digicel. So do the people who will never read these messages, much less act on them. I’m constantly being urged to “Get saucy this summer!” and win a Kia Sportage, plus I get “breaking news” from LOOPSCOOP. And this is my favourite one: iworship invited me to join in an “evening of food, comedy & music” at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre in Kingston. I live in Montego Bay and automatically avoid anything that even smells like organized religion. I am definitely not iworship’s target audience.
So who is selling these ad slots? Because that’s what these texts are. And, more importantly, are the people paying for these slots even aware of how to maximize their ad dollar? Right now they’re just throwing information out there, at everyone, hoping some of it will stick. It won’t.
My suggestion: spend some of that money on market research. And once you’ve identified your target audience, get to know them. Then and only then can you even think about buying ad slots. Then and only then will you know the right questions to ask the sales rep peddling those slots. Are they able to help you reach your target audience? Can they provide the right format that will help you get your message across? Because if you keep sending text messages to people who “nuh use dem phone dem way deh” you will never get a reply.
I’m a marketing and communications professional with almost a decade in journalism. After more than 14 years living and working in China, I happily came home to Jamaica in summer 2019. In this weekly column, I share snippets of what it’s like seeing Jamaica — and sometimes the rest of the world — through my eyes.
By Charmaine N. Clarke