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Book Review: “Pinching The Pitch”, Emeka Oparah’s Review Of Ikem Okuhu’s Pitch – Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths

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Emeka Oparah

Protocols

I have many reasons to be delighted for being asked to review Ikem Okuhu’s “table-shaking” book, “Pitch-Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths,” but three are particularly worthy of mention. First and foremost, Nigeria is blessed with a surfeit of ready men and women who can equally or even do better than I am about to do today, but the author, for reasons best known to him, and in his wisdom, settled for me. I thank him. Secondly, the author gave my employers, Airtel Networks Limited generous mentions in the book. Again, I thank him. And lastly, my small, personal endeavor, Ethelberts Clothing, was also given some accolades early in the book in the author’s spirited attempt to debunk one of marketing’s strongest myths. Thank you so much, Ikem or Victor Snr.

When I first saw the title of Ikem’s book, I immediately recalled the controversial book by Al Ries and his daughter, Laura Ries entitled “The Fall of Advertising and the rise of PR”. Then, again, I recalled my first encounter with the author. I have been an avid reader of Ikem’s column on Marketing Communication, especially when it was a pull-out in the Vanguard newspapers well before he went solo. He was different, refreshing and cheeky with a somewhat diabolical sense of humor. It appeared he saw things differently all the time-judging by the way he reported events-which were also attended and reported by other journalists. I thought he enjoyed controversy. It didn’t matter so much until he did a number on Airtel!

I can clearly recall the incident. It was during the height of the battle between Prima Garnet and its international affiliate, Ogilvy, over the establishment of Scanad Advertising in Nigeria, following the sale of Ogilvy Africa to Scangroup led by Bharat Thakrar. Airtel was caught in the crossfire. Prima Garnet was managing the Airtel account in Nigeria then as the affiliate of Ogilvy, the agency managing Airtel Africa account. Following the sale of Ogilvy Africa to Scangroup and the establishment of Scanad in Nigeria ostensibly to take over the work Prima Garnet was doing, the Airtel brand got enmeshed in a long-drawn media and legal battle that denied the company of the services of an advertising agency and, therefore, the benefit of serious advertising for a long period.

Being the person managing Airtel’s Public Relations at the time (and even now), I took exception to Ikem’s write-ups, which were written without my input. I not only questioned some of the points he presented as facts, I was incendiary over his refusal to get our side of the story before going to press, an unprofessional approach to the best of my knowledge. I sent him a text, which he ignored. I was not surprised because I already had the impression he was arrogant and might not respond. Then, I called him. We had a very difficult conversation which ended with him asking me (more like challenging me) to do a rejoinder, if I so wished, to state my side of the story. I knew that was what he wanted from the outset, but I wasn’t going to grant his heart desire rather I caused some stories to be written in other publications to make our case.

I know my big brother, Lolu Akinwunmi, perfectly understood I was the brain behind those stories-some of which were not very nice to him-but he has remained my big brother and friend regardless. I was only doing my job. Ikem and I, to his surprise and mine, became friends some years later. One thing was, however, clear to me: Ikem is a stubborn, brilliant and courageous man who enjoyed the fallouts of controversies. So, I wasn’t frazzled when I received an advance copy of the book we are gathered here to launch today. On seeing the cover, I said to myself, “here we go”! From the cover to the end it was wahala!

Let me assure you all that Ikem has headed off a nest of wasps with the controversial positions he has deliberately, and sometimes justifiably, taken in the book right from the PREFACE.
Hear him: “There are far too many things that are held sacred in marketing that are essentially NOT true or, at least, not universally so.” He put it down to what we call colonial mentality in the very next sentence when he stated and I quote: “But because we have accepted that templates from the West are the global standards, we fall into the temptation of copying certain strategies and actions that do NOT appeal to the typical African.” He had earlier stated that “Agencies attend marketing pitches and nearly all the research cited to justify strategies and tactics are those from foreign literature. Even areas as critical as that should draw from local fields are also outsourced with great relish and pride.”

My only concern with the author’s stance here is that, were there useful local resources, perhaps, the agencies would have used them. Then again, I find it ludicrous, when people complain about too much westernization knowing full well that though we, and by we, I mean Africa, claims to be the cradle of modern civilization, we rested on that particular and singular laurel and allowed the rest of the world, especially the western world, to overtake us! Thankfully, and very commendably, Ikem has dedicated considerable time and talent exposing and challenging some of the myths he has studiously identified in his almost 19 years’ career of studying, watching and writing about brands in Nigeria. So, he has earned his rights to complain.

