Marketing Nigeria – The challenges

Mr. Biodun Shobanjo

I was at the recent 14th CVL annual lectures/international leadership forum where Professor Collier, Director, Centre for Africa Economies, Oxford University, was keynote speaker.  The erudite professor said he never makes power point presentations at such occasions because people are meant to listen.  So like the Prof, I am making no power point presentation.  I hope I can get your attention for the next 30 minutes.

I wonder if our friends in the creative agencies in Nigeria understand that part of the reason they have not won awards at international creative fora is because they have not done well at storytelling.  Storytelling, in a compelling manner, which sometimes elicit laughter, joy, a tear, annoyance or applause, tends to make more impact and leave a lesson in the mind of the audience.  They get people talking, and getting people talk about your brand is the most powerful strategy of all.  Just like Nollywood stories do, well told stories leave lasting impressions.  And people thirst for them. I remember that as a young boy every Saturday morning people congregated around redifusion boxes to listen to Madam Oluremi’s stories on her ‘Omo Obokun nki yin o’, 15 minutes slots.  So this evening, what I will try to do is tell stories.  Stories of some of the things I witnessed, and in some cases affected, in the almost 46 years that I have been in the marketing communication business.

Story Number 1
In the early 70s there were two very interesting brands that were launched into this market with so much pomp and fanfare – Mercedes cigarettes by Phillip Morris International and Metex by Cadbury.  The strapline for the latter if I remember correctly was ‘Metex replaces meat’.

In spite of the huge budgets deployed to support both brands, they failed abysmally within a short time and both brands had to be withdrawn.  The reason?  At 1 kobo a stick, the consumer could not relate a cigarette brand with the most premium car brand in the country, a car with a global heritage and reputation for premiumness.  In other words, at one kobo a stick, the brand profile of Mercedes (the cigarette) was very far from the brand worth of the Mercedes Benz car that most Nigerians adore.  The proposition was just not credible.  The consumer simply felt that a Mercedes cigarette could not deliver on expected benefit.

Metex on the other hand did not only taste like synthetic rubber, its nutritional values were questionable.  Claiming that ‘Metex replaces meat’ as both the headline and strap line of its advertisement screamed, was a lie that could not hold.  While the novelty factor, the substantial marketing investment and the short term commodities shortages of the third quarter of 1975 made consumers try it, Metex’s death knell was the fact that repeat purchase never happened.  Again the brand failed not only on account of performance but credibility.

So my point is where brand truth becomes questionable, brand collapse is inevitable.  A lot of factors could be responsible for this happening – one of which is the depth of knowledge, skill and experience of those charged with the responsibility of nurturing brands.  I hope the National Institute of Marketing in Nigeria rises up to the occasion by addressing this serious deficiency amongst its practitioners.  When half-baked marketing practitioners interface with ill-equipped marketing communication professionals, what you find is the specious quality of marketing solutions we tend to find these days.

Not being an active practitioner anymore, you will oblige me with the priviledge of airing my views, without the risk of any sanctions.

Story Number 2
Once upon a time in this country, marketing companies genuinely partnered with their marketing communication service providers, sharing knowledge and expertise; with both parties working so hard to ensure that the partnership produced successful brands in the market place.  The multinational companies played key roles in this regard – UAC Nigeria Limited, Wellcome Nigeria Limited, Nigerian Breweries, Lever Brothers, Sterling Products, GSK, Guinness, CAPL, A.C. Christlieb, Cheseborough Ponds, J. Allen, Coca-Cola, Merck Sharpe & Dohme, E.M.I., Singer, Nicholas Laboratores, Esso, African Petroleum, Nasco, to name just a few.  It explains why people like the late Chief I. S. Moemeke, Banjo Solaru, Kehinde Adeosun, Chief Olu Falomo, Ted Mukoro, Biodun Sanwo, Chief Femi Williams, Mac Obiagele, Akin Odunsi, Steve Omojafor, Ayo Owoborode, Tunde Adelaja and my humble self remained active in the business for decades, becoming lifetime friends of the client contacts we made in the process of working together.

Today what one sees and hears is different and gives one cause for concern.  Nothing is more false than a marketer thinking he is doing his marketing communication company a favour by allowing him work on his brands.  It is this mentality that results in clients not building long term relationships with their service providers and brands not building an enduring relationship with the consumer given the inconsistent messages being churned out regularly.  When you look at the top four holding companies of global marketing communication companies what you find is very long tenures on clients rosters.  It explains the very deep understanding of the brands which result in breakthrough communication, the type that not only build consumer affinity but awes us all.

As if to reinforce this view, in this week’s edition of the UK’s Marketing Week the highly celebrated journal for those in Marketing McDonalds UK Marketing boss Alistair McCrow was quoted as saying that part of the reason for the 43 consecutive quarters of growth is a reflection of a ‘new way of marketing’ where the agency is put at the heart of the business.  McCrow concludes that ‘it’s part of the joy of having long-term partners.  It is instructive to note that McDonalds advertising agency, Leo Burnett, was appointed in 1981, some 36 years ago.
Story Number 3 – Marketing Nigeria
Not knowing what the client’s brief was, I have always refrained from commenting on efforts made to “market’’ Nigeria in the past.  So whether it is the “Good people, great nation” or the current one under President Muhamadu Buhari – “Change. It begins with me”, I find it inappropriate to criticize the campaigns. But if we all subscribe to the fact that a brand must mean something specific to the consumer, then it behoves us to find out how a consumer is likely to react to a country brand that ranks amongst the lowest scoring countries globally in the ability of its citizens to enter other countries and other nationalities being able to enter theirs.

