By: WALE ALABI
“Consumers are like chickens. They are much more comfortable with a pecking order that everybody knows about and accepts.”-Al Reis and Jack Trout in Positioning
De-marketing in spite of its negative connotation is an age old practice adopted by brand custodians in a fiercely competitive market. Like in other parts of the world, in Nigeria, brand leaders in diverse categories of the economy are often targets of de-marketing. From manufacturing to banking; from Fast Moving Consumer Goods to tourism and hospitality and from telcos to ICT, leading brands in these categories have over the years faced keen but unholy war from upcoming rival brands using both orthodox and unorthodox tactics including de-marketing to supplant them on the shop floor.
A cursory look at history of de-marketing war fought by market leaders in Nigeria with its negative impact on consumers predates the advent of social media. A few of examples will suffice.
In the wake of the distress that swept through the banking sector in the 2000s in Nigeria rival brands in the industry engaged in de-marketing to mute competitors. Examples of the letters that were circulated in the media and posted as mails against competition included these:
This is no rumour neither is it a hollow alarm. I just want to alert you that Bank Bombastic where your company has the bulk of its fund is terminally ill. In fact, the Central Bank may move in to take over any moment from now. Please do something urgently before it is too late!
Alternatively, another de-marketing letter went thus:
“Dear Daddy G.O,
Calvary greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Sir you may not know me but I am one of your daughters in the Lord. Because of the love I have for your beloved ministry, I want to inform you that Bank Timbuktu where they keep substantial part of tithes and offerings collection is sick. And we must do something fast before it is too late. May God continue to guide us in our decision-making.
Your Daughter in the Lord,
Did you notice a ring of similarity in both letters. A common thread ran through them. Wayback then, the attempt was to de-market leading banking brands by the weak ones who were buffeted by the economic meltdown which led to the banking consolidation programme supervised by the apex bank, CBN.
De-marketing in the sector got so bad that the CBN threatened to wield the big stick on any bank found guilty of de-marketing against rivals.
In the FMCG category, de-marketing took another dimension. In a titanic de-marketing war in 2002, a market leader in the cola sector, Coca-cola was accused of offering drinks of sub-standard taste and colour to its consumer in Nigeria via a petition sent to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC) by rival brands. It took a thorough investigation and quality control test carried out by NAFDAC officials before it was discovered that the allegation was nothing but a de-marketing effort targeted at Coke.
If the cola brand could ward off its own de-marketing battle, another drink brand that pioneered pet bottle drink offering in the perennial Lagos traffic was not that lucky. In early 2010, the popular fizzy drinks, La Casera which had become a household name in Nigeria was alleged to contain additive that could bleach clothes in its drink. With consistent words of mouth, this unproven story spread like wildfire and was accepted hook line and sinker by consumers. Up till now, the popular pet bottle drink is still battling with this de-marketing image.
In 2003, Indomie, a popular noodles brand also had a taste of de-marketing that almost left it gasping for breath on the marketing turf. In a bizarre story that took the nation by storm, a young man somewhere in Lagos allegedly bought, prepared and consumed the fast food. But after consumption, he complained of stomach aches and was reportedly confirmed dead in a Lagos hospital. An aftermath of noodle consumption. Despite the fact that no one had seen the young man and no hospital could confirm the death of a person following Indomie noodles consumption, the story gained currency and travelled beyond Lagos to other parts of the country within days. It took the intervention of NAFDAC and the media to restore Indomie noodles to its prime position in the market.
Some of the de-marketing attempts cited as case studies here took place before social media became the rave amongst Nigerian consumers. But it is like social media in Nigeria has given de-marketing a more vicious shot in the arm in the hands of the people now. Currently, the social media in spite of its positive attributes has also become a dangerous working tool for de-marketing. And this is because of its easy accessibility and affordability as a communication agent. With a small data and a snap shot with a phone, a brand or product could be taken to the cleaners by de-marketing agents. And this is so because most consumers as a result of relationship, huge followership on social media and pictorials and images which confer believability on posts tend to believe stories or information without investigating their authenticity.
Conferring potency on social media sites like facebook and others are these astounding data. Globally, with 3,484 billion users, the social media is the largest communications family comprising facebook, whatsapp, instagram, twitter, youtube, snapchat, tumbir and reddit. With facebook leading with 2.32 billion users daily. More than anywhere else in Africa, more people use facebook in Nigeria. 18 million people visit facebook monthly in Nigeria while 7.2 million are daily users from Nigeria with 97% of them doing so via their mobile device. That was facebook. Nigerians,are also huge users of twitter, YouTube, whatsapp and snapchat.
Given this scenario, is it little wonder, that de-marketing battle has been taken to the social media? Not to long ago, Blue Band, a market leader and popular margarine brand from the stable of Unilever , pioneer leader in the FMCG/ household consumer products is being portrayed in a negative light on YouTube. The video shots which ran on YouTube was a product of de-marketing which was arguably orchestrated by ambitious rival brands envious of the Blue Band brand leadership in the market.
Indeed, while social media could not be wished away, global marketing expert and author of the seminal work, Marketing Management, Prof Philip Kotler has this to say on the positive and negative impacts of social media on marketing. Describing social media as a double-edged sword, Kotler said: “Thanks to the emergence of the Internet, Google, Wikipedia and other social media like YouTube. Both consumers and producers are better off. Consumers no longer get information from advertisers but from their friends and acquaintances, from ranking and rating services on the Internet, and from their mobile phones where they can check the price being quoted in the store and check the whether the product is cheaper elsewhere. The producers are also better off because they are in a better position to gather Big Data about consumers. Consumers will hear increasingly about producers who fail to satisfy, and more importantly, will hear from friends and acquaintances the names of brands that satisfy and delight.”
Is it little wonder then that the battle for the minds of consumers has been taken to the social media? And as social media has become a monstrous ground for de-marketing with both producers and consumers as victims, isn’t it high time consumers in Nigeria filtered information garnered on the social media before conferring believability on them?
By: WALE ALABI