I was not expecting Top Radio FM host Chris Ihidero’s request to appraise the advertising campaigns of Nigeria's two major political parties, in view of the coming elections, when I was on his show a few weeks ago. I had thought I was joining a panel to discuss varying issues but nothing as specific as evaluating political advertising. More surprisingly, Chris charged that the advertising industry was responsible for the bland political adverts of recent years. He referred to the 1993 Social Democratic Party (SDP) jingle (remember “MKO is our man oooo”?) as a classic – in fact, many claim that that jingle might be impossible to top. I responded that while I could not speak for the advertising industry, I would certainly offer my own opinion, however subjective, about the advertising campaigns.
While I agree that the SDP jingle remains a classic, at least on the grounds that it has a catchy sing-along tune and evokes the memory of the 1993 elections, I, however, disagree that it trumps every other jingle, even if non-political, that came after it. I said that there is context to creative work, and like most things, media evolves according to the demands and dynamics of a society. So the currency of the SDP jingle, given the political situation in 1993, must have prepared it to go “viral” and memorable in comparison to the realities of 2015. What the SDP jingle did in 1993 is probably rivaled in the form of memes or sponsored hashtags in today’s numberless media channels. But it is still a classic.
Ever since INEC permitted parties to launch advertising campaigns, I have been following the media behavior of the two major parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). I mentioned some of the points on air but here is an elaborate delineation. I have made each point by comparing each party’s activities against some marketing communication highlights. This is based on my opinion and perception, as one who trades in marketing communication and as a creative director. (This review is limited to the presidential campaigns only.)
A premise that a party or its candidate uses to express its uniqueness, values and selling points. This is usually summed up into slogans.
· PDP: There is no clear promise to the Nigerian people. As the current party in power, there is a “home advantage” that should allow it to reinforce its reasons to remain in power in a convincing and consistent manner. But what seems to be out there is a staccato of messages that lamely invoke “Vote Transformation,” “Vote Continuation,” "I Vow To Do More," etc. And it behaves like a vulnerable brand that depends on mudslinging to reinforce its own relevance. Its proposition might as well be “Vote PDP because The-Devil-You-Know-Is-Better-Than-The-Angel-You-Don’t-Know” or “Vote Goodluck Because He-Is-A-Lesser-Evil.”
· APC: There is no better time than now for the party to embrace itself as a challenger and claim a compelling value proposition for the election, given the widespread perception of the incumbent’s shortcomings. In what seems like brilliant market intelligence, the APC has summed up its proposition into a word that has strong literal and metaphorical relevance in times of chaos – change. A cliché in political campaigns, one wonders if it can be used strongly to any effect. Obama’s campaign milked the word in such a way that it seemed like they invented it. Can any other party successfully appropriate the word “change”? That remains to be seen. But the APC has been clear and consistent with its value proposition.
A fact to support a proposition. Otherwise termed as A-Reason-to-Buy. It’s a no-frills detail that backs up claims made in the proposition. It includes the essential and intrinsic truths about a party and its candidate.
· PDP: A tough call for this party. The PDP is trying to convince its audience that infrastructural development was one of its greatest achievements, and they are not buying it. Even the infrastructural achievements are not well packaged. There are no clear channels to monitor or access these purported accomplishments. That they are mostly promoted on reactionary and political grounds makes it even tougher to see them as genuine reasons to “buy” into the party’s proposition. Other laudable efforts that might make their message an easier sell would include impressive records around corruption, human capacity development, the Chibok girls, and Boko Haram. Sloppy reactions to major events and presidential gaffes have further eroded the party’s substance value. Question: Why isn’t the PDP stressing its agricultural achievements through the minister of agriculture?
· APC: The party parades its flag bearer’s record as an anti-corruption czar and supports that with its vice presidential candidate’s academic pedigree. Both are substantive and verifiable. While its presidential candidate has been beleaguered with records from his previous term as a military leader, his anti-corruption stance still resonates given the situation in the country.
The road-to-market plan, strategy, techniques, and how to exploit available opportunities.
· PDP: The party could do more to assert itself with a strong narrative as a Heritage or Experienced or Workaholic, or on a risk, Trusted brand. Instead, it has allowed itself to play to the tune of a challenger brand, which is the opposition. It has invested energies in smear campaigns that, ironically, make the opposition look better than it might have been. A challenger brand wants you to dance to its tune. It does not want to respect your size or power. It goes for the jugular in a David-and-Goliath style. A bigger brand is supposed to tame this tendency by appearing bigger and more superior in any way. But a smear campaign, especially as aggressive as we have seen, rubs negatively than it helps.
