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BOKO HA_A_: HOW CAN YOUR BRAND FILL THE GAP?

The Punch says it is Nigeria’s most widely read newspaper. The Guardian newspaper claims it heals the open wound of conscience with truth. But both declined to run a print advertisement. On 28th February 2014, THISDAY newspapers published it with a cheeky headline; “Yes, we are Boko Ha_a_!”.  Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian media thinker, must be grinning in his grave; it was that magical moment when the media became the message—remember THISDAY had been blasted. By playing with the mind of the readers, the print advertisement put on a spotlight on how the heart of an average Nigerian child can be easily influenced into Boko Ha_a_! 

Expectedly, in Nigerian marketing communications circles, the Boko Halal campaign, from animals at a Lagos based marketing communications consultancy, Noah’s Ark (indeed you must be an animal to stick your neck out on this issue), was greeted with mixed reactions. The optimists went to town, painting the internet with colorful adjectives. Trust the pessimists; all they did was to take a deep breath and ask: are we all ready for the consequences? 

Naturally, one should be carried away by the good words of the optimists and ignore pessimists. For example, in ABC agency (name withheld), intelligence feeds (don’t worry I’m not Edward Snowden) had it that:  the top echelon of the food/thought chain, opined that the Boko issue bothers on national interest as such it is a no go area for marketing communication practitioners. For an industry that prides itself as one with the Midas touch, such point of view reflects a dearth of thinking on how modern day liberal capitalism functions, the very territory we play. 

Forget the fact that a Yoruba aphorism says “in the jaws of a roaring lion, lies a throve of fortune”. In her ground breaking work titled:  Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Naomi Klein opened the eyes of the world. Her words: “shock and terrorize the entire country, deliberately ruin its infrastructure, do nothing while its culture and history are ransacked, then make it all O.K. with an unlimited supply of cheap household appliances and imported junk food, not to mention a strong stock market and private sector.”  Sounds familiar? Welcome to wonderland, Nigeria.

With this ideological veil lifted, the question marketing communication practitioners ought to be asking is how Corporate Nigeria can plug in. Simply put, how can your brand leverage Boko Halal relevantly in a way that will deliver returns to all stakeholders (consumers, employee, shareholders). This question is what Alvin Toffler, the futurologist, answered when he proclaimed that corporations own the future. Government will become weaker and corporations will become stronger. If they are the greatest beneficiary of the structure of political economy, they naturally have the moral authority to stand up. Oh, did I hear you say the business of every business is the business? Well, this is not a case for CSR. Nor is it cause marketing. This is a case of brand behavior. We live in an age where brands need to persuade not by words but actions.  Consumers know better. And they know that their purchasing power is the last ballot box with which to caste their power. Pepsi diverted money that should be used for SuperBowl  TV adverts to kick start  the Pepsi Refresh project. The brand promised to award over $10 million grant to community based projects nominated by the brand.

At this point, the pessimist will scream out of fear again: “Ah, Boko Ha_a_!”  The National Security Adviser Col. Sabo Dansuki (Rtd) had declared that the Boko issue is a communication challenge. He must know what the rest of we mortals do not know. In Boko Halal, we have in our hands, a subversively brilliant approach that takes on the issue without taking on the issue. Instead of taking the Goliath head on, it has naively ignored it. Did you notice its choice not to mention Boko Ha_a_! in its communication (online/offline). Think about it: it appears naïve at first sight. Considering how naughty the issue is, can Boko Halal with its kiddy bookworm mascot make any difference? It is Hegelian dialectics at work. Strip things to the bare and all you have is one truth: someone brainwashing another person into a heinous crime. Thus, education remains the only tool for empowerment from the lower class to the middle class, as well as the tool for raising public reasoning. In an age of quick returns, education as a weapon for social change, appears very unappealing.

One day when the history of Boko Ha_a_! is written, Boko Halal will feature in glowing light. Will your brand be part of this legacy of social change?

Boko Halal is an open source platform. For instance, its logo is a seal that brands can carry  as limited edition packages in order to raise money to make life worthy for the kids who are the innocent victims of the continual bombshells. Consumers know and when they see it, they are convinced that the brand stands for a good cause. This is how people’s iconic brands are forged. Project RED did same for the HIV/AIDS scourged. Folks, this is what foreign policy experts would call bookworm diplomacy, but it is soft power at its peak (so, we don’t scare pessimists by calling it what it is; a non-military counter-terrorism tactic). 

Punch and Guardian are not naïve. They rejected the print advertisement, yet they publish screaming headlines of massacres.  In so doing, they are showering the other guys with attention, which is what they thrive on anyway, and the unintended consequence is more Newspaper sales. If I were you, I would look beyond the surface (don’t we all know that things are not what they seem) take a deep breath, exhale my fears and ask: now, how on earth can my brand leverage Boko Ha_a_? Ask how and the answers will come.

Babatunde Adebola has the big title of an associate creative director at a leading marketing communications consultancy. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or +234813745956.