Marketing Nigeria: The imperatives of projecting and managing brand Nigeria

 Being the keynote address delivered at the 2018 marketing conference of the

National institute of marketing of Nigeria by ‘Lolu Akinwunmi, fnimn, frpa, GROUP CEO, Prima Garnet Africa, Past Chairman, APCON on February 15, 2018


Courtesies & Introduction

Let me warmly appreciate the President-in-Council for the honour given me to present the keynote address at this 2018 National Conference. A couple of years ago, under the leadership of the late Chief Lugard Aimiuwu, I enjoyed the same privilege, when I also presented the keynote address at a similar Conference here in Abuja. I want to congratulate our able President and Council Chairman and team for putting the Conference together and also on the choice of this year’s theme “Marketing Nigeria”. It is so apt.


Why is it apt?


Nigeria remains an elusive brand to the world; we are very well known mostly for the wrong reasons, and yet terribly misunderstood. And so when they manage to speak about us, it is often in the negative. We could live with that as China and Russia did for years, but it’s worse when even Nigerians hold similar opinions about ourselves. And it’s not as if efforts have not been made to ameliorate the situation; oh, so many serious and unserious, cheap and expensive, knowledgeable and ignorant steps have been taken and are being taken to make us a marketable brand.


In this paper I will endeavour to express own and others’ opinions on brand Nigeria, why we are seen the way we are, what we should have done, and some suggestions on what we should do to make us marketable and competitive.


Most of us in this room are engaged in one trade of Marketing or the other, and elementary Marketing will remind us in its rawest form that, “Marketing is the action or business of promoting and selling products or services”. Of course it could get more complex when you begin to present it as a management process through which goods and services move from concept to the customer. It includes the coordination of the four elements called the 4 P’s of Marketing: PRODUCT, PRICE, PLACE, and PROMOTIONAL STRATEGY. But today, we will keep to the simpler form.  We don’t want it to look as if we are showing off before some of our guests!

I think I am also privileged and a little qualified to say a few things about this subject of marketing Nigeria, having been a Marketing Communication practitioner non-stop for almost 36 years. In addition, I had real time practical experience on nation and destination branding and marketing when in 2009 the government appointed me the pioneer Secretary of its Rebranding Committee; a few months later I was upgraded to the pioneer position of the CEO of the special purpose vehicle known as the RPBSG, Rebranding Project Business Support Group, reporting to the then Information and Communication Minister, the late Prof Dora Akunyili. The RPBSG was task with the assignment of implementing the approved strategy put together by the Rebranding Committee.


Primarily, Nigeria needs to own and hold a positive word and promise in the mind of its stakeholders. We are like a product with many attributes, but none sufficiently defined and communicated to the customers. What will that word be? See what some other countries are promising the world in the ever-competitive world of destination branding and marketing:


  1. Kenya– Wildlife Tourism


  1. United States–Promise; fulfillment of dreams


  1. South Africa–Possibilities (a flow from the fact that it tamed apartheid, and so can literally do anything)


  1. India-Incredible


  1. Brazil-Football/Samba


  1. Malaysia – Truly Asia


  1. Nigeria -???     



All nations compete for a share of the world’s attention and wealth. And that development is as much a matter of positioning as anything else. Let us be sure about one thing: the most brilliant campaigns and other efforts in the destination marketing world are rooted in economic considerations.


But first let us discuss nation building as a concept, do a global tour and then come back home.


Different Perspectives on Nation Branding

Going through scholarly presentations, a broad distinction can be made between technical-economic, political and cultural-critical approaches, of which in terms of numbers the technical-economic is by far the most common as the key reason for nation branding. Nation branding has three characteristics:


  1. Nation Branding From An Economic, Functionalist Perspective

Branding practitioners and marketers dominate scholarly contributions that can be associated with the technical-economic approach. Taking a functionalist, instrumentalist stance, they perceive nation branding predominantly as a strategic tool to boost a country’s competitive advantage, seeking to inform the hegemony of the market.


Most definitions of nation branding and nation brands can be attributed to the technical-economic approach, as the explicit use of marketing language reveals, defines nation brands as “the unique, multi-dimensional blend of elements that provide the nation with culturally grounded differentiation and relevance for all of its target audiences.”It is a means towards building and maintaining a country’s strategic advantage with the purpose of economic growth.


In the same light, Nation Branding is understood as the process of employing publicity and marketing to promote selected images of a geographical location.

