It is that time again in our national life when politicians, real and wannabes, attempt to outdo each other in the public space with their political campaign messages. With the way some have carried on, one may run away with the impression that these politicians campaigning for votes using various marketing communications tools will let the votes count if and when eventually they are cast. Past experiences have shown otherwise which makes one to conclude that the various political messages currently being aired on radio and T.V, and showing on newspapers, billboards, posters, You Tube, Facebook and other social media channels may actually not be aimed at canvassing for votes but rather to create an illusion of wide acceptability in the minds of the voting public irrespective of their voting patterns during the actual elections. In doing so, the electorates are being turned into unwilling accomplices in grand scale political conspiracies as the argument that will follow later will be along the lines of; “How can politician A or B claim that the election was rigged, we did not see his or her posters anywhere, he or she was not on ground”. As has been the case in past elections most recently the 2007 general elections, the Nigerian electorates may have their say during the voting process but ultimately the politicians end up having their way.
Perhaps this may be the reason why most political advertising in Nigeria is devoid of content that has been thought through and shaped into some kind of political agenda or manifesto which is then expressed using available or cost-effective communications tools. But for a few, it appears that the standard practice currently by the politicians is a wholesale adoption of what I call the beauty pageant approach which sees politicians take the widely travelled road of hoisting their ‘photoshopped’ smiling faces on every available space on campaign posters, as if it is all that matters. There is usually no attempt at making an effort at presenting issues or themes to convince an electorate which way he or she should swing his or her vote.
In urban and rural communities, political posters currently litter the landscape thus making a mockery of whatever laws there are regulating the display of such posters. Take Lagos for example where the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) and the Lagos Advertising and Signage Agency (LASAA) have been at the forefront of regulating advertising practice. Initially it was just Governor Fashola’s campaign posters that could be seen all over the place but now it appears that other aspirants have also hit the ground running with their posters in view all over. They may have hesitated initially not wanting to incur the wrath of advertising regulatory authorities but lately it seems they have been emboldened by the fact that there should not be one law for Governor Fashola and another for the other aspirants, if Fashola can display his posters indiscriminately, they too can.
Perhaps we should not blame the campaign teams of the various politicians too much for resorting to the beauty treatment approach. In a Wikileaks era plus other hard hitting online websites such as saharareporters.com and nigeriavillagesquare.com, selling a Nigerian politician with all their credibility issues and political baggage must be one hard sell. It may also be that voters could care less about what politicians are saying having been disappointed severally by their broken promises. This may have led to the thinking in marketing communications circles that there is no one exciting political advertising campaign out there from any of the parties and their candidates.
Another reason for the largely disjointed series of messages lacking in clear thinking and strategy displaying all over the landscape is the friend and family factor. Friends and family usually contribute towards enabling a politician’s campaign either by contributing money or other resources, but these days what seems to happen is that such friends and family become advertising copywriters overnight, they write the copies and print/produce and display same without any direct link to a master strategy, assuming there is any. There is a lack of control over advertising input and output by the politician, but this is at the risk of damaging both the politician’s personal brand and political campaign.
At the University of Uyo, I was inspired by Emeka ‘Prof’ Nnabuko’s final year seminar paper which he aptly titled ‘Selling the politician’ to pursue that line of enquiry. Subsequently I engaged with the theme during my final year thesis doing a comparative analysis of the political advertising strategies of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and that of the National Republican Party (NRC) during the 1993 elections. The SDP account was managed by Sunrise D’Arcy while Insight Communications managed the NRC account. Since then I have taken more than a passing interest in political advertising campaigns in Nigeria. Unfortunately, it appears that the NRC/SDP campaign era still ranks as the golden era of political advertising in Nigeria. Both campaigns which were managed by reputable ad agencies were driven by socio-economic themes that mattered to the people, these were also beautifully and creatively executed across various media platforms. To recall a few, when the NRC did a ‘Beware the Trojan Horse’ press ad referring to SDP’s horse symbol, the SDP countered with their own version where they showed the NRC’s eagle symbol as being primed to steal Nigeria’s resources. These ads at the time were not only intellectually stimulating, they were engaging and entertaining.
Ever since President Goodluck Jonathan announced to his friends on Facebook that he was going to seek nomination of his party to run for president, the battle seemed to have been also transferred online. The missing link, however, remains the way many of the politicians who joined the social media bandwagon use such platforms to engage the voters. The platform has not been put to best use the same way the Obama campaign exploited it to full advantage during the 2008 U.S presidential elections.
Leading up to the 2011 elections, it remains to be seen clearly the major strategic thinking driving present day political advertising in Nigeria. This is not for lack of resources, these abound in plenty as evidenced in President Goodluck Jonathan’s splash across major airports and billboards in Nigeria but these still fall short of delivering the much anticipated breath of fresh air in Nigerian political advertising, no puns intended.