Matthew Weiner's Mad Men is head and shoulders the best thing on Television. Set on New York's Madison Avenue in the 60s era the home of advertising at the time, every episode is unwittingly a 40 minute class of some Sociology and History blend. Don Draper, the protagonist classically embodies the human characteristic of being cut from two extremes; He's a fraud but principled genius. Watching Mad Men has inherently made me distrustful of Ad men. Advertisers effectively tell consumers what they want to hear as they know and understand that human beings like to buy into narratives. This is all good and dandy but the best products need no advertisement. A website like Google can today choose not to ever run an advert but be sure that it'll still have one of the most distinct and easily recognisable identities in the world because its products are so amazing that they have no peer.
With this, you don't need me to tell you how I perceived the news that the Nigerian government has taken on the US PR company and lobbying agency, Levick to help shape "local and international narrative" on it's attempts to rescue the kidnapped, Chibok girls. How much did this set the Nigerian taxpayer back? $1.2 million. 195 million Naira. On the day, this piece of news hit the press, President Jonathan had an op-ed in the Washington Post effectively suggesting that bringing back the girls was the most paramount thing. This being nearly 80 days after they went missing. This parody writes itself.
If by any chance, the President and his PR team are reading this; Your image laundry cannot work because it seems borne out of the flawed paradigm that the audience are not clever enough to see beyond what PR men try to make them believe. In a situation like this, the narrative writes itself. The President who chickened out of going to the site of the kidnap cannot now turn around and claim that the rescue of our girls is the most important thing on the horizon. His obvious play is to enhance the way he's viewed as elections loom. The President who has hid behind spokesmen like Doyin Okupe and Labaran Maku who have been made to look so out of their depth on HardTalk and by Isha Sesay now expects us to believe that rescuing the girls has been the most important thing on his table. It verges on insulting our collective intelligence when a standing Minister of Defence was recently in Ekiti trying to win an election instead of focusing on his job brief to bring back the girls. At the risk of the resorting to cliches about words and actions, the evidence at hand tells a story.
This assumption that PR jobs can save bad governments is so flawed it defies common sense that sitting governments who we assume by virtue of being a collective ( collective thinking tends to foster constructive and well reasoned decisions) should be above resorting to vanity projects. It's only about half a decade on, that Dora Akunyili in one of her less well thought moves tried to convince the world that Nigeria was a pleasant place using the tag line "Good people, great nation". The damage that stems from the government's ineptitude over the school girls is irreparable. The only way face can be saved is if all the girls are returned to their families safely and that is as unlikely as Buhari dropping his presidential ambitions.
Clifford and one of his leading clients, Simon Cowell[/caption]
It's one of the great ironies of life that someone can be very good at doing something for others but horrible when it comes to doing it for themselves. When I iron for my parents, it's a pretty impressive job but when I have to do my own ironing, it tends to be shoddy. Not too long ago, the most prominent PR man in England was jailed as part of Operation Yewtree (the Police Investigation into sexual offences committed by prominent 70s and 80s entertainment figures). Max Clifford fulfilled that basic expectation albeit guilty pleasure of what we want our Lawyers or Agents to be: Absolutely good at their job but a bit of a dick. And this was public knowledge inspiring a letter to a newspaper by one Liz Foster, about 7 years ago. Simply and succinctly, she wondered "If Max Clifford is so good at public relations, how come everyone thinks he's a cunt?", Clifford's failures highlight why the PR industry is dying slowly. And that my friends is why I have no doubt that the Nigerian government are surely off their rocker if they assume Image laundry contracts can rescue them. It's one of the pro's of the globalised world that people can see through the BS the ruling class try to compel us to believe. I don't expect it to be any different here.
Published on the 5th of July by Culture Custodian