Eventually, from a technical-economic view, the purpose of both nation brands and nation branding is to ensure a favorable reputation with the target audience. If done well, such a reputation not only shines on the country itself but also on its products and assets, making them appear preferable in the eyes of the consumers. A good example is the general perception of Japanese and Chinese products. How serious is it? Serious enough for Apple to brand its products, “Technology Developed in the United States of America”. Many of us would buy a Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi, National etc., over Lucky Star car brands and Shong-Hei air conditioners from China!

Perhaps the most telling description of nation branding from a technical-economic perspective comes from Simon Anholt, considered the most prolific author on the subject. In his view, nation branding is really just a metaphor for how effectively countries compete with each other for favorable perception, be it with regard to exports, governance, tourism, investment and immigration, culture and heritage, or people. We will visit this statement soon.

  1. Nation Branding From A Political Perspective

Scholars looking at nation branding from a political perspective see it as coordinated government efforts to manage a country’s image in order to promote tourism, investment and foreign relations. In this light, nation branding is seen as a powerful political tool, especially for small, peripheral nations like Taiwan, eager to strengthen their economic position and to compete against the economic, financial or military clout of superpowers like China. Also consider Hong-Kong under the British. It was clearly a Chinese colony and everyone knew it would eventually return to China. But its economy was so powerfully developed it impacted and still impacts politically on Chinese decisions on the territory. China restrains itself and does not treat Hong Kong the way it does its other regions. Any attempt to do this would lead to a destruction of one of the strongest economies in the world.


Increasingly close links between nation branding and public policy through active encouragement, funding, management and control through government, have led to a growing field of critical examinations of nation branding, understood as a form of governance via marketing imperatives.

And I recall my time as the pioneer CEO of the Federal Government Rebranding project. Every Nigerian who could recite their ABC had an opinion on rebranding. Some felt the slogan, “GOOD PEOPLE GREAT NATION” was good; many others felt it was inappropriate as they didn’t see anything ‘good’ or ‘great’ about the nation Nigeria. I would often wince at some of the comments, wondering if the six hours or so that I spent overnight singularly going through thousands of slogans before recommending three to the Hon Minister were not wasted. It didn’t matter to many that the slogan itself was not necessarily representative of our current situation, but was more aspirational and inspirational. And trust me, this was the least of our challenges. The same government which set us up under Dora Akunyili refused to fund the project. This is a subject for another day.


Why was there a need to consider a branding exercise for Nigeria? It was simply because collectively we knew and agreed that something was not right with the Nigerian brand, especially when compared with many other nation brands. Unfortunately, many efforts to rebrand in the past had missed a big point; they simply assumed that if we threw enough Naira and Dollars at it, employed slick PR firms from Madison Avenue, roll out ad campaigns locally and globally, a Nigerian brand of our dream would emerge. Happily, for some of us professionals, it didn’t happen. It would have amounted to a travesty, academic dishonesty and intellectual ingratitude if we succeeded. It’s a more serious consideration.


Nation Branding or Marketing is very serious, very arduous and painstaking and a very expensive business; it aims to measure, build and manage the reputation of countries. Some approaches applied, such as an increasing importance on the symbolic value of products, have led countries to emphasize their distinctive characteristics and advantages like Tourism, leisure and lately the even more profitable Medical Tourism.Nation Branding remains the means to build and maintain a country’s strategic advantage especially with the purpose of economic growth.


There are many reasons why the Nigerian brand can be and indeed must be projected; we have more than enough reasons for chest thumping:

  1. Our huge population of 170 million people, which makes every one in six Africans a Nigerian.


  1. The huge endowment in natural resources which makes us the10th largest producer and 8th largest exporter of crude with significant gas and other natural resources


  1. The largest economy on the continent


  1. Incredibly creative and talented human capital that have manifested globally in stars like ‘Wole Soyinka, Philip Emegwali, Chinua Achebe etc.


  1. Our creative arts rule the continent by far. Our Nollywood is ranked third in terms of prolific output, and our music industry entertains the world. Add fashion to it and we have so many prospects indeed!


  1. Many countries have Nigerian professionals, especially doctors and other scientists, lecturers etc., working with them. Indeed, in some nations, if the Nigerian medical personnel were to leave, they would have a major crisis.

  1. Global commitment to world peace in view of our historical participation in UN and ECOWAS Peace-keeping projects. Indeed, we have more experience than the United States in global peace keeping.


  1. Historical roles for the emancipation of the countries of Southern Africa, which were under colonial rule.


  1. Global renown in sports especially football, where we have won an Olympic gold etc.


  1. No other ethnic group comes close to the Nigerian record of the holders of first and higher degrees. Indeed in a course like Pharmacy, Nigerians are far ahead of everyone!


