Adopting a united brands philosophy may just be what African and developing countries need if they are to fulfil their dreams of achieving international brand recognition for some of their local brands.
This strategy could be successfully tied – in with simultaneous nation branding efforts of their home governments. There is a common ‘bond of brotherhood’ which unites brands in distant markets. Brands from the same countries which may be owned by different companies may be more willing to cooperate and share experiences when faced with a common identified ‘adversary’ or competition. Managers of such brands wish each other well in such circumstances because the ‘bad guys’ would be the well established competing global brands.
When brands seek a common refuge under the umbrella of ‘one nation’, they benefit from the resultant ‘country of origin effects’ made popular by Simon Anholt. This may be the strategy that Nduka Obaigbena and his team at Leaders & Company Ltd (owners of ThisDay newspaper group in Nigeria) are pursuing.
Nduka may best be described as a media mogul, entrepreneur and lately show business impresario. His deft touch has transformed many of the projects his ThisDay brand has embarked on in the past into gold. He is a man driven by the desire to succeed and craves success the way mortals crave food. He seems not to be fazed by the criticisms of his detractors who have called him names such as megalomaniac, showboy, glamour boy and political godson.
The ThisDay brand has in short a time shot to the top of Nigeria’s media landscape, strong evidence that the man that his associates call ‘the duke’ is in touch, very much so with the waters that they swim in daily, waters infested with sharks – swim along or be swallowed. The ThisDay brand is now a successful and credible media brand in Nigeria capitalising on the complacence of the Guardian newspaper, and the demise of other titles, most especially Daily Times and National Concord. ThisDay newspaper has now cornered an enviable position in the market as the number one newspaper of choice amongst A, B, C demographic readers. Simultaneous publishing of two editions daily in Abuja and Lagos has ensured that the logistics difficulties being experienced by the other competing newspaper titles are now a thing of the past within the newspaper group. What ThisDay is doing in Nigeria is what the Guardian did in the 80s but Nduka and his team have gone steps further by spinning off other social and money-making projects which have extended their brand identity further.
Success comes at a price though; Nduka Obaigbena and his ThisDay media group have seen many of them. They got embroiled in the Miss World religious riots controversy in 2002 when ThisDay published the now infamous article about Prophet Mohammed speculating that he could have chosen one of the Miss World beauty pageant contestants had he still been alive. Shortly after, Nduka got his fingers burned when backed with a war chest the size of a bank vault he forayed into the exclusive but lucrative South African media market, thus becoming the first Nigerian media enterprise to truly go international, the success of which would have spurned-off other projects across the globe. This was at a time when such corporate and financial relocations favoured South African firms who have since taken over half of Nigeria’s economy. The project collapsed after a year. ThisDay landed into another controversy in 2006 when it accepted and published a controversial wrap-around advertisement from a faceless organisation endorsing Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo for an unconstitutional third term in office contrary to the general mood of Nigerians at the time.
Such down-low experiences are not new to the father of seven children. He became Nigeria’s youngest publisher in the 80s when as a twenty – something year old, he launched This Week magazine, a clone of Newsweek magazine where had had worked previously. His efforts was a trail blazing one alongside those of Nigeria’s elite troupe of magazine publishers at the time such as Chris Okolie of Newbreed magazine and Dele Giwa et al of Newswatch magazine. This Week despite all the promises it held died eventually.
Now a survivor of the publishing game, Nduka’s other social projects such as the annual ThisDay awards, and the ThisDay fashion and style weekend have since become prominent features in Nigeria’s social calendar attracting A-list celebrities and power brokers from within and outside Nigeria. Earlier this year, ThisDay group pioneered the ThisDay Nigerian universities rankings, a social project aimed at recognising the teaching and research efforts of Nigerian universities. Modelled after the popular Times UK universities rankings, the ThisDay rankings is expected to promote and celebrate best practice in Nigerian universities, while at the same challenging the universities at the bottom of the rankings table to clean up their acts.
At a time when the current mood and discussions in the public and private sectors is on the issue of nation branding and the attendant economic benefits, Nduka and ThisDay have scored another winner with the maiden edition of the ThisDay music festival, a project that has even impressed Ben Murray Bruce, Nigeria’s king of show business who remarked that ‘the show is one of the greatest things to happen to Nigeria’s image at this time’.
It is not surprising to see why the show which was held in Lagos over two days during the weekend of 7th and 8th October 2006 has continued to attract praise from far and wide. It will really do a lot for brand Nigeria’s image. Launching an annual music festival with the help and sponsorship of local companies is a strategic move for all the companies concerned, most especially for ThisDay which currently has an annual turnover of $35 million. Also, the presence of government officials at the event will help project the image of ‘united brands’ – comprising Brand Nigeria, ThisDay and the other participating brands.
The music festival couldn’t have come at a better time, to help take attention away from the negative reports being generated in the international media concerning the travel warnings being regularly issued by the American, United Kingdom and other western governments to their citizens, bothering mainly on Nigeria’s security and stability. The American government had in 2005 predicted that Nigeria is a failed state that would break apart within 10 years.
The ThisDay music festival is indeed a public relations masterstroke for Nigeria and Nigerian brands. The show featured the likes of Beyonce and loverboy Jay-Z and other acts such as Ciara, En Vogue, Snoop Doggy Dog, Missy Elliot, and Busta Rhymes. The stage was also set for Nigerian acts such as King Sunny Ade, Weird MC, TuFace, Majek Fashek, Seun Anikulapo-Kuti, Asha, Dare Art-Alade, and D. Banj to showcase their talents.
Speaking at the show, Nduka Obaigbena said that the ThisDay music festival was “to demonstrate that good things can still work in Nigeria. We are here to show that if we work together we can score great goals and surpass unreachable targets”.
Hats off to him and his team for doing Nigeria and Africa proud, hopefully this would bring about improved trust from the international community on Brand Nigeria.