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The Re-brand Nigeria Blitzkrieg

By Lolu Akinwunmi
I admit I am not a social commentator. What I mean is I can't remember if I ever put forward an article or any serious write-up in support or against a public issue. And so this is an exception for me. And to be honest, I am sending this because resisting the urge became pointless after I read one or two write-ups this week on the issue.

First, let me establish my credentials. I have been in active, non-stop marketing communications practice for 27 years and have worked in two of the finest and oldest agencies in Nigeria, serving in very senior capacities. At the moment, I manage an agency I started in 1992, and from what most admirers (and even grudging critics) say about us, we are very professional. I sit on the board of Ogilvy Africa, a very prestigious name within the global advertising business. I am a fellow of APCON, indeed a council member of the same organisation. I am also a fellow of the Nigerian Marketing Association. And I am the current president of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria. I believe all of these and more make me more than a casual commentator on the matter at hand. And by the way I am a member of the current committee on rebranding Nigeria and also the secretary to the same group. But let us discount this today, so that it will not colour my presentation. I am neither writing as a member of the much vilified committee not its secretary. I am writing as a Nigerian and one who eminently qualifies to understand and discuss the subject.

Back to the newspaper article. A couple of comments can be traced to the article, and all on the left side of the simmering argument. I will list each one and respond, I insist as a concerned Nigerian and practitioner:

Does Nigeria need another rebranding project after the unsuccessful adventure of the former minister, Chukwuemeka Chikelu in the "Heart of Africa" project?

Will it be yet another wasteful and futile project?

Are the processes and modalities for the project right?

John Ehiguese was quoted to have said the whole idea…"is fundamentally flawed," describing it as a "charade". In his opinion, no one has mentioned the "key branding identity" and what "we are rebranding". He threw a few more barbs: "...the whole process lacks strategy and direction." He then goes to talk about touch points, what visitors to Nigeria experience etc.

Nsikkak Daniel thinks the idea of focusing on logo and slogan instead of re-orientating Nigerians on "our acceptable values makes the strategy flawed." He questioned the strategy and direction. My brother Lanre Adisa is more circumspect; he wants the project to be given a chance and advises that Nigerians be orientated etc. My friend Charles O'Tudor welcomes the rebranding exercise but faults the execution because only AAAN members are allowed to submit slogans. He doesn't even believe ad agencies can brand Nigeria; only brand consultants have the magic wand! He concludes that right now the process is faulty. Nkechi Balogun of the NIPR concludes that this rebranding exercise started on a wrong footing. Her grouse is simple. PR practitioners should have been made to jump-start the process and then hand over to ad agencies.

I salute these Nigerians for expressing their opinions, albeit wrongly. Let me respond to each comment professionally: Yes Nigeria needs to rebrand. Otherwise are we saying that because some previous efforts might not have been too successful, we should fold our hands? Is any serious Nigerian pleased with what we are or what we are rightly or wrongly perceived to be? I rather think this is the more reason why we need to look at what is wrong with this brand, what was wrong about previous exercises, what we have been able to learn from them and how we can improve on them. Rebranding is multi dimensional. It covers so many things and goes beyond any of the marketing communication disciplines. Indeed, the root factor is steeped first in national orientation because Nigerians must be the first target if they will be successful advocates. If we all remain cynical and conclude with folded hands that Nigeria is a lost cause, to whose gain is this? What is the viable alternative to rebranding this nation?

Was the previous exercise entirely futile or wasteful? Are there no lessons for us all as Nigerians? How come whatever was done in the past can only be measured by what was spent on the project(s)? Has the current minister not said all that is available in 2009 for the project is a mere N150m (less than $1m)? And is this what nations use for a serious branding exercise? How much of N150m is available for "chopping" when today's corporate organisations are spending multiples of this to buy and maintain executive aircrafts? Did she not say she would publish audited proof of money spent at least bi-annually?

Prof. Akunyili has made public pronouncements on the direction in terms of focus. The rebranding committee is still working on the strategy. So how can anyone question what he has not seen? Within the small group are eminent Nigerians that are qualified to manage this process, working with some very smart staff of the ministry.And all serious contributions from Nigerians are welcome. Indeed, this explains why the logo and slogan ideas were thrown open, even before the committee was constituted.

John, the process you have so strongly knocked has not even evolved. The committee has had one strategy meeting and nothing has been concluded. And I think it is a gross disservice to the eminent Nigerians in the committee. They are men and women of intellect and abilities, people who have paid their dues in their various callings. How could you so casually disparage their contributions when the process has not even been completed?

Nsikak, this project isn't simply focusing on logo and slogan! These were supposed to be by-products of the strategy process. The logo and slogan are expected to be some of the drivers of the campaign. And yes, this exercise will entail a whole lot of reorientation. Again, I must refer to the minister who has publicly declared that this campaign will commence first with Nigerians before focusing attention on the external. She also talked publicly about going round the country with other ministers to dialogue with Nigerians with a view to understanding things better before we even begin to talk of the communication process. How come all of these were lost on you?

My friend Charles O'Tudor, very conveniently, you didn't mention the fact that even as a non AAAN agency you still submitted logo entries which the committee assessed with others from AAAN agencies. Your agency's entries were not discriminated against, even though you are not part of the AAAN. And if truly brand consultants believe you alone have the answer to this exercise, why don't you do a memo with your ideas to the ministry, just like the AAAN did?

Nkechi, don't let us even reduce this monumental assignment to some elementary competition between advertising and PR. My former head-boy in Compro, my secondary school, would refer to such arguments as "academic dishonesty and intellectual ingratitude".

Quite clearly, many of the arguments against this project are sectional, self-centred and cynical. The cynicism I can understand, since Nigerians have seen too many great projects take off and disappear. But we must never lose hope in our nation or some of our people. Dora Akunyili showed us what a serious Nigerian could do in NAFDAC and in a country where we so much desire change and want heroes, we must encourage her. Can't we learn from the current miracle taking place in Lagos State? Why can't this woman do the same in her ministry?

Finally, the rebranding project is a long-distance race and if well articulated and promoted, will outlive this minister and administration; indeed the next as well. We all have a stake in its success.

Lolu Akinwunmi is Group CEO, Prima Garnet Ogilvy and President, Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN). He is also a member of the Federal Government Committee on Rebranding Nigeria. He wrote this piece for the Nigerian Tribune.

 

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