When your cluelessness about African geography becomes a viral marketing campaign

Libya’s around there somewhere.
Libya’s around there somewhere.
Image: AP Photo/ Abdel Magid Al Fergany
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If you found yourself scrolling through Facebook recently and clicking on a social quiz asking: “How well do you know your African geography?” you’ll probably know the answer is: “Not well. Not well at all.”

You’ll probably also know by now that the quiz is part of a clever marketing campaign by ONE, an international advocacy organization focused on fighting poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.

To mark International Day of the Girl on Wednesday, ONE released a report on the countries where women are most likely to be denied an education. Struck by the fact that nine of the ten toughest places were in Africa, they took inspiration from people’s obsession with social quizzes, plus the popularity of a recent ONE article titled “8 maps that will change the way you look at Africa,” to challenge people to locate the countries on a map.

ONE's nine countries campaign
Challenge yourself.
Image: ONE campaign

The organization published the social quiz as a test last Friday (Oct. 6) in preparation for the launch of a report yesterday. Six days in, more than 1.5 million people have completed the quiz, and 340,000 people have signed the petition following it.

Roxane Philson, ONE’s chief marketing officer, says her team wasn’t just “blown away” by how quickly and widely the quiz was shared, but that so many people went on to sign a call for action. “People haven’t just played the game and carried on with their lives, they’ve shared it with others,” Philson says.

Judging from comments left Facebook, participants also appreciated being “drawn to a quiz with a purpose,” she says. “I think people have been really been drawn to that idea of having a bit of fun, learning something, but then doing something positive with that action.”

ONE ‘s report lists South Sudan, Central African Republic, Niger, Chad, Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan as the ten hardest places for women to get an education. Women there spend only two years of their lives in school on average, according to ONE’s analysis.

You’re probably not alone if you couldn’t place the nine African countries. Africa’s true size is frequently misrepresented on maps (or sometimes not at all, in the case of Central Africa) and the continent’s contributions to history chronically underplayed. Common misperceptions about the continent persist amongst Americans, for example. That’s unlikely to change under a White House which appears to have no policy towards the continent at all. But that’s not to say people don’t care: Americans were the second top takers of the quiz, according to ONE.

Judging by the campaign’s success, African “geography seems to be something that people are drawn to,” Philson says. “It’s also helpful to be reinforcing the point that it’s a continent of many countries, with many diverse opportunities and challenges, and finding ways to bring that to the mainstream.”