In spite of all these, Brand Nigeria isarguably one of the world’s most battered brands. We are known more for negative things and brand eroders which range from fraud (“419”) to very poor infrastructure, Niger Delta militancy issue, kidnapping, cultural schizophrenia among the elites; religious violence especially in the north, gross indiscipline by some citizens and their tendency to run down Nigeria at every turn; general security issues, lack of adherence to the rule of law; bribery and corruption, poor infrastructure, other social malaise, poor governance etc. To a large extent, for so many years the brand has been defined by these negative values, when in actual fact there are a lot of other positive intrinsic values to project.


Unfortunately, many Nigerians including professionals believe what will fix all these is a media branding exercise. They are wrong.


For me, I deeply regret that the 2009/2010 Rebranding Project Business Support Group under my management was strapped of cash. I can assure this audience that the strategy and final blueprints were fundamental, different and programmed to help a truly Nigerian brand begin to emerge and be marketed to the world. Please note my use of “begin”; it is deliberate because previous attempts felt you could change and develop a new brand image for Nigeria with a three-month media campaign. What we need to brand Nigeria is not primarily another media campaign; what we need is a strong social mobilization, civic responsibility and a structural re-engineering programme which will commence internally and metamorphose into an external campaign and advocacy.

Let us face it, there is no perfect Place Brand. Every national brand has its weaknesses: Johannesburg and New York have higher crime rates than Lagos, yet no one has typified them as crime capitals of the world. More drugs are consumed in the Harlem and Bronx areas of New York than in Nigeria, yet the US is never classified a drug country; indeed, it classifies nations as Nigeria as drug nations. Italy and some east European countries have a history of organized crime and corruption, and yet none of them is dubbed a corrupt or “419”nation as we have. And evidenced by comments of expatriates who visit Nigeria for one reason or the other, Nigeria is said to be the world’s best kept secret; and yet, the same expatriates are first to spread negative tales about Nigeria, to, as some have reasoned, prevent others from coming to share in the perks that Nigeria uniquely offers!


Branding does not happen in isolation of other activities. If you have a nation where corruption is so massive, where the executive and the legislature spend more time in fisticuffs, where the members of our national assembly spend more time climbing fences and dancing all over the place, where there is a total erosion of values, then we have already defined our brand!


Take a look at Rwanda, Africa’s current bride. A few years ago, it was involved in an internecine war where more than 1 million people were killed in the genocide. Ordinarily this should have been the end of the country. But in less than ten years, the country rose from the ruins of war to boast of possibly the fastest growing GDP.


At this point, it is imperative for me to say a bit about the current administration’s effort at marketing Nigeria. While so many activities are going on to improve our image and make us an attractive destination, let me restrict my comments to the subject at hand.


The 2015APC’s successful electoral campaign was based on the hugely impactful concept of CHANGE.Translated in primary terms, it was a clarion call to all Nigerians to join the party in voting out the ruling PDP and in effect bringing about a substitution in government and governance. It also didn’t matter that the CHANGE concept was not locally developed for the party. The most important thing was that it offered a unique post-campaign opportunity for the re-engineering and branding of Nigeria.

Unfortunately, the government failed to seize on the opportunity. As soon as the elections were won, CHANGE was abandoned and became an orphan. Some of us watched with incredulity as the government allowed a major communication platform to lie fallow and then gradually slip away. By the time Lai Mohammed was ready to run with CHANGE, it had become irrelevant; it was too late. The Hon Minister tried his best to salvage it, but it didn’t help that he came up with a curious “CHANGE BEGINS WITH YOU” campaign, pushing the responsibility to the people, when the same party had promised to lead and offer the CHANGE. Of course there was a massive push back and the campaign did not last enough to make any impact.


Secondly, we cannot have any strong Nigerian brand without a strategic approach towards achieving it. Again one of the things we expected the new government to do via the Information Ministry was a review of our federal communication policy. And as professionals, we had hoped this would happen as soon as a Minister was announced for Information. Strategy is the heartbeat of any successful campaign or project and not just activities like visiting the National Theatre, having visits from Nollywood stars etc. The sense we got was that while the government recognized the various strong platforms that Nollywood, our music industry etc. represent, there is no central strategy to drive them. If the government had put a viable strategy together, then it would have been easier to sell same to our Nollywood and other local entertainment organs, our music, fashion, the marketing communication industry etc., for implementation in a seamless flow.