So with Nigeria scoring 41 points opposite Germany’s 158, according to Arton Capital, the global advisory firm that rates countries, how does one market brand Nigeria?  A country of almost 190 million people, that’s in recession, with electricity generation at less than 5MW megawatts, weak infrastructure, inflation at 18.8%, a vibrant but mostly jobless youth, GDP at $521.8bn, a mono cultural economy. What does one use as the hook for a brand promise in marketing such a country?  What is its brand essence? A recent holiday in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, rekindled in me hope that we can actually market this country only if we are diligent and apply the right discipline for arriving at a compelling brand idea.

The Dominican Republic is a Caribbean nation that shares the island of Hispaniola, with Haiti to the west.  It is known for its beaches, resorts and golfing.  With a population of 10 million people and its capital at Sango Domingo, this country thrives on tourism.  Its GDP exit 2016 is $71.46 billion and per capital $7,083.  Given that tourism is big business in the world, ranking 4th, perhaps after banking, automotive industry, IT, not necessarily in that order, isn’t it time that we use brand Nigeria to play in this turf?  Tourism is not about smiles, bikinis and beaches.  It is about the economy.  Tourism is a window to overall destination engineering – generating income and creating economic activity.  By proving 1 out of 12 direct jobs in the world and 9.1% of global GDP, we can see why it inspires national competitiveness, with the attendant national pride that accrues to nations performing well on this scene.  There were 1 billion tourists globally in 2012, with over $1.03 trillion in international tourist receipts driving airlines, hotels, cruise liners, taxi cabs, shopping malls, music venues, and theatre business.  We can ride on the back of the success that Nollywood and our music industry have recorded on the world map!

Today there are over 7 billion people in the world, with people crossing borders in incredible volumes on a daily basis.  This is why this government must get Nigeria into a much higher ranking in the global passport ranking.  South Africa ranks 90, and Nigeria a miserable 41.

Just think about it, the small principality of Hong Kong with a population of 7.4 million receives 48.6 million visitors a year.  As at 2013, Nigeria recorded 650,000 visitors according to the World Bank, compared to 5.1million visitors to the Dominican Republic.

So maybe that creates an opportunity for Nigeria.  The basic insight derived from the desires and motivation for travel is that the consideration is either about collecting unique experiences for leisure or for business.  As countries have their unique identities based on their geographies and culture, it is the duty of branding to weave stories and narratives about the destinations in such a way that fires desire in the visitor to pack his or her bag and travel.  This is where authenticity comes in.  Authenticity becomes a competitive advantage because it provides the customer with a unique experience as each country destination differs in its geography and culture.  It is when a country defines a structure communicated by the performance of its assets that the individual customer imbibes the meaning of that country.  It is when the intrinsic and extrinsic values of a brand are communicated flawlessly that a customer is motivated to taking a buying decision. To drive home the point, while Brazil has somehow acquired an image of creativity and achievement (the way they play the game of football with flair and passion, and win) at the world’s most popular sport, and you combine this with the gorgeous girls on the Copacona beach and the Rio carnival, there’s little wonder people associate the country with creativity and fun.

So whether it is Dubai or Kenya, the maker of the universe has left no country disadvantaged.  This is why a country must start by unearthing its own truth and invest seriously in promoting its national assets and designing spin in its meaning for its desired customers.
Story Number 4 – How do we market Nigeria?

First, I believe that we must begin with the realization that a country is not only about natural resources and cannot build its future on low hanging fruits as we have become with oils – a largely mono-product economy.  This is more so crucial when the country does not control the technology for extraction, sale and marketing.

Let’s take our creative industries. Which country today has the highest number of young musicians who are even outdoing the Americans in the R&B game?  Which country produces the highest number of movies in the world?  And whose movie industry is developing at the fastest rate?  Which country has the most vibrant fashion industry, drives Africa’s cultural renaissance, and has its clothes exhibited in international fashion weeks, adorn models on the runways and mannequins in stores?  Which country has produced such a dizzying constellation of African literary giants – Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, John Pepper Clark and is now seen as the renascent environment for new writers – Chimamanda Adichie, Chibundo Onuzo and more? Which country has more progeny with blacks in the diaspora; with culture that is still surviving from remnants of the slave trade?

To a lot of people, Nigeria is highly endowed with natural resources, and we say this all the time.  In the 80’s ‘marketing experts’ in government tried to sell this without success – remember the ‘Andrew don’t check out’ campaign?  The other strategy was to promote our traditional festivals which has led to TV and radio commercials that present the jaded cliché of masquerades to the point that the uninformed will be forgiven for appraising culture, tourism and nation marketing as synonymous to masquerades and dance alone.

* The above is text of the investiture lecture delivered by Biodun Shobanjo, Chairman, Troyka Group at the NIMN at Eko Hotel & Suites, Lagos.

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