The first myth Ikem attacked in the book is that of the role of the Chief Executive Officer. In Chapter One, he expressed his belief that the CEO, being the flag bearer of the organization, should be the number one marketer of a brand. I totally agree with him on this. I will, however, distance myself from his assertion that CEOs (and he posted a list of some CEOs and what they purportedly earned as annual salaries) are overpaid for the work they do. He said and I disagree: “It is inconceivable that the CEOs…earn so much just to sit around and be the boss of everyone else. And if each hour they earn this mind-blowing sum (N389,000 per hour in some cases, he claims) does not yield a commensurate value for the business they manage, then there is an urgent need for a new hire.” He continues: “…marketing is all about strategy and engagement and the CEO, more than anyone else, should be the champion of formulating, executing and harvesting its proceeds.”

This is not so much a marketing myth as it is not a big issue. The role of the CEO as the leader of the orchestra, coordinating the various parts of the leadership of an organization has long been established and very well documented in many management books. I need not here dilate on the elements of a CEO job description or person specification. Yes, the CEO should be involved in marketing as he should in others, but the job of midwifing brands and products must be done by a Chief Commercial Officer or Chief Marketing Officer or Marketing Director, as the case may be who will give it his undivided attention. I’m certain some CEOs here present will agree with me. Thus assured, I will also recommend they took a good look at pages 9 and 10 of this book for some really intelligent suggestions on how to position the CEO for greater effectiveness. It doesn’t matter whether he or she is a Commercial Executor, Financial Value Driver, Corporate Entrepreneur, Corporate Ambassador, Global Missionary, People Champion, Conscious Capitalist or Innovative Inventor or a little bit of all of the aforementioned, as outlined by the author. Hell no, Mr. Author; CEO do not just sit around.

In Chapter Two, Ikem came out with guns blazing declaring that Advertising is DEAD! Like Ries and his daughter, Ikem dismissed the value of advertising. Listen to both of them. “Advertising does not build brands. Advertising can only maintain brands that have been created by publicity. The truth is that advertising cannot start a fire. It can only fan a fire after it has been started. To get something going from nothing, you need validity that only third-party endorsements can bring. The first stage of any campaign ought to be public relations”. This is Al Ries and Laura Ries. Now this is Ikem: “The erosion of advertising value has been slow in attracting notice, even more so in Nigeria where there is hardly anything to suggest this has been taken with any seriousness. This is despite the fact dropping numbers have been staring everyone in the industry in the face for many years. Statistics have shown that the share of traditional advertising budget has been dwindling over the years.”

The author cited Andrew Essex, co-founder of Droga5, Kevin Roberts, Executive Chairman of Satchi & Satchi a Sue Elms, Head of Global Brand Management at Millward Brown to justify his assertion about the death or imminent death of Advertising. He takes the reader through a breezy journey of the evolution of advertising business in Nigeria terminating at the point when many of the Agencies transmogrified into the “Foreign Offices” of big, global agencies they are affiliated. At this point, he boldly avers, Nigerian advertising became cut and paste! Agencies basically modified what their principals, nay affiliates, did elsewhere in Europe and America, and deployed them in Nigeria.

The author also dwelt extensively on the impact of convergence on the marketing industry and how it has helped in killing Advertising dead like Raid kills insects dead! Like it has done in every other sphere of human endeavor, ICT has significantly altered the landscape in advertising. The advent of Social Media has totally changed the game. Like the traditional media, traditional advertising, according to Ikem, did not wake up to the realities and challenges, if you like, of social media. In his own words, “nothing has dealt the advertising industry its most crushing blow like the digital that ushered in convergence in the product design and consumption landscape.” He also lamented the disregard for culture in the creation of products and marketing campaigns. He cited Nigerian Breweries’ successful use of “Chairman” in marketing Heineken, its flagship brand, AB Inbev’s decision to rebrand their Grand Lager beer to Hero as two brilliant examples of how “Place” or culture plays a role in Marketing. While Heineken was positioned as the Chairman, an appellation usually reserved for top dogs in Nigeria, Hero was associated with the great Ikemba Nnewi, Gen. Odumegwu Ojukwu, leader of the Biafran secession war, whose death coincided with the rebranding and relaunch of the beer.

