Advertising, Consumer Insight

Why a lot of Nigerian advertising sucks

“The most important element in advertising is the truth” – Bill Bernbach. 

For a people with such an interesting culture, beliefs and attitude, it’s disheartening that a lot of our advertising do not mirror our lives and peculiarities. Let me regale you with an experience I had about thirteen years ago.

A chum was getting married in Jos so I flew into ‘J-Town’ with another friend. It was a Yoruba wedding. The ‘Engagement’ was on Friday and the ‘Church Wedding’ the next day. We’d flown in Friday morning. We were part of the groom’s friends to ‘prostrate’ to the family of the bride.

The Engagement was to start at 1 pm. We therefore had a little time to kill. My homeboy and I thought we might have a beer and then get a little sleep. It was going to be a long day. There was still a Bachelor Party to attend in the night.

Foul spirits must have been afoot that day because one bottle inexorably turned into five (Don’t blame us. It was December and chilly and our souls needed comforting).

We woke up at about 3 pm. Aghast, we hurriedly dressed up and dashed for the ceremony without having our bath. We got there just as the chaps were ‘prostrating.’ Impeccable timing. We rushed to join them. Why, the ‘Alaga Iduro,’ those pesky extortionists, prevented us from joining the proceedings! She informed us we would be prostrating separately, punishment for coming late and showing off ‘Lagos swag.’ I suppose it didn’t help that I wore a Timberland boot and lumber-jack shirt. We stood aside like two school boys caught with the Principal’s cockerel between their teeth. 500 pairs of eyes looked at us with interest.

After the lads were done prostrating, the Alaga Iduro summoned my friend and I to come forward. We would have to prostrate ten times, redeeming our untoward behaviour with cash each time we did so. Even Shylock wasn’t that Shylock!

Some force was definitely out to get me that day because as we prostrated, a pack of cigarettes fell out of my shirt pocket onto the mat. Now, to many Nigerian parents – especially Yoruba parents – smoking cigarettes was just a wee step to smoking marijuana. And marijuana made Fela what he was.

There was a collective gasp from the parents at the sight of the cigarettes, while excited giggles broke out from the younger generation. I hurriedly made to retrieve the embarrassing article but was staunchly reprimanded against it by that irksome Alaga Iduro. Boy, can those people make your life miserable! They should be working in the Civil Service!

To cut a long story short, a pack of cigarette that was no more than N150 ended up costing me about N3,000 to retrieve from the mat. Should have taken that as a sign to quit smoking. But I found a smarter way of avoiding such embarrassments: I quit being a groomsman altogether.

That experience often makes me reflect on what makes us Nigerian. I thinks it’s our shared and unshared values. It’s our language, nuances and mannerisms. Our sometimes-contradictory beliefs and attitudes. The way we talk to one another, insult one another or regard one another with suspicion. It’s rich, it’s funny. Unfortunately, our advertising do not mirror these.

Take beer advertising, for instance. The attitude, nuances, camaraderie or language depicted in our beer advertising are not usually true of the way guys behave and talk when they are out with friends. It’s interesting that you don’t see Nkwobi, or Isi-Ewu‘Point & Kill,’ ‘Asun’ or any other ‘beer parlour edibles’ in our beer advertising. They are unsightly? Un-aspirational? Don’t be hypocritical. They are the unavoidable accompaniments to drinking when guys are at their watering hole.

Or consider how they behave. They banter and cuss over their football clubs. They have acrimonious arguments about politics and politicians. They talk about their side-chicks, wives, escapades, bosses, colleagues; just about anything under the Nigerian roof. But in our beer ads, we see prim and proper lads drinking beer and toasting to whatever, with pretty girls hanging on their arms. So unreal and untrue. So un-boys.

Our bank advertising don’t fare any better either. They paint a consumer or settings that could easily have been Kenyan or South African. Far from the Nigerian consumer who threatens to slap the cashier because he/she was addressed rudely. Or the irritated hisses at the guy holding up the queue at the ATM. We are probably the only people who count the money the ATM dispenses.

Advertising is about persuasion. And persuasion tends to work best when there’s product and cultural relevance. Done with craft. Done with truth.

Both clients and ad agencies are to blame for this development. On one hand, a lot of brand managers and agency ‘planners’ live in a bubble. They bury their heads on their desks and try to live in the consumer’s world from behind a computer screen. They should get out more often to see the people who use their brands and how they use it. On the other hand, many agency creative people want to create advertising the jury in Cannes will like. There’s the myth that Caucasian jury members mostly rate Western-oriented advertising. Award shows do have their politics and idiosyncrasies, but work coming out of Asia and LATAM tells us agencies can win big with work that’s very local.

It’s a bit tricky for multinational brands. They must maintain the same message, imagery and theme across all markets, and given the perennial pressure on marketing budgets, must also show cost efficiency by making ads that can ‘travel’ and ‘cuts across.’ An ad that works for a region instead of for a single country. Sometimes they work. Most times they don’t. They tend to work when there’s a large degree of homogeneity across the region. A single ad for West Africa would be very challenging. Thou may not unequally yoke Francophone and Anglophone together. But hey, it’s the way global brands operate. It’s what makes them global.

I quite like Glo’s rendition of the hackneyed food hyperbole in the new Glo Formula 4X Recharge TV spot. The spot used language and intended meaning that was peculiarly Nigerian and well understood: “God go damage you with blessing,” “The ponmo wey get side mirror,” “Basiru Onigbese! If anybody see vision for you say e go better for you, that person dey blind O!” I thought the casting was brilliant too. Could have sworn those guys were real car mechanics.

Right. Which ads, be it radio, video or print, resonated with you most? Love to hear your views.



2 thoughts on “Why a lot of Nigerian advertising sucks

  1. Bankole Osinusi says:

    I agree with you. Most Nigerian ads don’t paint the picture of the typical Nigerian way of life. instead, they try to sell a Nigeria that does not exist.
    The advert that resonated with me recently is the indomie advert. they identified a common mistake market sellers make, bringing other brands when you clearly requested for indomie. To them indomie is the generic name for noodles. it was a good way to correct that and ensure they call a spade a spade, or in this case, indomie – indomie

    • jide says:

      Hi Bankole, thanks for dropping by. I’d think the lack of craft in the Indomie spot you mentioned detracted from making it a really engaging ad.

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