Monday, 23 March 2009

Rebranding Nigeria: Blox Populi

Written for NigeriansTalk.Org

Good Request, Great Tardiness

Imagine a situation where a strong global brand like Coca Cola has garnered an unfavourable situation where drinkers of the product have had serious stomach upsets, then in a public relations offensive the management decides to rebrand the product having not essentially dealt with the primary issues that have tarnished the brand in the first place.

On Friday, Olumide of Loomnie.com and the new NigeriansTalk.org site invited me to review the blog reactions to the new branding of Nigeria – I rarely, if ever, take commissions like this because easy and interesting as it sounds, it is harder than one first realises – there is quite a lot to read before creating a review – I am the wiser.

Good Intentions, Great Inactions

Recently, Professor Dora Akunyili, the Minister of Information, started a campaign to re-brand Nigeria, in fact, when I first heard of it a few months ago, I was not enamoured by the idea at all, Ken Wedding, like me, writing on Re-branding Nigeria states – “I would have missed this new public relations campaign if not for the discussions on a couple of blogs written by Nigerians”, I would suppose we mostly picked up the thread from there.

He goes on to quote the minister who says, the campaign was aimed at “re-orienting Nigerians, changing the negative attitudes of Nigerians, making Nigerians believe in themselves, inculcating optimal spirit of patriotism in Nigerians and at the same time, celebrating our best before the international community”.

Good Aspirations, Great Challenges

Quite laudable, because the purpose of a brand is to draw attention to a product or commodity and persuade people of its quality, usefulness and utility, in the case of a country, Uche Nworah, of the Long Harmattan Season who writes in treatise mode that I took a holiday after reading his piece quotes a presumed expert on nation branding, Simon Anholt who says, “the challenges the developing world is facing today beside poor governance and weak infrastructure is the issue of weak nation brands and identities”.

However, going back to the Minister’s aims, it would appear that good governance and strong infrastructure might well help in persuading Nigerians of a pride in nationhood and give them a stronger national identity that could bolster celebrating our best to the world.

As he quotes another proponent of nation branding, “There is no arguing that the image we have of another country says a lot about how we view it as a tourist destination, a place to invest or a source of consumer goods”.

Bad Reports, Low Expectations

Let us hope the Minister has noted that the biggest challenge she then faces is in changing what the CIA FactBook says about Nigeria, one would concur with Uche Nworah here on Why we must rebrand Nigeria.

The truth as I found on LinkedIn the professional networking site was when Aisha Lami Adeyemo who appears to have a Nigerian name asked, “Rebranding Nigeria- I was wondering what impact do you think this reform will have on Nigeria as an Emerging Market?” and the three answers she got were very negative.

Mikhail Tretyak suggested international air crew are ferried out of the country so as not to spend their layover there and then asks, “How much cash does a typical businessman need to pay the bribes in order to get from the airport to his hotel?” and damns the whole exercise with “Rebranding won't work until the fundamentals change.”

Good Ideas, Great Fantasies

Reorienting Nigerians does smack of a sense of hubris, Nigerians have been reoriented from the beginning of time as their leaders have use cliques to deconstruct the sense of nationhood for tribal, familial, religious, regional or personal benefit – too many people are sceptical of this drive.

However, Mohammed Haruna whose write-up appears on Elendu Reports under the byline Akunyili and the "re-branding" of Nigeria: The limits of propaganda, first lauds her achievements as the head of NAFDAC, then wonders if the supposed successes of NAFDAC can really be translated to the rebranding Nigeria effort.

In fact, he contends that though there is a greater awareness of the work of NAFDAC, “the fact is that contrary to the image that NAFDAC under Akunyili has virtually eliminated the phenomena of fake drugs and drug abuse both have hardly experienced any significant decline. In spite of all her efforts, the open and illegal drug markets in the country including the three most notorious ones at Onitsha, Kano and Aba, have never really gone out of business. So also have those who openly hawk prescription drugs on our streets”.

Good Bloggers, Great Commentary

That does not bode well at all, however, Nigerians still maintain a sense of optimism as Oz of Mootbox says in announcing Good People...Great Nation, he concurs with the professor when she said, “This journey will be slow and painful…but we will be a better nation tomorrow”. He worried about the fact that so much had been spent “on this effort for us to tear it down on launch day” and he was “tired of the foreign media making fun of all our efforts”.

Tosin Obubela leaves a comment on that blog which is somewhere between gratuitous ululation and downright sarcasm – “Congratulations, you have a new name now. I know you have been through so much but never mind, a name can change a lot”.

SolomonSydelle of Nigerian Curiosity, notes that the foreign media mocked the initiative and even states that Nigerians at home and abroad were invited to design a logo and slogan for the venture, when I found the campaign notice, I was utterly crest-fallen, the setup was shoddy, sloppy and sedentary – which is why many of us might not have seen it.

Bad Preparation, Low Responses

The campaign for entries was launched on the 5th of February with a deadline of the 23rd and some panel selected the slogan and logo for the launch that happened just over 2 weeks later. So, it is no wonder that Oz opined in a comment left for this blog, “Me thinks they were not ready and it was a rush job.

Ouch! As SolomonSydelle admonishes the proponents with the concept that more Nigerians should have been involved in this exercise and Oz considers 5 things I would do differently, if he were running this campaign.

Good Branding, Great Debacle

However, all this rebranding talk exposes other issues, people who believe it would be another opportunity for patronage and graft, as Nwachukwu Egbunike on Feather’s Project opined, in his piece called The Rebranding Rumble – “neither the country nor her citizens being any better for it, except the PR consultants and their cohorts who had their pockets lined.”

He goes on to say, “The government should stop paying lip service to corruption. It is obvious that 90% of our image crisis arises from this monster, wash out corruption and you’ll have rebranded Nigeria, period! Nigerians are no fools; it takes a radical commitment to effect such a revolutionary change.”

Therein is the analogy I made at the beginning of this review and it has Grandiose Parlour saying the concerns of the people in the main are about survival, with his byline - Re-branding Nigeria? Yes, but not on empty stomach!

Suffice it to say that this campaign which does not seem to have a web presence, is not linked to any particular achievable goals for the economy, infrastructure or tourism and is yet to convince people of its worthwhile aims has been trumped by a more pressing slogan “If you can survive Nigeria, you can survive anywhere

Good Nigeria, Great Nigeria

I leave the last words to another treatise Uche Nworah wrote 3 years ago, about the now extinct rebranding campaign which had Nigeria: The Heart of Africa as its slogan with the title Rebranding Nigeria’s Cities, and he quoting Tom Traynor & Ro Breehl – “every place does have some distinction, some reason to live there, work there, vacation there, rather than some other place”. They also argue that finding that ‘true compelling claim of distinction’ can be hard work which lots of tourism boards, city councils, business improvement districts aren’t prepared for, ‘preferring instead to move directly to (inevitably drab) advertising execution’.

This line of least resistance appears to be the one towed by Nigeria’s state and local government officials.

In other words, Good People, Great Nation, but no lessons learnt; for the optimists, we wish the campaign success; for the pragmatists, keep pushing the agenda for better correlation of ideas; for the pessimists, hold your peace and the indifferent – what difference does it make, Nigeria is still a country of good people and a great nation, it may not be a reality today, but having it as a dream and aspiration is a good start.

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