Dr Sam-Loco Smith is an author with interest in political advertising and a former Corporate Communications Manager at the defunct Nigerian Telecommunications Limited. He tells ALEXANDER OKERE how technology and the social media have shaped election campaigns in Nigeria
How would you assess the growth of political advertising from pre-independence to post-independence in Nigeria?
The growth of political advertising in Nigeria could be said to be structurally systematic. The British colonial administration officials had organised the first election in 1923 with little or no thought given to political advertising or marketing except the use of word of mouth and house-to-house political advertising, marketing of what they wanted to do. However, ahead of the 1959 parliamentary election, Awolowo introduced a more sophisticated imaginative innovation into political advertising and marketing with the use of helicopter skywriting. Awolowo set the agenda and gained geometrical popularity, acceptance and prominence across the regions then. The political advertising marketing of political parties and politicians was completely taken to another level in 1993 with the Social Democratic Party and the late Chief MKO Abiola’s ‘Hope 93 – ‘Farewell to poverty’ as a political advertising marketing campaign theme, which gained acceptance because of the content and appeals which were issue-based.
The improving trend of political advertising techniques, content, appeals, strategies and media tools and the applications of the above and below-the-line advertising occupied the political advertising space in 1999 through to 2011. The bar of political advertising and marketing narrative was taken to a completely new level and status ahead of the 2015 general elections, particularly by the two leading political parties – APC and PDP. It was a political advertising and marketing war, in terms of content, appeals, creativity, intrigues, techniques, strategies, budget, and particularly, the Lagos outdoor advertising. Political advertising and marketing witnessed heavy use of content such as, attacks, derogation, negative and issue-based. There was also the application of multiple advertising appeals, such as emotional, testimonial, fear, caricature, religion, empathy, bandwagon and endorsement. Political parties spent about N4.973bn ahead of political adverts, according to media reports.
The January 19, 2015, advertisement placed by a former Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, remains, perhaps, one of the most controversial political ads ever that was greeted by divergent views in Nigeria. What do you think about it?
The January 19, 2015 front page political advertisement placed by the former Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, stands out as one of the most controversial political advertisements ever placed. The political advert most likely was never submitted to the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria for vetting or approval. It was an advert that went straight from the sponsors to the newspaper houses. However, just like you talked about the issues of assessing the growth of political advertising, that is the level we have got to, in terms of political advertising content, creativity, appeals and delivery of messages. If it had been taken to APCON for vetting and approval, I am sure it would not have been approved not to talk of exposing it to the public. Apart from the January 19, 2015, political advert, there were several other political adverts that were placed, but that of January 19, 2015, remains the most controversial. It will remain so for a long time to come. 2023 political advertising might bring back something close to this.
Do you think advertising agencies doing business in Nigeria have lived up to global expectations, in terms of ethics, because many believe ad agencies should take part of the blame for creating derogatory and deceptive messages?
Before any advert is exposed, there are rules and regulation by the regulatory bodies i.e. APCON and National Broadcasting Commission. One of the rules says that before exposure, APCON must vet and approve all adverts. So, I believe that all the advertising agencies in Nigeria know that rule, ethics and regulation. In addition, APCON and NBC have sanctions and penalties against those who contravene the rules of the game. The political advertising and marketing campaigns mounted ahead of the 2015 general elections had a lot of ethical breaches of the relevant laws on political advertisement. Ahead of the 2019 elections, and due to repeated calls for the stakeholders in political advertisement to play according to the prevalent laws guiding political campaigns, 65 per cent compliance was achieved by APCON.
What impact has technology and the social media had on political advertising?
Technology or social media platforms, certainly, is now a factor as mass media tools to mount political adverts. It played a significant role ahead of the 2019 general elections. I think it will do more ahead of 2023 but there are issues of believability, trust and the problem of fake news as it relates to social media sources.
Animations were used by politicians ahead of the 2015 general elections. What role do you see technology playing in the future electioneering?
The use of animation in political adverts is another dimension to the structural growth of political advertising in Nigeria. It was used heavily in 2015 and partly in 2019. Another name for it is caricature political adverts. We might see more of it ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Advertising is one of the factors that push up the cost of electioneering in Nigeria. Can we say without it, a candidate has no chance of winning?
Political advertising campaign is the fulcrum that determines the reach, success and the failure of the goal of the political advertising campaigns by political parties. Without good funding, it could be a bit problematic for any political party to make headway in actualising their electoral goal. Like I said earlier, a total of N4.973bn was spent by political parties as campaign expenses ahead of the 2015 elections, with the PDP and APC spending N3.549bn and N1.424bn, respectively.
Ahead of the 2019 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission registered 91 political parties. How many of them embarked on any meaningful political advertising campaign as a tool to reach out to the people? In 2015, 14 political parties were registered. How many of them mounted any meaningful form of political advertising campaign? In 2011, 63 political parties were registered. Again, how many of them mounted any impactful form of political advertising campaign? Funding is a big hinderance and without it, you can’t really do much. Despite the various amendments aimed at checking the abuses of campaign expenses, not much has been achieved. INEC should be able to apply the appropriate sanctions against political parties that infringe on the Electoral Act on campaign expenses for political parties.
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