“All due respect to your feelings, CBN in the building.”
As a brand manager thoroughly enthused with the Nigerian music scene, the release of The Chairman album by Judy “MI” Abaga, 4years after he hit us with his critically acclaimed sophomore project (MI2: The Movie), presented opportunities to x-ray the marketing process in a bid to gain key insights for future projects in the industry. What did the management team get right? What did the artist do well? How does this new body of work impact upon the brand MI?
Lets begin with the positives.
The Power of a Story
The account of how David Ogilvy managed to sell the world’s most expensive cookers to parsimonious housewives in the thick of the depression era is the stuff of sales folklore. He utilized the power of stories. So is the story of Jude Abaga’s meteoric rise to become the most influential Nigerian rapper. With four classic projects released in quick succession, the game of hip-hop thrones in Nigeria was easily won. The nature of the hiphop kingdom is that leadership is transient, as such a four-year hiatus presented grave problems for the artist. After 3 singles (Akpata, Chairman and King James) which failed to gain the desired traction, the pressure to sustain success lied heavily on the artist with a zero margin of error for the release of the album.
MI’s approach is something that would inform marketing practice for a long time to come. He didn’t just release an album, he told a story which resonated from the album art to the thematic preoccupation of the body of work. The story, which explored themes of hard work, God’s favour, tenacity and success, elevated the album above the pedestrian. Sheer brilliance.
While others may revel in the drudgery of facts and stats, stories have been proven to enable the cognitive process. A story helps the consumer engage the brand above the functional benefits. The effect is that the conversation around the MI album has not been about MI being the best rapper or not, but about The Chairman Story and his creativity.
Consumers Define Brands. Well, So Does the Artist.
Scott Cook, the co-founder of INTUIT, is quoted to have said: “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what the consumers tell each other it is.” This thinking is replete in academic literature and in practice and while it can be poignant and insightful, it is often misleading from a managerial perspective. When loosely interpreted, the philosophy encourages the corporation to undergo modifications periodically based on consumer feedback. When this is done to an extreme, the brand seems to sacrifice its core essence. This is what marketing scholar Jean-Noël Kapferer describes as excess of democracy. At the other extreme is Extreme of Code.
The music industry has changed significantly since MI left. The seismic shift in the last 4years has an infiltration of House and Trap music as sub genres housed within the larger umbrella of Hip-Hop. In the potpourri of new school sounds, the Chairman album is obstinately MI-Abaga-esque. From the hilarious intro to the songs of love and Human Being, which reminds one of Nobody on the MI2 project, it is clear the artist holds on to his craft and is not easily swayed by every wind of doctrine.
While the artist calls on the expertise of some of the new school kids in a bid to satiate the changing palette of a diverse music audience, at the core he remains unchanged. Jude Abaga refuses to pander to mainstream hip-hop. While listening to consumer tastes (wants), he remains true to the original. MI Abaga considers the Excess of Democracy and Excess of Code and creatively decides to leave am for middle.
Bull’s Eye: Dont confuse Cool for Cash
Three inalienable truths: 1. Music is art. But also, music is a commodity. 2. MI Abaga is a hip-hop artist. 3. The size of the core hip-hop audience is a minute fraction of the music lovers.
The brilliance of the Chairman album is evident in its conscious effort to create a commodity for a varied audience. A couple of examples suffice: On track 3 with prodigious Koker, MI creates a song that clearly endears the average Nigerian with its prayers for success and blessings from God. At the very end, he adds a powerful sample off one of the teachings of Pastor Bolaji Idowu of the Harvesters International Christian Centre. For this track alone, it is worth every penny for every tongue speaking Christian purchasing.
When he captures the Yoruba audience with features with the mercurial Reminisce and irrepressible Olamide, he enlists the mastery of the 042 overlords Phyno, Runtown and StormRex to ignite the East. Track 2 titled Monkey featuring Chigurl has been aptly described as Aba Raggae.
I am certain you get it.
Consumer Engagement is still EVERYTHING!
It bears repeating: The job of the brand manager is to create wants and not needs. In entrenching these wants, engagement is crucial. One is yet to see any Nigerian music album with this level of engagement on the online space. The result: Consumers and music lovers assumed ownership of the product and drove the conversation online. According to TweetStats, a staggering 98% of the tweets from the MI Abaga handle were retweets how about that for engagement?
Let us put this in perspective: this is a comparison between MI_Abaga (552,000 followers) and two leaders on the online space: Don Jazzy (957,000 followers) & Wizkid (1.3Million followers).
Further analysis on a sample 500 tweets shows that only 8 negative comments were recorded.
What is your Route to Market?
Save for features and brand engagements, 4years have passed since the last project. Upon re-entry, what is your direction? What is your channel strategy? What is your Route to Market? From the partnership with First Bank, to the Exodus store delivery and the early allegiance to Abhu Ventures, the team at Chocolate City clearly had a robust plan for widespread distribution. The only hitch came in the 24-hour delay on the iTunes release. Indeed this cost the album a significant number of first movers. However, what they lost in purchase, they made up for in engagement.
The Brand Equity-Profitability Conundrum
Often, corporations are caught in the difficult position of maintaining profitability at the expense of the brand equity. Brand equity is a guarantee for future profitability but if a company is insolvent in the short term, there won’t be any future to build equity for.
On the The Chairman album, perhaps driven by pressure, MI releases 16 tracks none of which are solo performances. While the marketing has been pristine to the point of constructing the manner of the engagement, there is that nagging question behind the minds of many: Can’t MI, the self acclaimed King James, manage to do it all alone? Does he need to rest on the shoulders of an army of artists to command attention? Indeed, MI would have to work hard to quell these doubts on his next Illegal Music mixtape because as the saying goes, Perception is the ultimate reality.
Uche Briggs is a brand manager resident in Lagos. Find him on Twitter: @UcheBriggs