Marketing Nigerian presidential candidates
As Nigerians get set for the presidential election, Raheem Akingbolu recaps some vital areas in their campaigns and the impact of modern marketing infused into the electioneering process
The last two months have witnessed the most aggressive campaigns from members of the two leading political parties in the country –the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the main opposition, All Progressive Congress (APC). While PDP hinges its campaign on the achievement of the incumbent president, who incidentally is the party’s candidate for the March 28 election, APC weaves its own around ‘change’. For PDP and its leaders, President Goodluck Jonathan’s scorecard are enough to market him but APC members see the need for change because of their belief that the administration has failed in its bid to tackle insecurity and corruption.
As a result of this, handlers of the two political brands have cleverly developed their campaign messages to express their various beliefs. To get the message across to relevant stakeholders, many platforms were explored. Unlike in the past when the major vehicle was traditional platform, the parties built on what was achieved prior to 2011 election by investing more in social media to root support for candidates at all levels.
Jonathan’s digital approach
In furtherance of its strategy in 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign embraced innovative technologies that would help him connect with voters, volunteers and supporters. Few months ago, the president’s campaign committee commenced its online campaign as part of his activities towards winning the hearts of Nigerians most especially those who utilise the internet, handheld devices, social media and email for Keeping up to date with information regarding next year’s elections.
The online campaign being anchored by a group called Goodluck Jonathan Global Campaign Team (GJGCT) on its website said the site was developed specially to mobilise Nigerian youths and other Nigerians at home and abroad in supporting the president’s aspiration and increase his international campaign awareness.
So far, the site has explained and answered many questions about the achievements of Jonathan within the last few couple of months of the present administration and has urged every Nigerian on the internet to access it. The site affords people an opportunity to share their thoughts on important issues and respond to the administration’s policy and ideas. More than 500,000 people visited the site in the first month of its launch.
In recent months, GJGCT with the help of its strategic partners have issued announcements about the Goodluck Jonathan campaign’s use of innovative technology. To be precise, some observers say Jonathan has raised the bar to new heights with the use of interactive web tools in the history or the country’s elections. Jonathan’s grip of new technology seems to reflect his connection to Nigeria’s young voters. “We are really targeting the under-30 crowd”.
To observers, Goodluck Jonathan’s Digital Online presidential campaign is more than a major social media milestone because it ushered in a new relationship amongst voters and their supporters. Due to social media, an unparalleled number of individuals have a new kind of active, direct role in Jonathan’s campaign.
The APC presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, also proved while his party’s primary was approaching that he was in tune with modern age as he went on the social media to raise funds for his presidential campaign.
The initiative through a crowd funding platform on facebook was considered a new development in the history of Nigeria’s presidential political campaigns.
In a message on his facebook page, Buhari urged for sacrificial giving from his supporters, noting that he was not ignorant of their already difficult living conditions. He, however, cautioned that sacrifice was needed in order to put an end to the life of the Goodluck Jonathan administration and with it, according to him, the tide of corruption, insecurity and other pains on Nigerians.
Within a short period of posting the message, it had drawn 1,683 likes and been shared by 797 persons. In the message, Gen. Buhari said:
“As we have made it clear, our campaign is going to be funded, planned and run by ordinary Nigerian citizens like you. This is in recognition of your role as biggest stakeholders capable of changing the course of history of this great yet badly run nation.
“In this regard, we launch our crowd funding platform through which every Nigerian can contribute his token towards shaping the destiny of this country. Here are the details
“Dear friends, I know what it means to ask citizens over 60 per cent of whom live on less than $1 per day to donate for this campaign. I know many of you are finding it difficult to pay your rents, school and medical bills, to buy the fuel to cook your food, light up your homes or power your vehicles. I know how it hurts and I know you have suffered enough.
“But that little contribution – that little sacrifice you make is an investment in the future that come 2015 will usher in a new era for our country, one that promises jobs and opportunities for anyone willing to work hard, and peace and prosperity for all.
“So when you look at that little amount of money you are parting with, and the money our opponents are offering you for your votes, think not about the nominal value, think about the choice you are making, and that choice is very clear; either you put your money for a change you trust in, or for four more years of insecurity, corruption and bad leadership under President Jonathan.
“Our opponents have huge financial resources, I have only you and God, and I trust that our struggle will triumph. Our opponents have foreign bank accounts and possessions to run to when they destroy this country, me and you have only this Nigeria to live and die in. So let’s join our hands to make it better.
