Advertising, Branding, Creativity

Brittle country. Brittle advertising.

So, it is that time of the year and I was rummaging on the Tesco website for some Christmas feasting ideas. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of eating jollof rice and fried rice at Christmas. The birthday of my Lord and Saviour is too important for such trite fare. Oyinbo people know how to throw a proper Christmas feast. And they are precisely the folks I’ll be looking to for inspiration. So, to ‘Every little helps.’ 

On the Tesco website, I came across some products with the tag ‘Aldi Price Match’. It piqued my interest. 

Obviously, if I lived in the UK, this tag would not be new to me. Evidently, Tesco has them for hundreds of products in many of its stores. The tag informs consumers that on select products, Tesco is matching the low price of Aldi, the much-loved and incorrigible hard-discounter. 

Now, this is a queer marketing tilt from a market leader with a 27% share. Aldi is but a minion with 8% share. As comparative advertising goes, elders don’t squabble with impertinent younglings. You don’t see Mickey D’s spar with Burger King or Coke troll Pepsi. Usually, it’s Davids that sling comparative ads against Goliaths. But with Tesco comparing its price to Aldi’s, it’s hard not to see the folks at Aldi kicking back with a pint and enjoy the reinforcement of Aldi’s positioning by a leading rival. 

The Tesco-Aldi positioning led me to contemplate comparative advertising in Nigeria. Or more appropriately, lack of it.   

Why do brands in Nigeria shy away from comparative advertising even when they have a provable edge? If Mercedes Benz developed a night-vision windshield, Oh, BMW is going to hear all about it. Mercedes will stick that knife in and twist it till all of Bavaria hand in their dirndls and lederhosen.

But Spar will not take on Shoprite. Nor Access Bank, GT Bank. And I know Aig will love nothing more than to knock GT Bank off its perch.

I know our avoidance of comparative advertising is not due to regulations. The Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) allows comparative advertising if it can be substantiated. And if comparative advertising helps challenger brands gain attention and share, why then don’t we see it in Nigeria? Why the reticence?  

I’ll put it in perspective.

A few weeks ago, I changed my internet provider to some fixed broadband blokes called Fibre One. For N10,800 a month, they offer download and upload speed of ‘up to 10Mbps’. The package also comes with no data caps and no speed throttling. True enough, I get speed over 9Mbps.

Now, of course, this is not download speed to ululate about. Somewhere on this planet, some folks enjoy download speed over 210Mbps. Yes, Singapore and Hong Kong, you should be ashamed of yourselves.  Even at At 200Mbps, those two countries download a 12Gb file in 8 minutes 35 seconds. Eight minutes! That is like the warp drive of the Starship Enterprise! It is decadent luxury. Sinful even.

For the records, as at October 2020, the download speed for fixed broadband in Nigeria hovers around 13Mbps and we are ranked 151 in the world. But good luck to you expecting that speed. 

So, having been mired in a download speed of 3-4Mbps for many moons, you can forgive me for being stoked at Fibre One’s offer of 10Mbps. 

Contrast that with N25,000/month I paid on Swift Network for unlimited data with sketchy service and fitful speed. Or the N20,000 on Airtel Home Broadband for 130Gb/month and speed of about 17Mbps. Oh, I tried Spectranet too. N12,795 for 90GB/month + Unlimited Browsing at ungodly-hours-we-know-you-won’t-be-awake-to-use. The speed chagrins a snail.

Fibre One, therefore represents to me the best overall value of all the internet providers I have used thus far.

However, the company has one of the most atrocious sales service and customer care in the Solar System. Very little English on the modem. It was obvious the modem was meant for a Chinese audience. Nobody thought I might be interested in reading anything on the modem.

So the customer service sucks but the speed is not too shabby. Yet these folks do not stick their advantage to Swift, Spectranet, Smile, or any other ISPs they are faster/cheaper/more reliable than. Instead, they run some lame advertising on YouTube. What gives?

I have three theories on why brands shun comparative advertising in Nigeria. Meh products, laziness, and a brittle country.

Meh products

In Nigeria, availability is king. Choice is pawn. Companies are guaranteed sales as long as they have a minimum viable product. Products don’t have to be stellar. They only have to be useable. Plus we languish at the base of Maslow’s pyramid; survival first, self-actualisation later. 

By the way, pyramids not built by Egyptians are duds. So, I take this Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid thingy with a huge pinch of salt. 

But I digress.

So, in a 200 million-strong country where availability is king and choice is limited, comparative advertising is a moot point.

Talking of choice, have you tried to buy toothpaste at Walmart? You may be confronted with fifteen brands of toothpaste with ten variants each!

Man, I’m only trying to brush my teeth. Not kiss Halle Berry.

Oh, I digress again. 

And so, if comparative advertising hinges on a superior product attribute, why expose yourself to ridicule with a meh product?



Now, I concede that true innovation and lasting product differentiation is hard to achieve. When you think you have a blue ocean, sharks swim into it and sink their jaws into everything in sight till the ocean turns red. But if differentiation was easy, everyone would do it, no? 


Perhaps the most infuriating reason why brands shun comparative advertising in Nigeria is laziness. How is it that a company can develop a superior offering and be lazy to flog the advantage? You have put in the hard work. You have delivered the goods. And then you expect the consumer to beat a path to your door because you have a better mousetrap. How about getting off your butt and demonstrate to them you have a better mousetrap!

Product demos are still a thing. Check out the JEEP 2018 Super Bowl TV spot below. Nuff said. If you can do something better than your competitor, go ahead and show it. Fact and empirical tests will be your defender. 

Brittle spirit

For a people with inexhaustible reserve of perseverance, we have a brittle spirit. A thin skin. We bristle at the tiniest challenge to our position. It permeates our lives. Government. Religion. Tribe. Business. Workplace. Perhaps it is cultural for us. Not to challenge authority or the status quo.

The Yorubas have a saying which in English translates into ‘the sky is big enough to accommodate the flight of every bird without incidence.’ Ergo, the pie is big enough for everyone to tuck into. So, no need to upset the apple cart by showing your product is better than mine. There are enough gullible customers to go round.  

Consequently, if I run an ad that states that my sugar is sweeter than yours, I will be seen as trying to ‘knock your hustle’ or ‘spoil your market.’ By my unwitting stupidity, I have unleashed personal and spiritual warfare on my own head. The host of heaven or hell may be summoned. 

Now, I am not saying competitive threat should be treated with levity. By all means, bring out the sledgehammer to kill the ant. But what comparative advertising is not is an affront. It is a business leverage. Just as pricing or market leadership can be. 

Comparative advertising is not false advertising if it can be substantiated. That is its security against litigation or disallowance by the regulatory body. But, heck, going by how brittle we are, the regulators may develop cold feet and not countenance it. That would be a shame. 

Because the way I see it, if I’ve got a bigger gun than you, I’ve simply got a bigger gun than you. Back to your smithy. 


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