Rebranding GMB as a Winning Political Strategy



eople say that “politics is a game of numbers”; I will add that getting that numerical advantage is a brand game.

In the early hours of April 1, 2015, the victory of General Muhammadu Buhari (GMB) at the polls was officially announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).  GMB’s feat was no doubt a watershed moment! It was historic as this was the first time a powerful sitting Nigerian President was ousted through the ballot process. It was also a shot-in-the-arm for the Nigerian democracy that an opposition party, the All People Congress (APC) engineered the defeat of one of Africa’s most powerful ruling political platform, the People Democratic Party (PDP).

Largely, GMB’s victory is a feel good moment for many professionals and interest groups in the country who helped produced a winning political campaign.  This is true for the brand and communications experts in Nigeria. This extraordinary moment is more a well crafted branding and communications strategy than it was the political.  Ahead of the elections,  Buhari was one of the most vilified politicians of our time. His opponents tagged him as tribal jingoist, a religious fundamentalist, a dedicator and a proponent of extreme violence. There was no gainsaying that GMB needed image laundering and rebranding to gain affinity across tribes, religion and regional divides. I have outlined my observations of how his team repositioned him for the election:

Brand is a character

Ayesha Mathews-Wadhwa in her article (published in Forbes) ‘Why Character is a Branding Essential’ stated; “between logos, taglines and color palettes, companies invest a lot in their brands, yet many ignore the quality of character. That charisma is precisely what transforms a brand into an icon”. GMB handlers seem to understand this.

The DNA of branding is purely its capacity to deliver an experience or value as promised.  The character that epitomized the person of GMB is that of a disciplined, incorrigible anti-corruption Czar. A man who despite having had an unaudited access to Nigeria’s stupendous coffers, refused to enrich himself.  For a country that ranked 136th most corrupt country in the world (out of 174) and the 3rd most corrupt country in West Africa after Guinea and Guinea Bissau, by the Transparency International (TI), GMB’s character was a huge brand asset.

Presidential  brand personality appeals

Like a person, a brand must have unique and defining characteristics that engender affinity, talkability and loyalty.  The GMB handlers successfully amplified his superior charisma to create a candidate who is very, very ‘Presidential’. This is evident in the first promo pictures of GMB that appeared in the media of the General clad in smart designer suits standing behind a desk in an executive office, ornate with Nigerian and APC flags. GMB team further toned down this personality with a picture of him giving a ‘hi-five’ to his grandson while sitting playfully on the desk in the same office. Before now, no one has ever seen GMB in other clothing other than the Nigerian traditional attires.

In addition, we saw GMB gracefully clad in the other tribes’ popular attires aimed at pan-Nigerian statesman and redirecting the belief that GMB is tribal jingoist. The recreation of GMB’s personality leveraging his charisma and integrity, appealed more to the new generation voters, who constitutes 51% of Nigeria’s population. These youths by extension constitute the larger pool of the electorates.

Build brand ambassador

Brand ambassadors are simply people who represent and talk about your company in a positive way, preferably in front of lots of potential customers (i.e. their friends and family). Companies use Brand Ambassadors to increase the talkability of their brand; stimulate the very powerful word-of-mouth advertising and ultimately increase patronage for the products or services.

Critically, Brand Ambassadors humanise company’s products. They are emotionally engaged with the company’s brand promise and they espouse the brand value the company promised to deliver to its customer. They become the brand’s net promoters.

Having built an appealing GMB brand, his team moved him to the social media community. The twitter handle @thisisbuhari immediately garnered 40,000 followers within 48 hours. By the way, Charlie Sheen (@charliesheen), the Hollywood’s controversial actor, holds the Guinness Book of Record for the fastest person to rack up 1 million followers within 24 hours of joining twitter on March 28, 2011.

The 67 million Nigerian online community is dominated by young vocal ‘Occupy Nigeria Activists’, who retreated to the platform after failing to gain the Government’s attention with its 2010 protests.

Ironically, President Goodluck Jonathan who had the support of this group in the 2011 election, refused to engage them as dissenting voices grew.

The emergence of @thisisbuhari on twitter was a well-executed advocacy that won these vociferous youths over not only as followers by as the GMB’s Brand Ambassador.  They became his net promoter and as expected coined their own social messages (FeBuhari, March4Buhari etc) to sell their candidates. They countered and nullified every falsehood (and there were many) aimed at tarnishing the personality of GMB. They voted at every online polls and even prompted their followers to do same. Consequently, Buhari won all the online pre-election polls by a wide margin.

A clear brand message

Whitney Greer of branding consulting firm _BRANDULARITY_ stated that “when you’re not honing in on what people truly care about and

coming across as authentic, your messages will miss the mark”.  The APC’s slogan of CHANGE championed by its flag bearer,  Muhammadu Buhari, is not only easy to understand, it is memorable and resonated well with the ordinary electorate. With rampant corruption, continuing economic slowdown, worsening power generation crisis, acute insecurity, failing national currency, high cost of doing business etc, it was very easy to connect to the message of CHANGE.

I hope that other politicians will elect to work with proven brand professionals to engineer their campaign going forward in the quest to win in this ‘game of numbers’.

Odion Aleobua is a Corporate and Marketing Communications Consultant with extensive experience in the area of brand management; perception and issue management and media practice. Follow him on twitter @odionmatics