Most #BBNaija fans do not care about scandals. But there’s a big issue with brand conversion

The Issue

For Reality TV, there are moments that make them truly legendary. Except for those who do not care for such content, no one can forget Stevie J. and Joseline Hernandez vs. Althea Heart and Benzino at the Season 3 reunion of Love and Hip Hop Atlanta; Omarosa Manigault vs Piers Morgan on former US President Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice – she actually dumped a glass of wine on him; Cardi B vs Asia Davies on, yes, Love and Hip Hop again, and Kenya Moore vs Porsha Williams at The Real Housewives of Atlanta Season 6 reunion special – there was plenty of hair-pulling!

On Big Brother Naija’s Double Wahala, the watershed moment was the fight between Cynthia Nwadora and Tobi Bakre, where the lawyer and entrepreneur pilloried her friend on the show for up to one hour. The reality show trended globally that day, even while millions accused her of being proud, aggressive, wicked, and superficial. But it was apparently – she invoked something in the viewers, and they were not willing to let go.

Even when the show ended, the star of the season was apparent. RED | For Africa CEO and brand expert, Adebola Williams, published a feature stating, “If you want to get people talking, then you may need to get yourself a CeeC”. For two subsequent seasons, that formula has worked, with housemates with the same personality getting selected for the reality show, à la Anita ‘Tacha’ Akide and Erica Nlewedim.

But the show went a step further. In 2021, the Big Brother Season 5 reunion special really blew everyone’s minds, as housemates resorted to name-calling, sex-shaming, punches, and outright hostility. One female housemate actually accused a male counterpart of ejaculating prematurely when they tried to have sex in the house. The audience went bonkers, and the housemates were the major talking points on Twitter throughout the week. With sex, violence, and aggression on national television, it is hard to argue for a more serious scandal in a country like Nigeria.

It is simple – violence, or the promise of it, sells. It is all part of the storytelling. Regardless of how society perceives it, reality TV is not new, nor is it such a modern phenomenon. Since Candid Camera, created and hosted by Allen Funt and first telecast in 1948, the popularity has been growing, with increasing acceptance in many countries. Reality shows have also been riddled with scenes of over-the-top anger that have erupted into violence, but those dramatic outbursts have turned into rating gold. 

A former star on the MTV reality show, The Hills and Bravo’s Holly’s World, Jayde Nicole, admitted she has made a good living by being bad on camera. She felt that it was necessary to act out because if she didn’t play into what the show producers were doing, she wouldn’t end up on camera.

“Now that there are so many reality shows out there, they have to step up their game,” Jayde said. “Make it more interesting, more dramatic and more outrageous just to capture people’s attention. It’s kind of just a ‘wow’ factor.

The Question

In particular, Reality TV is designed to deliver a key demographic: 18 -34 year-olds with disposable incomes. This, the shows’ ultimate product, can also be crucial for the series and the brands that leverage on them through sponsorships and partnerships, either during the show or after. But although a youthful audience has excited certain advertisers, these series also attract advertising revenue because of their multi-demographic appeal and the extra-televisual, “water-cooler” buzz.

It’s really a win-win situation for brands and the ‘aspiring celebrities’. Young reality TV stars make perfect collaborators, providing the authenticity and reliability that brands and businesses need to align with. Talents are also eager to boost their profiles. They want their fame to linger long after the cameras have stopped rolling. These marketers are excited to receive the support of these popular overnight stars that blur the lines between celebrity and influencer who are both trusted and revered by the public. According to PHA Group: ‘the concept of celebrity has never been so accessible, and brands are cashing in on their fame’.

But a brand that banks on the celebrity’s reputation is also susceptible to scandals. Previous research has shown that firms tend to suffer financially when a celebrity endorser becomes mired in scandal. “Celebrity brand endorsements are risky business,” Jeetendr Sehdev, professor of marketing at the University of Southern California. “As the costs of celebrity endorsements get bigger, many brands start playing a deadly game of Russian roulette.”

For this year’s #BBNaija reunion, as housemates focused on ‘beating down’ one another while highlighting their housemates’ scandals, it was definitely a game of Russian roulette. But how did the audience – the consumers – feel about it? How did the reunion change their perspectives about their favourite housemates and possibly, about the brands these celebrities have endorsed?

CELEBRITY BRAND ENDORSEMENTS ARE RISKY BUSINESS,” JEETENDR SEHDEV, PROFESSOR OF MARKETING AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. “AS THE COSTS OF CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS GET BIGGER, MANY BRANDS START PLAYING A DEADLY GAME OF RUSSIAN ROULETTE.

What The Streets Are Saying

Among our national focus group, 64.5% confirmed that they are fans of Big Brother Naija. However, 35.5% of the group explained that they are not. When asked to select the choice of their favourite housemates on Season 5 of the show, the season winner, Olamilekan’ Laycon’ Agbeleshe, came first, as he was selected by 35.7% of the respondents, followed by Rebecca ‘Nengi’ Hampson at 25% and Ngozi Erica Nlewedim at 21.4%. On the other hand, 14.3% claim not to have a favourite housemate.

On the degree of affection they feel for their favourite, about 57.3% claim that they either like or love them, while 13.3% claim to be neutral.

After watching the #BBNaija reunion and/or following the conversations on social media platforms, 20% claim that the supposed ‘rowdiness’ affected their opinion or perception of their favourite housemates, while 13% said ‘maybe’. More specifically, 60% said that ‘it did not matter’ to them.

For the group, 53.3% explained that they follow, or are aware, of their favourite housemates and their brand endorsement deals, and 37% said they are not interested. On whether their opinions about the housemates affect the brands that they endorse positively or negatively, 63% said it did not, 13.3% said ‘maybe’ while 23.3% said it did. In addition, 73.3% of the respondents claimed that they do not patronise the brands, even after they were endorsed by the former Big Brother Naija housemates, while 26.7% said they do.

In the United States, a survey of 1,500 people between the ages of 18 – 59 determined that 1 out of 5 people said they would be less inclined to buy a product backed by a celebrity convicted of a DUI, but 4 out of 5 said they wouldn’t purchase a product backed by a celebrity who was convicted of domestic violence or rape. “A brand at its root is about trust,” said Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants. Using a celebrity, he says, encourages a sense of “familiarity” with a brand. When shoppers go to the store, they already feel like they have established trusting relationships with certain brands. While this study does not focus on criminal offences, it reflects how much customers are mostly not bothered by the brand ambassadors’ personal lives.

“Reality television, in this case, Big Brother Naija, is what you call branded advertainment,” said Olumuyiwa Babarinde, Head of Marketing, Savyt. “It is about the commodification of experience, which is also apparent from everything to tourism to entertainment. Compared to traditional advertising, reality TV can guarantee maximum consumer reach in less time, which can be well supported by program sponsorship or brand ambassadorship deals with the contestants. But, on the other hand, it is difficult for brands to emphasise a direct effect between such sponsorships and increased sales volume”.

According to the report The Age of Social Influence, female reality stars also represent the most popular segment of TV talent, with 70% of brand respondents claiming they would work with female Reality TV stars for upcoming endorsement work. Reality shows resonate with the everyman, taking viewers on a journey, providing a glimpse into the lives of everyday people; married with an endearing fairy-tale narrative. And, as a proven purchase driver, it’s no wonder brands are increasingly putting all their eggs in this metaphorical basket.

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