It was a couple of weeks ago when MTN’s masterpiece of a mobile number portability advertising campaign broke across various media channels. Since then, newspapers and the social media have been alive with stories and speculations about how the campaign, featuring popular actor and comedian, Hafiz Oyetoro, a.k.a. Saka, was conceived and executed; and how in fact, Saka, who earned his popularity in advertising campaigns ported to MTN.
It is now obvious that MTN’s advertising agency, DDB Lagos, which has won several awards, created what is now arguably Nigeria’s most sensational advertising campaign, with over 100,000 hits on Youtube after a few days of release. That is in itself a record, as it has been discovered that the previous record for Youtube hits recorded by a Nigerian TV commercial, was 41,000, credited to another MTN ad, featuring Nollywood star Nkem Owoh, a.k.a. Osuofia, dragging a festival ram by a rope.
So, to the question, how did it all happen, a reliable source at DDB said the sceptre of number portability had loomed in the horizon for several years. It was for long believed to be the next big thing to happen in the telecommunications industry in Nigeria, and had therefore got the agency guns holding their breath for quite a while. However, it was only in the last quarter of 2012 that the final all-clear signal was received from the Nigerian Communications Commission for number portability to kick off in first quarter of 2013.
First came various levels of briefings, to make sure agency understood how number portability worked and also what marketing and communication objectives MTN intended to achieve.
According to the source, the ideas did not start to flow immediately because further research was needed by the project team at DDB, to review case studies of number portability campaigns in a vast number of countries, both in Africa and beyond. Weeks of ideas followed, including co-creating with the client on a variety of potential campaign ideas. Co-creativity is said to be intrinsic to DDB’s processes.
Tunde Sule, creative director, and maverick writer, Chuka Obi, are mentioned as some of the key drivers of the project. It was agreed that the right campaign idea must be relevant, original and impactful; must be humorous and culturally relevant; and given the newness of the concept of porting numbers, must be able to educate the audience on the meaning and basics of number portability.
When gold was eventually struck, continued the source, neither the agency nor the client harboured any doubts. Can there be a better way to illustrate porting than to get someone who is literally the face of another network to declare that he/she has ported to MTN? And what personality better symbolised this than Saka? Therefore, get Saka to declare that he has ported to MTN, and make him say it in a manner that would suggest he is delighted doing so. It was simple, yet ingenious, and had all the elements DDB expects from a successful advertising campaign – simplicity, surprise and a smile. Believing Saka to be way beyond reach, given the extent of his involvement in telecom campaign, the initial idea was to get a Saka look-alike to star in the campaign. This strategy was planned as a payback and revenge tactic.
However, before they could commence what would have been a long and arduous search for a Saka look-alike, it was suggested, with very little hope, that Saka should first be confirmed to be definitely beyond reach.
The source would reveal with a hint of a satisfied smile that to everyone’s surprise and delight, Saka was not beyond DDB and MTN’s reach, after all. He was in fact not contract tied, and found the idea of starring in an MTN commercial quite exciting. His relationship with Etisalat was said to be perhaps on a need-by-need basis, and not on a secured long-term brand ambassadorial basis. In other words, he was on standby, like any other freelance model, hoping to be approached when ‘something’ came up.
With the first potential hurdle surmounted, and MTN’s blessing received to go for Saka himself, DDB key men embarked on a highly confidential engagement and contract negotiation process that saw Saka signing the dotted lines sometime last February. As the saying goes, the rest is now history.
The ad was scripted and signed off. A secret location was found in Lagos for the shoot. Frontline film production company, Audio Visual First, popular as AVF, was engaged. So was veteran photographer Austin Osagie, for still photography. Back-up singers and musicians were casted and selected for a shoot whose details they had no knowledge of. A choreographer was also engaged. It is said that the level of confidentiality was such that DDB’s executive director, strategy and business, Igbo Amadi-Obi, personally engaged a Surulere-based designer 48 hours to the shoot, to have the costumes made and delivered on location. Until April 22, it was said to have been a major challenge to continue to keep it all under wraps, following several postponements of the kick-off of number portability.
Unsurprisingly, DDB has received endless accolades, including letters of commendation from MTN Nigeria and MTN Group. In some of the letters sighted, Larry Annetts, chief marketing officer of MTN Nigeria, described the campaign and the reactions that followed it, as “Nothing less than phenomenal.”
Kola Oyeyemi, general manager, consumer marketing, said: “It is really gladdening to note that we work with the best of the best.” From MTN Group, South Africa, Garth Hewitt referred to the campaign as “…a marketing masterstroke.”
The agency is reputed for uncommon creativity, and features prominently in the annual Lagos Advertising and Ideas Festival, LAIF, where it has pooled the highest number of creative awards since inception.
Only recently, DDB won Nigeria’s first ever EPICA award for a print ad for Nike Foundation titled ‘Speechless No More.’ EPICA is one of the top two global awards for excellence in advertising. The highly cerebral print ad was also referenced in Luerzer’s Archive, a globally renowned advertising magazine, in addition to Emerald and Sapphire awards in the maiden edition of African Cristal Awards, another first for Nigeria.
The company also enhanced its reputation for innovation when it recently re-launched the MTN Pulse proposition for youths by organising Nigeria’s first-ever online party. DDB Lagos, headed by Ikechi Odigbo, is a member of the DDB Worldwide network of advertising agencies.
Olasupo, a marketing communications expert, lives in Lagos.