Comms Planning Case Study: The miracle story of Kenya’s M-PESA

Comms planning focuses on the context of the message where brand focuses on the message.

Often the context of the message gets discounted as less important.

However the story of Kenya’s Telecommunication giant Safaricom’s launch of mobile commerce platform, M-PESA, proves why it’s vital.

In the last 20 years, over 50 developing countries have tried to launch mobile payment programs and only one has been successful – Kenya’s M-PESA which now has 18 million active users over 60% of the adult population.

In most of these 50 cases, the product and messaging have been very similar. The key difference is Safaricom’s understanding of the context. The following are key comms planning decisions that made this a success and why I am enamored by this story.


In Africa, 47% of people live below the poverty line. For most people this is a vicious cycle with one of the significant drivers being financial exclusion. Not having access to somewhere where you can store your money safely, get loans, get insurance and invest is debilitating.

In 2007, the barriers to owning a mobile phone in Kenya had been dramatically reduced. Mobile penetration was growing at an astonishing rate of 30% per year, it was not just the rich that would have access to a phone but the whole population. The time was right for the launch of a mobile commerce platform that could give people access to financial products.


Mobile phone ownership may have been on the rise however, 77% of the population still lived in rural areas in a lot of cases with little access to electricity, radio, television and internet. So, marketing a new product for the whole population was going to be a challenge.

Safaricom realised they had a line of communication to these people, there is a large group of rural young workers who were moving to the city to work and send money back to their families. The group would send money back with friends or bus drivers going back to their village. 

M-PESA offered a safe alternative to the dodgy bus driver delivering cash in a bag. Their first campaign targeted this urban migrant population giving them a safer way to send money home. The urban workers worked as a gateway to get them to advocate this unreachable rural audience about M-PESA.

Comms Planning is about understanding how the message will travel

Knowing your audience and consumer are not always the same person is a similar strategy that was well executed by Droga5 for ‘The Great Schlep’ campaign for Obamahttps://www.linkedin.com/embeds/publishingEmbed.html?articleId=8503328567506652513


At the time most people topped up their mobile phones using pre-paid scratch cards, they would buy them from small shacks on the side of the road. Safaricom was quick to incentivise these companies to become M-PESA vendors who would become like mobile ATMs.

In a smart move Safaricom made their vendors into billboards overnight. Painting their shacks the distinct green colour of Safaricom M-PESA which reached all corners of Kenya.

Comms Planning is about finding new media opportunities.

Really pushing the boundaries of media spaces is exactly the same smart thinking from BBH for Cole Haan’s ‘Don’t Go Home’ campaign where they painted shop shutters all over NYC.


The common theory around Silicon Valley is that growth hacking is the best way to grow an innovative technology, keeping your marketing budget as lean as possible and maximising the numbers of users for this small amount of money.

However, M-PESA knew that for this thing to take hold they needed to front weight their marketing investment and come out really strong and rely on the network effect to keep the base growing. They came out with $10M marketing budget to launch this technology in a big way.

This proved to be a deciding factor as Philippines launched a similar mobile payment tech around the same time as Kenya and they decided to organically grow the platform, unfortunately, without the marketing support the Philippines mobile commerce platforms never caught on.

Comms Planning understands what type of cadence of media is needed


There were a number of other factors that were at play for Kenya in terms of why the adoption of mobile commerce, however when the idea and the messaging are the same all around the world, it is clear to see the impact that comms planning can have on the success of a marketing campaign.

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