Through the message, Buhari appealed to emotions of Nigerians and pointed out clearly that he had no huge money anywhere to pursue the ambition. It worked.
With the recent development, it is obvious that Nigeria is quickly catching up with the rest of the world. It is on record that Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party explored relevant marketing space in 2011 election to warm their candidates and the party into the hearts of Nigerians. Prior to the election, the party had engaged CMC Connect, a Lagos based perception Management Company to work on the image of the party. Within a short period, the party was rebranded and an attempt was made to re-orientate members on how to represent the party. Before then, PDP was seeing as a party that applied force where there should be persuasion. As a result of former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s military background, his posture and positioning of the party didn’t encourage persuasion. This changed in 2011 and PDP like other parties began to appeal to people rather than force or bully them as things were under Obasanjo. Of course, there was also a tremendous move by other opposition party to race their stakes in the area of positioning.
For instance, the then Action Congress of Nigeria, was strategic in their management and positioning of the current Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola and the former Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi. Both were presented and positioned as intellectuals and technocrats, who could impact positively on the people.
No doubt, the Nigerian political market space has assumed a new dimension to both local and international political followers. The countdown to general elections has even made it more interesting, with handlers of political brands trying to win loyalties of electorates. To this end, the questions that are probably crisscrossing the minds of the major political brand owners in the country could be; what is the strength of our opponent? What is their weakness? And how can we leverage on all these to knock them out?
For the two major gladiators, the PDP and the APC and their presidential candidates, they are not known in the market. Rather than creating awareness like a new brand, what they need to succeed is their Unique Selling Points. For Jonathan and PDP, their achievements in the last six years stand as scorecard. For APC and General Muhamadu Buhari, the APC exploits in a few states and the personality of Buhari are their own tools of positioning.
Though this is not the first time the political giants are throwing their heart into the ring for a presidential contest, but it is obviously the most celebrated contest in the last few years. President Goodluck Jonathan is coming for reelection while it is on record that the former Head of State, General Mohammadu Buhari is having the shot for the fourth time.
While the PDP brand has enjoyed a tremendous market share of the Nigerian populace in the last sixteen years, it has come under a serious criticism over the years because of the earlier personality of the party, especially under former President Olusegun Obasanjo. However, Jonathan’s regime inherited this and has since been swimming in the water, despite its performances in various sectors. Though, it is believed in some quarters that Nigerian challenge is as old as Nigeria itself, it is not enough to conclude that Nigerian failure has something to do with the nature, character and feature of the brand that has a good understanding of the Nigerian political market space.
Lessons from America
In the two presidential elections that Mr. Barack Obama participated in the United State of America, he was particularly noted for his use of the internet to rally supporters and make his policies known.
“The integration of technology into the process of field organising is the success of the Obama campaign,” says Sanford Dickert, who worked as John Kerry’s chief technology officer for the 2004 campaign. “But the use of technology was not the end-all and be-all in this cycle. Technology has been a partner, an enabler for the Obama campaign, bringing the efficiencies of the internet into the real-world problems of organizing people in a distributed, trusted fashion.”
Obama’s use of the Internet targeted 18- to 29-year-olds, the age group most reliant on new media for political information about the election. Numbers have shown that presidential candidates have increased their presence and activity online. Obama’s campaign managers understood that the reason younger voters tended to ignore politicians was because politicians tended to ignore issues which most concerned them, which is why Obama received such a positive reaction from America’s youth.
Through forums and social websites such as and Facebook, Obama built relationships with his supporters, and would-be supporters. He developed an upfront, personable and face-to-face quality that gave his supporters a sense of security and trust, which inspired them to rally others in their local communities.
Also, the Obama web campaign used consumer marketing to target individuals with customised information to their predicted interests. Political communication to viewers was based on data collected about them. This data was collected by volunteers, surveys on the website and records of consumption habits. Website surveys took a short amount of time to fill out and the company used A/B testing to determine which forms converted most effectively
Obama’s campaign was believed to be further strengthened by his opponent John McCain’s comparatively limited use of the Internet. McCain did not have the organisation of Obama’s campaign, nor did he spend a comparable amount of money on this portion of the campaign. Both opportune timing and usage of online campaigning gave Obama significant advantage over McCain.
This obviously explained why in October 2008, Obama was voted Advertising Agemagazine’s “Marketer of the Year” by members of the Association of National Advertisers for the campaign, surpassing Apple and Zappos.com. In a post-election analysis of the campaign, the magazine lauded its “understanding of ground-level marketing strategies and tactics, everything from audience segmentation and database management to the creation and maintenance of online communities. THISDAY