Published: 27 August 2019

Challenging big development brands: How Send a Cow put African designed solutions at its heart

Send a Cow has always been about people: from the compassion of its UK founders, to the strength and resilience of the communities they support. But in the early days they really did put dairy cows on a plane to Uganda to support families recovering from the recent civil war, which had destroyed farmland and livestock.

Despite having made a mark with a memorable name, dedicated West Country following, and quirky image, the charity still needed a complete brand rethink, to allow it to position itself as an ‘Africa-forward’ challenger brand, to set itself apart in a development sector dominated by big name brands.

So how to move beyond the cow?

As they looked to deepen emotional engagement with current and particularly new and younger supporters, the fun, quirky ‘cow’ image felt increasingly disconnected with the depth of the charity’s work. 

‘The cow’, though deeply meaningful to many loyal supporters, was now a very narrow platform from which to communicate an approach that works by engaging hearts and minds, levelling out inequalities, and enabling families to create a shared vision of the future together, whilst supporting them to realise it. But how to move beyond the cow and widen Send a Cow’s supporter base without alienating the current one?

Building on insight

What all the charity’s existing and potential supporters had in common was a desire to relate to those being supported by Send a Cow as equals. Research showed the charity’s belief in the opportunities of the land of rural Africa resonated well with people fatigued by images of African nations, seemingly not updated since the 1980’s, and who were put off by anything they perceived to look like ‘white saviour’ tropes. 

 

On the strength of insight Send a Cow took the decision to position themselves as a ‘challenger brand’, putting an upbeat message about the possibilities of rural Africa at its core. Staying true to its model, the unique ‘pass-it-on’ promise that knowledge and skills pass from community group to community group was brought more centrally into the brand messaging.

Celebrating African-designed solutions

The brand essence of ‘joyful development’, though not a key message, runs through everything the charity does, showing that although poverty can feel as though it’s breaking people down and limiting their choices, being supported and supporting others in turn helps put power, and joy back into people’s lives.

Creatively the challenge was to find ways of distilling the spirit of joyful development, and being able to reflect this as a differentiated position for Send a Cow. To ensure more differentiation, we shifted the focus of communications from an emphasis on farming and farmers, to families and communities and the reality of African run programmes.

Send a Cow

Rather than pay lip service to the idea of empowered African communities, the new Send a Cow brand is actively designed to celebrate it. This is most notable in the visual identity, which is rich with images of opportunity and hope, rooted in the beauty of African landscapes. 

New visual elements have been created to capture the patterns, colour and rhythms of a diverse rural Africa. Replacing old and predictably generic ‘watering-can development’ imagery is a set of powerful and flexible photos that put people, not livestock, back at the heart of Send a Cow’s brand.

We believe the new brand gives the charity the opportunity to allow more voices to be heard through it. Allowing the charity to tell richer multi-media stories using the spoken word, song, dance, and design that celebrate the power of Africa’s people and the potential of their land. 

 But what about the name?

Send a Cow is becoming a household name in rural African communities. So rather than jettison such a valuable asset, the visual identity removes the focus from the names’ literal meaning and emphasises instead what the charity represents.

Image: Send a Cow


Jenni Bacon, head of brand insight, Spencer Du Bois

Jenni is head of brand insight at Spencer du Bois. She spends her days helping organisations discover what their audiences think of them, defining their core messages and determining their strategy to achieve the change they want.

Max du Bois, executive director, Spencer du Bois

With over 25 years of not for profit, government, social enterprise, b2b and b2c experience, Max helps people find out what matters and communicate what really counts. Helping good people do great things, Max builds brands that challenge attitudes, change minds and inspire action.