“Who really ported our Saka”? The guy who created the character speaks (READ)

by Kenny Brandmuse

Saka ynaija

(Editor’s Note: Reports say the author is the creator the popular Saka character in telecom television commercials. He is with the Orange Academy in Lagos)

Well, as a Professional, I wouldn’t want to respond to the Saka menace going on in town but then I keep getting emails upon emails from students, clients, fans and friends. People keep asking me several questions; why on earth did Saka port?

Relatedly, I went for a Strategic meeting with the Executive Board Members of a renowned bank, and the story came up again. In fact, they played the commercial and applauded the sheer brilliance of MTN. I actually heard one of the Excos saying ‘I’m going to port immediately.’  So I asked them: what worked for you in the commercial? Majority of them said ‘we just love this Saka man’

There’s nothing as powerful as that cultural connection and that humanness factor we display as brands. As I watch from a distance the recent Saka phenomenon  I can only bow to this timeless advertising principle. Culture eats Strategy for breakfast.  Hats off.

As the Creative Director who was privileged to have created the iconic Saka for advertising, I watch as this device takes on a life of its own and how it is gradually becoming a major case study in the history of Nigeria’s advertising.  However, before I go to major brand lessons this should teach us, I shall quickly correct some insinuations flying round in our ad circle. Ad people can be their own worst enemies. Don’t take my words for it. Go see  Mad Men. However, it’s good to have a first person point of view to this saga.

For the record.

First, Saka was not a celebrity used for etisalat. Rather, he was a character we at Centrespread designed for an ad campaign that has come to take on a life of its own. When we did create the character bible, we needed a talent that could act the role and he came in for the casting like any other person. Looking at the screen test later on, we had no doubt that Saka was the man we were looking for. You must give credits to etisalat to have approved of our direction and choice. It really was not their ‘type’ of advertising.  So, it was not a case of celebrity endorsement, it was a case of characterization. In Wendy’s ‘where is the beef’, the miniature old lady has become a phenomenon because of her characterization and Wendy wouldn’t dare joke with that.

Secondly, we must also quickly correct the impression that the ‘funny’ man was looking for money, hence porting to MTN.  While it is a fact that all of us on this planet would want to be better paid for our talent, I know personally, that Saka gave his very best to us on etisalat’s campaign. He was not signed on a contract. He was paid like any other 3-month model arrangement. He was not paid the proverbial gbem. For the brand then, it was more of a tactical usage. He didn’t fit their typical advertising look and feel. Remember etisalat is the hip, classy and swag brand. Like I said earlier, we must credit them to have approved of the Saka idea in the first place.  Although it was beginning to look like this was a devise that etisalat could own, going by the results it generated, Saka was treated like any other cast. I am very sure Banky W got more handsomely paid than our beloved Saka. Far far. But where is Banky W today?  He ported also. That is what you can refer to as celebrity usage. Saka was not treated as such.

Quickly onto major brand lessons.

1. Advertising people must realize that people don’t really go all out to watch and listen to what we have to say. People don’t like ads. However, people love characters. Characterization is the holy grail of great storytelling. And if you are lucky to have one working for your brand, you’d better recognize and keep it like gold.  My friend Udeme. Mama na Boy.The Malboro man. The Michelin Man. The Morton Salt Girl. Some of these are animated devices, some are real cast. Whatever it is, it is the job of the brand to treat such characters as assets for brand equity.  In Africa, our type of storytelling is rarely animated. Hence, the place for human characters. I shall talk about this, another day.

2. We must come down from our high horses as advertisers and start recognizing local nuances and cultural elements in our storytelling. I don’t know where we got the theory that ‘looking good is great advertising’. Great ads may look good but that’s not their intentions. They normally have that verisimilitude to the lives of the people they serve. They are usually humanly populist, interesting and sometimes funny.  How professionally done is the Indomee song ‘mama you do good o’? It may be tough selling that to a boardroom of brand people who believe in certain types of music production and musicians. The Indomee song came to the market awash with on-air fake accents and stole the show. It mirrors what our people would do. It mirrors how our children would sing.

3. Lastly, and don’t take this personal as it’s commonplace not just to a particular brand. Ad people must begin to have a relook at how we treat our local talents and agencies. If we can go on to pay Kim Kardashian that insane amount of money as a country just to appear for a 3 minute talk, we must begin to have a relook at how we treat our local talents that deliver the numbers for us. Listen guys! Don’t like me.  Don’t even like my work but hey please, give me some credits if my work is delivering for you.  Ad people are mad people for a reason. They are awake all night thinking of ideas. They work and work to see their works deliver for their clients. It’s a two way street. The agency has the talents and the ideas, you have the budget and the brand. So, we need each other. Hence, we must respect each other. We must respect talents. When we lose, we lose together, and when we win, we win altogether.  Same goes for the agency. Do we really tell the truth to our clients? Are we honest with our proposal? I have lots of friends on the client side and I know how tough it is for them to deliver on their KPI. So, we agency people should not feel victimized. Everyone is under pressure. But we should always talk.

When I tell you about communicating your proposition, you as a client should listen. It’s what I have done for donkey years, and when you talk about your Marketing deliverable, I must listen very well. You always know better. No one is superior. In Insanely Simple, a book, Ken Segall went on to narrate how Steve Jobs cut off the unwinding long process for ad approvals. As far as Jobs was concerned, a product person did not and should not be consulted on advertising creatives. Jobs trusted Chiat to bring the magic on. No interference. This is  a must read for all clients and agencies:  Insanely Simple . How to create a brand like Apple. Sometimes, I don’t know if we tell ourselves real truths when we sit at those roundtables having coffee. AAAN and APCON, note.

4.  Marketing is a game of opportunities. You find a loophole in competitions and you quickly use it to your advantage. Dog eat dog. That’s the case of MTN. They did try the Saka phenomenon with Osofia and Mama Gee but they knew that if it’s not Saka, it’s not Saka. We all know this is a very strategic move for MTN for the portability season. However if I must warn that etisalat is a very spontaneous brand at times. You may expect a shocker. Guys at etisalat , it’s time to look within. There’s something inside of etisalat; locked up in there. The brand must find it. Every brand has a great story locked up within it. It’s our job to find it. It is often brutally simple that we overlook it.

Ok, I need some Coffee please!


*This piece is culled from KennyBrandMuse


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (2)

  1. I agree that companies, brands must start treating local talents way better. I think it's shocking that having used the character Saka, a known face for so many adverts, Etisalat or the agency did not think of treating him better than the guy next door or tying him down with a proper contract or endorsement deal. I guess it's because Etisalat was trying to cut cost, and it is this very reason that Saka was able to port so quickly to MTN.

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