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Mark’s Marketing Genius

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
03 September 2016   |   3:10 am
The CEO of Facebook also scored major brownie points as he introduced himself with a mere, “Hi, I am Mark”, dressed simply in trademark jeans and t-shirts, and of course commending jollof rice.


If you are not stuck under a rock somewhere, by now you already know that the co-founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg has paid Nigeria a visit and have probably seen all the social media posts about him speaking to entrepreneurs in Yaba, running on Lekki-Ikoyi bridge and eating jollof rice.

Many view his ‘unplanned’ visit an endorsement to Nigeria’s thriving tech scene. After all, in 2014, Lagos was named as one of the five most promising startup cities in emerging markets, Yaba is leading the movement as the erstwhile residential northern suburb of Lagos evolves into a technology hub – now often referred to as Yabacon or Silicon Lagoon.

With over 100 technology hubs, digital renaissance in Africa is closely related to incubator hubs, the World Bank states. With Co-Creation Hub leading the way, and other incubator centres like iDEA Nigeria, a hub for startups run by the Nigerian government, and Passion Incubator, it is no wonder that Yaba is at the forefront of this digital renaissance. Since 2011, over 30 tech companies, foreign and local, have moved to Yaba. These include online retailer, mobile payment service Pagatech, amongst others.

Yaba was of course, one of the stops on Zuckerberg’s whistle-stop tour of Nigeria, and with good reason, after all, with a thriving, digitally informed and upwardly mobile young populations and growing number of tech start-ups, Yaba is the ultimate destination for those working in the digital space.

The CEO of Facebook also scored major brownie points as he introduced himself with a mere, “Hi, I am Mark”, dressed simply in trademark jeans and t-shirts, and of course commending jollof rice. The conversations on social media revolved around how Nigeria needs more business experts like him to invest in our youths, supporting them to build strong and competitive ventures, how down-to-earth and unassuming Zuckerberg came across, how he promoted Lagos better than any publicity campaign or Nigerian politician could have.

One such Facebook post read:
“In terms of PR, Mark Z has done one hundred times what Buhari wasted millions of dollars trying to do with no success by travelling the world on a needless merry go round. In just one day he showed the world that 1. Nigeria is not ravaged by Boko Haram. 2. Nigerian youth are not drug pushers and fraudsters but successful entrepreneurs 3. There are hundreds of Nigerian Business start-ups to invest in, with potentials for high returns. 3. That photo of him jogging on Ikoyi bridge will promote Lagos a lot more that the (wasteful) venture last week in London. 4. Nigeria is a safe place to walk on the streets. 5. That Nigerians are a great people. 6. No Ghanaian friend of mine is ever going to fight me over Jollof rice again. Case closed. We make the best jollof!”

While, to a certain extent, I agree with the person who posted this and appreciate Zuckerberg’s great PR for Nigeria, let us remember that Mark Zuckerberg is a businessman and every interaction, whether feigned or genuine, is still a form of give and take, quid pro quo.

While we may be grateful for the good publicity he provided Nigeria, let’s not forget that he was also doing his own publicity, garnering column inches and acquiring many more Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp users in the process. After all, what better way to boost media attention to your new investment in ‘sub-Saharan Africa’ (The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is leading a new $24 million Series B round of funding into Andela, the first lead investment for the fund set up by Zuckerberg and wife Dr. Priscilla Chan) than a visit to Nigeria?

Then there is the not so small matter of six out of every ten Africans under the age of 35; 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 (the youth bracket), Africa has the youngest population in the world. While it is of course, a noble cause that Andela aims to empower Africa’s youth to unlock their potential by finding and training top tech talent in Africa, each of those 200 million is a potential Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and Whatsapp user. Facebook already boasts over 16 million Nigerian users, seven million of which log onto the platform daily. His visit is bound to double these numbers.

Secondly, much has been said about Zuckerberg dressing only in jeans and a shirt and not hiring any armed guards. There is no denying that the sixth richest man in the world whose net worth is a whopping $44.6 billion can feel safe enough to move around in Lagos without any security, by assuming that he will need protection, are we not proving our own lack of faith in Nigeria? Let’s keep in mind, Zuckerberg wasn’t exactly ambling around Ojuelegba or taking a danfo to Lagos Island; like most of us, he was walking from A to be around a relatively safe neighborhood or jogging in an upmarket part of the city in broad daylight.

As for the matter of his “humility and simplicity” – let’s admit, how many of our own do we take seriously when they show up in jeans and a simple t-shirt. Nigeria is a place where “see finish” attitude rules. Unless we know for sure that the person we are dealing with boasts a bank account much larger than ours, they are likely in for a snub should they dare show up dressed in “humility and simplicity”. And unless, your last name is Zuckerberg, forget introducing yourself with a simple “Hi, my name is so and so”; your name must always be preceded by doctor or engineer or any other title deemed to call for respect.

Finally, as for jollof rice, jollof ke, rice ni. Is he the first white man ever to fall for the delights of Nigerian cuisine? Richest yes, and a marketing genius at that, but surely not the first!