The author made several table-breaking allegations against advertising and the advertising industry which should worry practitioners and, I expect, will elicit a lot of reactions either as opinion articles or books. Before I move to the next chapter, I must say he was right that Ethelberts Clothing, which I founded in 2016 is yet to engage the services of an advertising agency or run any advertising campaign. All we have done is use Social Media to tell a compelling story of what we do and how we do it. Another thing we have done very well is Customer Experience. We ensure our engagement with the customers is so good that they themselves take photos and tell the story themselves. Our customers have been our greatest advocates and advertisers. Thanks again, Ikem. Is Advertising dead? I will not pass judgment. Let the industry speak for itself after reading the author in detail.

In Chapter 3, the author delves deeper into the myths zooming in on one of the most important metrics of marketing: Share of Mind. His point: “It’s pretty straightforward. The reality is that you may have all the favorable mindshare numbers you want, but it may not reflect in your market share. Another thing, and this may even be a bigger reality or problem, depending on how it impacts you, is that, often times, Market Share numbers are misleading especially when, in societies such as ours, consumers may actually be patronizing competition while assuming it is yours.” This punch is super hard and it’s right on the chin, especially of companies that play in the D-E category. In his words, “competition will simply pass-of their brands as yours or pretend they do not know that consumers are being misled into thinking your product offers the same value as competition’s, even when yours is the more expensive alternative.”

This point reminds me of a recent personal experience. I attended a wedding, lo and behold, many of the men were decked out in Ethelberts outfits and I could swear I didn’t make them! I knew instinctively that they or their tailors must have visited my Social Media pages and downloaded the designs. When I teased one of them that he was yet to pay me for his outfit, he laughed and told me “Oga Emeka we cannot afford your Obasanjo prices!” Back in my days in Cadbury Nigeria, we discovered some shops in Aba were selling Bonavita in refill packs designed to look like our Bournvita. That was a direct consequence of a line extension we carried out earlier that year by offering customers the refill option. While they could not produce the canned product, the refill pack was easier and cheaper-and cost much less than Bournvita. We had to gradually forget the refill packs!

So, popular products like Coke, Bournvita and Maggi, Omo and Indomie, which metamorphosed into the generic appellation for their segment, are most susceptible to this challenge. Every cola drink is coke and every food seasoning is Maggi while every detergent is Omo. Yes, indeed, mindshare is not market share. Mindshare without market share is a waste.

Talking about line extension, which I referenced above, Ikem devoted the whole of chapter 4, which he mischievously captioned “Of Stretch Marks and Line Extensions” to it. He dismissed all the reasons marketers and manufacturers adduce for the practice, which include energizing the brand, expanding the brand’s core promise (for new users), managing innovations, blocking or inhibiting competitors and managing dynamic or fast-changing environment-among others. He called the readers’ attention to the failure of Guinness Extra Smooth, Star Lite, Star Triplex and Star Radler. He recalled the disastrous outing made by Origin Zero, a spin-off from Origin Bitters, an alcoholic drink. The failure of Thermocool generators and TV sets, which he also mentioned, cracked me up-and will also crack you up. For goodness sake, why would a names closely associated with cooling suddenly start making power generators. Thankfully, the manufacturers, PZ, realized their mistake and quickly changed the name to TEZ.

The author categorically warned: “in case you do not have this understanding-and many actually do not-avoid extension totally. Consolidate your brand in its segment, even if you cannot break new frontiers. There is nothing as bad as telling your customer that you have a better product on the shelf while you are still keeping the old one, he laments, and I totally agree with him.

Chapter 5 is perhaps one of my favorites because it took a deep dive into modern marketing methods as facilitated by technology and Social Media. “Nerds are conspiring with tech to take your jobs with better results”, is a self-explanatory headline. The story of how little-known Cambridge Analytica colluded with Facebook to sway votes away from Hillary Clinton in favor of President Donald Trump was a story well-told. The author argues strongly that precise marketing has become possible because with technology, the average marketer can gain both insight and foresight to understand not just who the customers are but also where they are and not only what they want now but what they will be wanting in the future.

The telecommunications companies, for example, know who their customers are and where they are and can push messages to them. They also know reasonably what their buying behaviors are and can push certain products to them. If you visit fashion websites or make online purchases, sooner rather than later, you will start seeing fashion ads on your Facebook timeline! This is the power of technology. Some of these materials are created in a twinkle of an eye by nerds sitting in their apartments and analyzing data to understand consumer behavior. So, while traditional advertising relied so much on demographics, digital marketing is focused on psychographics which then deploys Behavioural Micro Targeting (BMT).

The author believes that “this new approach will likely define the larger world of marketing in the future where brands will, this time, legitimately, purchase data of consumers of competition and then push anonymous, calumnious campaigns against brands of their choice without overtly taking the credit.” No doubt, this is happening, one way or the other-even in Nigeria.

