Nigerian advertising and the Biodun Shobanjo years

Posted by News Express | 29 March 2021 | 536 times

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Advertising and the business undergirding it stand at an inflection point globally. The changes have also manifested in Nigeria. The notion of the full-service agency as the producer and distributor of advertising messages through the media has taken a beating from the workings of the Internet and the barriers that it broke down.

So much has changed, yet fundamentals remain. The mass audience seems to have given way to the interactive media user, which may range from one person to several groups. There is still a need, however, to produce persuasive messages, whether for multiple online groups or for the remaining mass in the broadcast or online platforms.

This is the backdrop for the launch of a book that captures the challenges and thrills of advertising as practiced by Biodun Shobanjo of the eponymous Insight Communications. Insight rose in 20 years to the foremost position in the Nigerian advertising firmament. It is therefore worthy of several studies.

Dotun Adekanmbi(2019), The Will To Win: The Story of Biodun Shobanjo. Lagos: Havillah Books/Strategic PR Wox.  542pp tells the career history of Biodun Shobanjo, co-founder and boss of Insight Communications/Troyka Group and a larger-than-life personality in Nigeria's marketing communications industry.

There are many interfaces and points of convergence between Shobanjo’s career and the evolution of Nigerian advertising. It is the first point of interest in the book. Yet Dotun Adekanmbi attempted a distinction without a difference in The Will To Win: The Story of Biodun Shobanjo.  He set out not to write a book on advertising but "a career biography, one that attempts to capture his perspective to explain his dream and its realisation".

Because Biodun Shobanjo played significant roles in Nigerian advertising and marketing communication, ninety per cent of The Will To Win dwells on advertising. It covers Shobanjo's sojourn and exit from Grant Advertising, Insight Communication's birth, Insight's business trajectory from start-up through early years to growth and dominance.

You will read about Shobanjo's background and early life, his early career in broadcasting that exposed him to one strand of the disciplines that would count in his career in advertising and his qualification as a UK-certified public relations professional through correspondence. That alone debunks the myth of a man with no formal education who then rose to the zenith of his business.

You share Shobanjo’s battles and his experiences with AAPN and AAAN; the media debt challenge; the fights over affiliation.

The journey to the book took 15 years and many exciting turns. Biodun Shobanjo challenged Dotun Adekanmbi to show proof ab initio of the necessity for a biography. The author then carried out a survey wherein respondents listed Shobanjo in the Top 5 of persons whose biographies they would love to read. There were other tests in this collaborative endeavour between the biographer and his focal person. Their mutual understanding produced a book chockful of information, anecdotes, and insights.

The time and place dimensions enriched this biography. It is comprehensive and provides rich insights into various aspects of Nigerian advertising. Journalism posits that a rounded story covers the five Ws and the H.  The Ws are Who, What, Where, When and Why. The H is How. Dotun Adekanmbi tackles the five Ws of Shobanjo's involvement and exploits in advertising.

Significance is at the heart of biographies. It is the litmus test. Good biographies seek answers to these questions: What is the significance of this person's life? How did he or she change the world? What would happen if this person never existed? What is unique about what they did or made?

What did Biodun Shobanjo contribute and change in Nigerian advertising? The Will To Win does an excellent job of providing perspectives and insights. Some of the contributions of Insight/Troyka Group that Shobanjo led include at least 13 areas. Some of these are creativity and excitement; mutual respect between an agency and its clients; recognition of the limits of advertising. Shobanjo says, "Advertising helps a rolling ball roll faster, but it cannot get a ball to roll uphill". Others are creativity in media buying; explicit agreement on deliverables between agency and client, flamboyance and an orientation for high standards and quality: "Selling on Quality, Not on Price".  Insight recognized that advertising and IMC generally are knowledge businesses and emphasized recruitment of high quality human capital.

 The Will To Win is a primer on management and entrepreneurship. There are lessons in management style, structures, HR, partnerships, competition, business, and personal relationships. Partnerships are common in the service industry. Shobanjo shares guidance on partnerships: spell out all the terms of engagement in writing; avoid mixing friendship and business; understand the attitude of all partners to money; recognise the God factor.

Dotun Adekanmbi has written a success manual that walks the reader through the labyrinths of the advertising business. 

As indicated, Adekanmbi does not treat the How of Insight's advertising by design. However, the book gives enough pointers for another book on How To Create Advertising The Insight Way. It does this by mentioning across the book the many successful campaigns of the multiple award-winning firm. 

The Will To Win is an ambitious book. The author struggles in some areas between writing a biography and a hagiography. It is a thin line that he successfully skirts in the end. There are too many styles, from the New Journalism of elaborate scene-setting to the narrative and analysis.

The Will To Win deserves a place on the shelf of professionals in marketing communication, management and business studies. Following the breakdown of mass communication into seven disciplines, including advertising, books such as The Will To Win will provide case studies, particularly for graduate students.

It is serendipitous that another industry veteran, Lolu Akinwunmi, also released a corporate history cum autobiography (Lolu Akinwunmi (2020), Skin For Skin: The Prima Garnet Story. Lagos: Heritek Support Services. The books enrich the literature in the field.

•Chido Nwakanma is a Lagos-based communication expert.

Source: News Express

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