In a published paper in 2015 I had advised and warned the government that if adequate care was not taken, theCHANGE concept couldvery easily remain just that… a concept. I added that it was imperative that the newgovernmentkeptthepublicengagedontheconceptandpromisesofCHANGEasthe APCdidduringtheelectioncampaignandalsoknowthatrealchangedoesnotjusthappen;itisinitiatedandthensustained. I had also strongly spoken against the curious town hall meetings where a few selected people were assembled in a hall, and were then addressed by rosy cheeked and sartorially elegant senior government officials. Worse was that there was no attempt at any follow up to disseminate the core communication from the town hall meetings, an essential KPI for the meetings. I warned that the meetings were not sustainable and that like CHANGE would fizzle out because the programme did not appear to flow from a central communication strategy. Sadly, all of these are happening because the government tries to implement marketing activities using non-marketing methods and personnel.


TheCHANGE that was promised and which we expected would have re-orientatedthewayNigeriansthinkandact. This is too fundamental. It would have been fundamental because the intention would be to work hard towards bringing the nation and its people back to the days when we had and enjoyedwholesomevalues.Withoutthis,anyefforttochangethesociety and brand the nation isnotlikelytobeproductive.Itisnotenoughtoclamourformorestable power,acrimefreesociety,acorruptionfreeenvironment,socialservices thatworketc.Evenwithallthese,ifthebasicvaluesofthepeople are wrong,thentheentireresultwillbeunstable;thefoundationhastobe made right again. New wine cannot be housed in an old wine skin. This should be one of our key imperatives.


In terms of content, our proposed social mobilization campaign that will ultimately help and market the Nigerian brand should focus on the following:


  1. Value re-orientation


  1. Civic/Political Education


  1. Government responsibities to citizens


  1. Re-awakening a deep sense of patriotism and citizens’ responsibilities to the State


Brand Nigeria therefore needs to:


  1. Be relevant to its strategic target audience


  1. Become competitive and attractive to this target, a solution to meeting the needs of its people


  1. Still be authentic and unique while delivering expectation set


In a media saturated world, image matters, and people won’t listen to our sales pitch if our policies send conflicting signals. In other words, we need to “live the brand”.

And this is one of the greatest challenges that the entire branding idea faces when we discuss the marketing of brand Nigeria. Will leadership be able to deliver on the promises of thecampaign? Leadership spreads to include political, religious, business etc. Will Nigerians look at our leaders and see positive change and the adoption of the values of the branding campaign?


What I Advocate

Government should perish this idea that it can drive the nation’s brand marketing alone; it does not happen anywhere in the civilized world, except in Communist nations where the state controls all. This is one of the weaknesses brand Nigeria marketing efforts suffer in terms of implementation. TheprojectI amadvocatingmustbeimplementedthroughaneffective PPP vehicle. Alongwiththefactthatany brandingprojectistoobigandexpensiveto be financedby the governmentalone,the needto involveeveryoneinit makesitimperativethatitberunasaPPPinitiative.Thisinitiativewillinvolvethe government, theprivate sector and thepeople. While thegovernment will lead the initiative, the private sector comprisingcorporateorganizations,theNGOs,etc., will be co-custodians and co-drivers, providing the necessary financial, professional and other forms of support. Nigerian people will also be joint owners, playing an advocacy role to ensure their participation and buy-in.


Ithereforeproposesomething a BUSINESS COUNCIL,as a platform for managing this BRANDINGand MARKETING project. The proposed BC therefore will amongst other functions:


  • Proposeandimplementtherequiredstrategyforimplementingthe phasesofthebranding projectthroughtheSOCIAL MOBILISATION, CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY, BRAND RECOVERY and ADVOCACY


  • Generateandmanagethefundsandgoodwillneededforthe implementation through the agreed PPP process, but especially fromtheprivatesector,providingthemopportunitiesandbenefits for involvement and participation.


Globally, the private sector drives any serious branding exercise as we have seen in South Africa, India, Taiwan, etc. Therefore, the mobilization of the private sector to generate the requiredfunding which will provide counterpart spending to whatever the government puts down.


Effortswillalsobemadetoensurethatthe BC is as representative as possible of the key players within the private sector,andsomekeyinfluentialandwell-respectedopinionmolders.It would be expected that the following sectors would form part of the team:


  1. Financial Services (banks, insurance companies etc.)


  1. Telecoms


  1. Oil and Gas


  1. Manufacturing


  1. The Organised Private Sector (OPS)


  1. TheAcademia, etc.


Some Fundamentals& Key Deliverables

We cannot have a successful branding journey, and it is a journey, a long one, except we consider the review of some of the following:


Our Federal Communication Policy

Buhari Muhammadu

It is time to review this. I don’t know when the last review was done, but certainly not during and after my time in government during the rebranding exercise and as the 5th Chairman of APCON. What does the government want to communicate? What organs can do it effectively? How will the funding be generated and sustained? Who will manage it? Ordinarily one would expect a new government to do a major review of its communication policy. The review will determine the state of the communication apparatus. This will come out from a serious strategy session involving critical professional stakeholders across the communication and marketing spectrums. If you ask me for example, should we still continue to use the almost archaic nomenclature, Ministry of Information? In this age and time of critical communication management, no one is focused this way anymore. See many countries all over the world? Such operations are referred to as Communication. Can we not have for example a Ministry of Public Communication and Strategy? The government through the Ministry is expected to regularly share and disseminate communication. Most critically, the Ministry would device into the new system a viable feedback mechanism which will help measure the government’s effectiveness in this critical role of public communication management.


Review Of Current Organs Of Communication

It’s time to review the roles of our NTA, FRCN, NOA and the rest of the lot. Seriously. While they were especially effective during the military era, they have since lost relevance in a totally different world. Most of them don’t even maintain an up to date website! It underscores the need to review our communication policy. Very few trust these organs because they always trumpet mainly the government position as propaganda channels. Their programmes are dull and they don’t inspire. South Africa has a state TV station that does not necessarily trumpet government positions. Ditto the BBC. The truth is that in their present forms, they simply, mostly manage propaganda and not effective communication.

Better & More Consistent Funding

Any brand marketing exercise will cost money; it’s never cheap. No government can fund it alone. Which is why I have proposed the PPP approach. In addition, it’s not a sprint event. It is long distance. Malaysia has been running its current campaign for over ten years. South Africa did for many years. In Nigeria we want to communicate the essence of a very negative brand after three months of TV, Print and OOH campaigns. Its either we are ignorant of what it entails or we are not serious. Or perhaps both!

It’s Not Necessarily About Another Media Campaign

What we primarily need is a strong social mobilization and civic responsibility campaign. It will touch all Nigerians in all spheres of life. It will begin from the kindergarten, and go all the way to the very top. It will be a combination of education and reeducation, even a bit of propaganda. We must change and replace all the negative portions of our values system. No strong brand can emerge without this.


We have always had leadership issues. When we talk about leadership, many assume it’s just the political. We have religious leaders. What values are they communicating by their way of life? How are they morally impacting on others and the Nigerian brand? Business leaders? What can we say about them? Student union leaders? Trade Union leaders? Civil servants? Uniformed organizations etc.? They impact on what becomes the Nigerian brand.

The Special Guest of Honour, Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, no successful brand Nigeria can emerge without the involvement of all Nigerians. We will continue to be the strongest advocates of a Brand Nigeria. Indeed, Alhaji Lai Muhammed’s “CHANGE BEGINS WITH YOU” had this in mind. The problem was that this should have been the Phase two of the CHANGE campaign, after the government would have offered leadership and direction; sadly, the cart was put before a horse that had bolted away! I am convinced that Nigerians love Nigeria; we are passionate about our nation. It is sad when one reads scathing remarks from Nigerians about the nation on the social media. So many are angry and upset and are very poor advocates.

Without bias and if truth be told, it’s time for the government to consider giving key positions and responsibilities to those trained in the discipline of brand management. Branding and marketing Nigeria is primarily the task for marketing communication and marketing specialists. They have been developing and sustaining world class brands in Nigeria since 1928, and no brand can boast of any success in Nigeria without our involvement. It remains my strong opinion that by deliberate policy, marketing and marketing communication practitioners ought to be given more visible roles in the management of several aspects of brand Nigeria communication and marketing. This is global practice. It is an aberration when non-marketing and marketing communication persons are saddled with a purely marketing/marketing communication role. With due respect, Brand management is not journalism. It is not Media Relations. It is not propaganda. It is unlikely thatwe shall be able to build or sustain any brand, and especially the Nigerian nation brand except you go via the route of professional Marketing.

The Special Guest of Honor, the President and Chairman in Council, distinguished guests, media partners, professional colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you once again for the courtesy andthe opportunity to share these few thoughts, and wish everyone a successful conference.

Thank you.

‘LoluAkinwunmi, fnimn, frpa

GROUP CEO, Prima Garnet Africa

Past Chairman, APCON


February 15, 2018