In Chapter 6, the author sort of went beyond his focus on Marketing and claimed that “innovation is NOT everything.” Of course, it is not and will never be. You cannot reinvent the wheel is a popular saying. What the author is saying here is that you can be innovative in your creative ideas but not necessarily seeking always to make something new. His analogy with the story of the wealth of Tim Berners-Lee who is credited with inventing the internet and that of Google and Facebook, who are running on his invention is very telling and absolutely spot on.

Not all inventions are marketable, he says, and the reasons for this are many. One is wrong timing. Another is poor marketing. Yet another is misjudging the market and compatibility issues. He, however, strongly urged for “differentiation” as a way of winning the marketing war. He went further to offer a seven recipes for success to those planning to enter a crowded market namely: finding a space, making the nebulous appear simple, connecting to the people’s passion and culture, making yourself the only vehicle into the future, becoming the solution or answer to both asked and unasked questions, invoking the potent spirit of nostalgia and identifying completions’ weaknesses. On this last point, he cited the example of Globacom, which launched with per second billing when the incumbents as it were then, Econet and MTN, were making wild claims that it was not YET a possibility.

Chapter 7 was more or less an advice to businesses on how to build enduring brands. He cited the long-term vision of Arthur Guinness who invested in landed property with a 9000-year tenure, ostensibly to demonstrate he wanted his company and brand to live long after he has died. He also celebrated Access Bank for having a long-term plan of becoming the number one bank in 2022, which they have almost achieved two years earlier with the recent acquisition of Diamond Bank. He then lamented the unfortunate demise of many Nigerian businesses because they were basically built around the needs and the personality of the founders.

He took the reader to the cemetery of corporations littered with the dead bodies of forgotten Nigerian businesses. He then advised, first reinvent yourself; secondly, infuse longevity in the DNA of your organization; thirdly, do no go it alone and finally; sell and dilute. While he had kind words for GT Bank, which reputedly started off with a well-defined leadership succession plan and God Is Good Motors, which was successfully taken over by the son when the father passed away, he blasted the likes of Diamond Bank, Doyin Group, Chidiebere Transport LTD, Ekene Dili Chukwu Transport, etc for not building an enduring business.

Chapter 8 dwells on continuous engagement, charging businesses and brands to keep the doors open at all times. Anything is possible, he seems to say, when he attempted a look at how brands and businesses reacted to crises or challenges. He illustrated his point with three cases namely Nasco Cornflake, MTN and Airtel. While Nasco went for the panic button on learning of a new entrant, Kelloggs, MTN reacted to the SIM Registration crisis with a campaign that reassured their customers that they have been there for them, are there for them and will always be there for them. Airtel, for its part, created a campaign that assured them a slice of the market even before they (Airtel) was ready with 4G. The Airtel story is not entirely true, but for the purposes of this exercise, it makes sense.

Chapter 9 seems to be a continuation of Chapter 6, which dealt with Innovation. Here he posits, correctly, that there are “things innovation wouldn’t do for you” as a brand or business. He referred to IBM as probably the most innovative business in existence yet not the most successful or biggest or the richest. And this is because innovation can only take you so far. Kodak and RIM (with their BlackBerry) are the two examples he cited. Locally, he cited Flash Me Cash by First Inland Bank. In the end he had this to say: “To be relevant to the consumer for the long haul, therefore, indication (though at the very foundation of successful marketing), should not necessarily be on the shop front driving everything. Customers are not necessarily buying innovation. They are buying utility; solutions to problems some of which they themselves find difficult to define.” Those who have ears, let them hear.

In his preface to the book, the author did take a swipe at globalization. He settled down to the subject in Chapter 10 where he proclaimed that “Globalization is a lie!”. Sensational as it may sound, the author raised some salient albeit controversial issues about Globalization. Clearly, he buys into the conspiracy theory that the developed or western world are agents of domination rather than the altruistic facade they present. He, therefore, warned against wholesale adaptation of foreign marketing strategies in the name of Globalization. He scoffed at agency affiliation describing the era when the practice boomed as the worst periods for marketing communications in Nigeria “as many agencies lacked the challenges that creativity brings upon development and skills enhancement.”

He lamented the failure of Heineken Magnum the 150cl bottle that popped like champagne in Nigeria. “Nigerian beer culture is gregarious, yet enables each drinker to go away with his individual trophy,” he stated. This means that sharing, which the Heineken Magnum sought to promote was dead on arrival. Nigerians drink together but do not share their beer. Short and simple! Conversely, Airtel Nigeria emerged from the “globalization cum affiliation” crisis involving Prima Garnet, Ogilvy and ScanGroup and evolved with very strong marketing communications materials with local nuances that resonate easily with the market.

So, while the author urged marketers to be mindful of the political, social and economic differences that define different people, nations and communities in the world, they must respect local peculiarities and nuances. They must also be flexible and adaptable. In short, what he advocates is what someone referred to as GLOCALIZATION, which adapts global practices and ideas to local situations.

In Chapter 11, the author tackled a subject that is very dear to my heart: National Branding. He said “every nation is not a brand” and I totally agree with him without equivocation and mental reservation. His attempt to retrace the three recent though failed attempts to brand Nigeria got me emotional. Going through what the author called “Ingredients of a brand”, I realized Nigeria cannot, in all intents and purposes, be branded. It got even worse when I read the 12 Pillars of Competitiveness as enunciated by the World Economic Forum in its 2010-2011 Report. Aside the 10th Pillar, Market Size, Nigeria failed in all the other 10. Reminds me of the Toyota Camry car known as “Big for Nothing”.

It is not impossible though. India had done it with their epoch-making “Incredible India” Campaign and most recently their “Make in India” Campaign. Azerbaijan has done it. Even Rwanda, which came out of a major fratricidal war has done it. Nigeria can do it. However, we have to get the fundamentals right. According to the author, we have to be known for something good; clean up our cities, tackle corruption with earnestness and honesty, make our country safe, win the confidence of the world, build our infrastructure and demonstrate confidence in our economy. These we must do in no particular order. Otherwise any attempt to brand Nigeria will be a waste. The best we can spend on now is National Re-orientation, which potentially can pave the way for the aforementioned challenges to be met.

The final Chapter is also a favorite. Here he talks about Corporate Social Responsibility that is aligned to the business strategy of the organization. I am completely aligned with his position that businesses are not charities. So, CSR must have a strategy to it. He also suggests quite rightly that there must be a connection between CSR and employees; businesses must seek touchpoints that connect with the business goal; CSR must be branded for impact; and the CEO must lead it.

The closing of the book left a sweet taste in my mouth because he referred, yet again, to a project I am closely associated with, the Airtel Touching Lives initiative. Beyond the good deeds we do with Airtel Touching Lives, we put the Programme on TV for one season, 13 weeks, telling a compelling story of all that we did and how we did it. Aside building and sustaining a good connection between our organization and the community (especially our customers), it delivers a message to other corporate organizations and well-heeled citizens of the country to join us in the act of GIVING.

My CEO, who champions our CSR initiatives (as the author recommended), is never tired of saying that “for an organization to be great, it must first be good and to be good, it must have good people. This is why beyond what we do as an organization, our people volunteer their time, their cash and talent to support the needy in the community under our Employee Volunteer Scheme.” The author also referred to what Mobil Oil Producing employees is doing in this regard. Very good.

In all, the author did a remarkable job of raising a lot of dust in a lot of areas of marketing. It will take a while for the dust to die down and, knowing him, he will be ready with a follow-up by the time the industry is done dealing with the controversies he has just created with this one.

The author has also proved he can proffer solutions rather than just sit around and complain about the paucity of literature. Both practitioners and intending practitioners and students of marketing and communications, generally, will find this book very engaging and insightful.

The liberal use of case studies, especially local cases, is very commendable. It brings the narrative nearer home and simplifies it for both the old timer and the beginner and the uninitiated. His days of reporting brand and marketing in the media came in handy. How I wish others in other segments of journalism can borrow a leaf and author books that will provide more insights into what really happens in real life. Ikem spoke like an insider gone rouge.

Perhaps, in the haste to beat the launch deadline, the publishers have not taken a lot of time to read through again and again. I want to believe that these errors of punctuation and spelling and those of omission will be addressed in the reprints. Until then, the author will have to bear the blames for any error just as he will pocket the money that will be made from the sales of his book.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, my job is done! Before I sit down, permit me to again congratulate my friend Ikem Okuhu for taking the bold step to capture his knowledge and experiences for posterity. Today, he has joined the growing ranks of Nigerian authors and he is definitely not a hungry author. Like him, the marketing industry is the richer for it.

I thank you all so much for your time and attention and I urge you all not to leave here without a copy of this controversial yet interesting and valuable book.

God bless you.

 

Emeka Oparah
Lagos, Nigeria.
November 26, 2019.

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