· APC: It is doing fairly well as a challenger brand. But it does not seem to be buttressing this narrative with as much muscle as necessary. One expects it to appeal to sentiment by asking the Reaganist question: “Are You Better Off Than You Were Four (or Six) Years Ago?” And the incumbent does have collateral that can be exploited to this end. So far the narrative is strong around the challenger’s anti-corruption stance, but not so much on capitalizing on other chinks in the incumbent’s armour. "Are You Better Off Than You Were Six Years Ago?" could be promoted for crowdsourcing purpose. Not merely mentioned. Then, watch the digital audience take it up through memes, wisecracks, daily conversations and through digital properties.
A relationship or bond which a brand intends to create. It could be a rational or/and emotional connection. Politics whips up a lot of emotions.
· PDP: The party uses rational benefits to portray its candidate as a preferred choice while investing emotional resources to de-market its opposition. Creating a bond with a rather detached brand is a tough one. The party's candidate is notoriously aloof at moments that afford the chance to connect with people at the emotional level. It might as well continue to invest in rational reasons. Emotions may be hard.
· APC: Because it is capitalizing on widespread frustration in the country, it is gaining ground on the emotional front. It backs this up with rational benefits on what it intends to achieve when elected (but not so much on “how”). There's a strong emotional connection in its favour but it has to cleverly guard against aggressive smear campaigns.
Activities that ensure a positive and favourable disposition between a candidate and the public. 2015 election will be remembered as a public relations combat zone.
· PDP: The party has been sponsoring stories to keep its candidate in a positive light and framing conversations to lessen his supposed shortcomings. It invests in taming accusations of incompetence and laxity. Curiously, it has not invested much in community visits, photo-ops, and has only had a few engagements with some social organizations. Its media influencers and spokespeople lack coordination and are too aggressive when it comes to pointing accusing fingers. Instead of leading conversations, the party spends a lot of its time responding to gaffes from the opposition.
· APC: Expectedly, it takes a challenger brand’s path by investing in drawing attention. It manages conversations through clever photo-ops, and strategic alliances with social influencers and media pundits. The party responds to most accusations with tact, including issues surrounding its candidate’s certificate and age. And it has been lucky with “earned media”, like the hoopla that occurred when attractive photos of one of the daughters of the presidential candidate hit the web. Although it has not done much nationally with community visits, there have been reports of direct calls being made by its vice presidential candidate to voters. The party should watch against silly gaffes too, including mispronunciation of names.
The channels for passing information. It is usually divided into traditional (TV, Billboards, Print, Radio etc.) and non-traditional (Digital, Social Media, Earned media, Crowdsourcing etc.) forms.
· PDP/APC: This point may not be overstressed as both parties have equal access to the forms of media, although there have been reports that party rivalries have caused one party to limit the other's promotion in some states, especially on billboards. The real issue about media is how it is being used. The two parties are using media to share clichéd messages, as opposed to more compelling narratives. The messages are not single-minded. It is confusing to decipher which of the messages in the media are sponsored by the parties or are sponsored by their supporters. The use of media has been typical with traditional media but not great – although one cannot ignore both parties’ massive activities on Social Media.
Digital platforms and tools that allow people to create and share information through virtual communities, and for social networking. The 2015 election campaign might as well be remembered as a Social Media campaign. Both parties have teams behind their social media activities. The extent of professionalism is debatable.
· PDP: If social media were only about smearing and “shading,” then the party leads with an astronomical margin. The candidate’s spokespeople have been forthright and unapologetic in using social media to defend their candidate. It has formidable, social media-savvy and vocal supporters. But engagements are recorded in forms of sharing the candidate’s achievements, attacking opposition and smearing. Activities are not integrated. One wonders if there is a central point of managing social media activities outside of official spokespeople.
· APC: The party has managed to build a fan base of people that share interesting content on its behalf. Its team seems more coordinated and, by a far margin, does better with online reputation management. Its social media activities are quite well integrated across platforms. It could do more to amplify crowdsourcing to pass it messages across.
The two parties’ media activities have been particularly vibrant online. It is an acknowledgement of the relevance of social media in contemporary times. However, it is debatable if the boisterousness online is matched offline. Given that statistics place the Internet-savvy audience at a minor figure compared to the numbers at the grassroots, it may be important for both parties to invest in integrating offline activities with online vibrancy.
If regulations around political campaigning do not limit getting international attention, the parties may consider managing conversations in diaspora, alongside public relations efforts in influential foreign media, especially African platforms. After all, there will be foreign observers at the election.
Also, it is unknown how much the parties have done in gathering data for relevant insight. There are no reports of email marketing, phone number collection, community establishment, or data farms. These are necessary for post-election influencing and engagement.
Moreover, one does not know the extent to which these parties engage professionals in the creation and deployment of their campaigns.
Anyway, may the best political advertising win. :)