Xenophobia Vs Brandophobia
I remember 1994. I was working at Prima Garnet Communications, the Ad agency that later became Prima Garnet Ogilvy. The company was just two years old at the time, when we were assigned the task of launching Multichoice and the MNET Brand in Nigeria. The company faced several challenges, not least of which was convincing Nigerians to pay for watching TV. It was not an idea many of our people were used to and it was indeed very challenging at the time. I remember having to come up with different communication materials almost on a weekly basis.
There were promotional activities going on in different residential estates across Lagos. It was not just the Nigerians’ mindset that had to be changed. The South Africans and their marketing gurus also had to change their pre conceived notions about the market and attune themselves to the peculiarities of Nigeria’s complex socio-economic profile. They had to understand that in Nigeria you could be an illiterate yet have the purchasing power greater than that of a university professor. Certainly, it took years of hard work, investment and commitment to create in Nigeria the Multichoice brand we all know today. I was therefore amused when I read online that the militants were threatening South African investments in Nigeria, notable among which are Multichoice, Shoprite and MTN. If it was true (because there is a lot of fake news online), I wonder who the militants were speaking for.
Let us be honest with ourselves. While the South Africans have exported big brands to Nigeria, what have we exported to South Africa? I can readily think of all the money stolen by our shameless public office holders and how much they have taken to South Africa to buy real estate! In their myopic stupidity, they siphon money that should be invested in building our own mega brands to South Africa to buy houses they don’t even need! As the so called Giant of Africa, we should be building mega brands and dominating the continent. We should have many Dangotes, Glos, Emzors and Oandos. While these brands’ owners must be commended for defying the odds to build the brands we need to do a lot more. Africans from around the continent should be coming to Nigeria for a better life and to look for work and not vice versa.
I say this all the time. Until those who run our nation understand the power of brands and branding, we will not be able to realize our potential as a nation and occupy our rightful place in the global scheme of things. Why are we so averse to building brands? Is it because we are lazy? Brand building takes a lot of hard work. Is it because we are always in an irrational hurry? Brand building takes time and patience. Is it because we lack vision? Brand building requires vision. Is it because we are ignorant? Brand building takes knowledge and insight. Whatever it is, we must snap out of it and awaken this sleeping giant of Africa!
Before Multichoice came to Nigeria, we had a couple of players in satellite television broadcast. DISC Engineering readily comes to mind. However, Multichoice quickly dominated the space and became a near monopoly. Much later, Africa Independent Television, AIT launched DAARSAT which flopped. And of course who doesn’t remember HITV? When it was launched, many people believed that Multichoice DSTV finally had competition. Unfortunately, HITV got it all wrong and flouted some fundamental rules of branding. They brazenly challenged the market leader, while they didn’t have a fraction of the resources the leader had. They failed to differentiate, but wanted to take on DSTV on its own turf. Then they went for the Premier League broadcast rights, paying way above what they could sustain. While they were doing this, DSTV was developing Africa Magic Channels, promoting local content and developing our Nollywood! This is really significant for me, because one would expect AIT and HITV to have been the ones developing our local producers! I created and produce Adventures of Turtle Taido, a Proudly Nigerian animation series for children, teaching kids our culture. While DSTV promotes this program across Africa, AIT refused to accept it, making ridiculous demands! Yet AIT calls itself Africa Independent Television! By now, AIT should be that mega media brand that projects Africa to the rest of the world, but they obviously don’t know what they’re doing.
In the telecoms sphere, Glo has made us proud and provided a very stiff competition for MTN. Glo also invests in promoting our local artistes and has put numerous actors, comedians and musicians on juicy endorsement deals. This strategy gives Glo a uniquely Nigerian brand identity, while also promoting local content and creating value. In the retail business, while our people are busy building shops and supermarkets, Shoprite has built a brand and taken over the landscape! In the hospitality segment, our people are building hotels and rooms, while Protea has built a brand and their footprint is spreading across the nation. Our own Eko Hotel has remained a one-location brand since it was born! Meanwhile Protea has about 100 hotels in 8 African countries including Nigeria! In Abuja, our government has for decades been the biggest patron of Hilton, a foreign brand! Why do we have an irrational phobia for building our own brands? Do we not realize this is one of the reasons there is poverty in our land?
Those who think Nigerians should retaliate by attacking South African interests here, are misguided and ignorant. They should turn their anger towards those who make it near impossible for us to build great brands in this country. They should attack those who steal money that should be spent on building infrastructure, providing energy, building industrial zones and lowevring the cost of funds to finance mega enterprises. They should turn their annoyance towards those who loot our treasury and use the money to buy properties in South Africa. Because for as long as we are impoverishing our people and exporting desperate Nigerians instead of mega brands, other countries will not treat us with respect.
Muyiwa Kayode is the CEO at USP Brand Management and Author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding.