By Ikem Okuhu
If there is one thing that will stand between advertisers and success in this digital era, it has to be the speed with which they strive to take advantage of trends. It will land many brands into the sort of avoidable trouble that the good old methodical approaches of traditional agencies mostly navigated successfully because they have enough time to think thoroughly.
“As e dey hot” appears to be the core driver of brands that have embraced social media advertising. To arouse the consciousness, and attract the attention of members of the public, brands crawl around the social media space, baying for trending issues, events, and people that they could latch onto in order to be a part of conversations, and, if you like, gain the sort of recognition that could help rivet footfalls.
In an article I published here on May 20, 2020, titled, Prognosticating PR Practice Post-Pandemic: The New Realities That Needs Preparing For, I did say that “The post-COVID-19 business environment will be lean and nimble and fired by a race-to-recovery adrenaline. This means that speed in decision making, expedited roads-to-market and lots of “thinking and activating on the feet” will likely be the new normal.” This article was written in response to what many in the Nigerian Public Relations industry were putting forward as the nature the business was going to take after the then raging pandemic.
With what is happening now, I am inclined to add that what I said of the PR business also affects the advertising industry even more strongly. The need to work faster has become critical, and with social media playing greater roles in the business of selling, advertisers are being made to be on the speed mode almost permanently.
But this comes with very tough challenges. With the increased speed of deployment of advertising material comes the erosion of the traditional thoroughness that was the hallmark of traditional advertising. The faster agencies act in order to be at the same pace with emerging trends, the more they are prone to mistakes that could adversely affect the success of campaigns.
This is exactly the mire that Peak Milk and Gala has run into. Speed, which took the place of thoroughness and discretion in their marketing has pitted them against rave-making skit-maker, Emmanuel Chukwuemeka Ejekwu, better known as Oga Sabinus.
The skit maker, a report by popular business and economy blog, Nairametrics says, is demanding “a respective N1 billion and N100 million from Friesland and UAC in compensation and damages for the consequent use of the catchphrase, something hooge,” in its advert on its social media handle and the use of his picture in an ad campaign.”
Oga Sabinus has, through his lawyer, written a notice to the companies, threatening litigation. The letter states in part that the said slogan was trademarked on the 26th of November 2021 with the file number: NG/TM/O/2021/48316. 10, and went on to demand the payment of the sum of “Five Hundred Million Naira (N500m) as compensation for the unauthorized use of the intellectual property belonging to our client, and another five hundred million Naira for damages for the trauma; emotional, physical, psychological, and mental trauma our client has suffered for the Trademark theft and infringement of his intellectual property rights.”
UAC Foods, on the other hand, was asked to pay N100 million for what the comedian alleges to be its own breach.
Across varying communities among the social media and marketing professionals, the debate has been raging, with people popping their eyes at the numbers as if the comedian had already won the case. While the jury is still out on the matter, there are those who already express belief in the futility of victory for the skit maker, who became more popular with his recent win at the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA). One of those I engaged on this is tech and social entrepreneur, Emmanuel Iwuchuckwu, better known as Emmanuel Bountiful on social media.
Bountiful believes that Oga Sabinus committed a serious error of judgment by threatening court action against the brands. For him, the outcome of the matter, good or bad, might limit the relationships between the comedian and those who would demand his services for endorsements. He adds that there are also other errors in copyright registration that could also stand against victory. According to him, Oga Sabinus registered his trademark on a class that does not apply to the brands he is claiming infringed on them.
If you want your Trademark to have much strength, you can register in multiple classes. That gives your brand leverage. So, if I’m doing a Trademark on class 1, and it most likely applies to 5 other classes, I can apply for those five classes, and if anyone uses that word or phrase within the 5 classes scope, trust me, you can sue and bank plenty money,
Continuing, he told me that Trademarks have classes, and the one Oga Sabinus claims to have registered dos not cover Class 29, which includes products such as meat, fish, poultry, and game; meat extracts; preserved, frozen, dried, and cooked fruits and vegetables; jellies, jams, tomatoes; eggs, milk and milk products; edible oils and fats.
“If you want your Trademark to have much strength, you can register in multiple classes. That gives your brand leverage. So, if I’m doing a Trademark on class 1, and it most likely applies to 5 other classes, I can apply for those five classes, and if anyone uses that word or phrase within the 5 classes scope, trust me, you can sue and bank plenty money,” he said.
Given this scenario, it will be interesting how Peak and Gala respond to the matter. Would they apply the, “see you in court” approach and dare the comedian or would they seek amicable settlement?
The problem is that whichever means these brands adopt in tackling the issue, there has been a lot of reputational damage already. The matter is already in the public glare and everyone seems to believe that these brands acted wrongfully, even if there are legal stumbling blocks against successful prosecution. The injuries already done to their reputation cannot be repaired by lawyers and judges.
Brands earn their respect by being seen as solving problems not by finding ways around trademarks and copyrights. What Peak Milk and Gala did in the case of Oga Sabinus presents them as dishonest, lazy and opportunistic. These are not pretty associations and cannot in any way support the positive top of mind that aid marketing.
Issues such as this raise serious questions on how brands should approach their engagements on social media. The demand for speed and the challenge of thoroughness have to be examined and re-examined by these players. In this period of lean marketing budgets, marketers should also who they hire for their campaigns, even if such campaigns are fleeting social media projects with lifespans as long as the trends they were designed to take advantage of.
It might be nearly impossible to sell the idea of brands refraining from latching unto trends and buzzwords for marketing capital. If you take that away from them, you’ve taken away the opportunities to ease into conversations and enhance the talkability that potentially rivet footfalls. But the idea of jumping into nearly every pool without finding out how deep is always going to be suicidal. Except the idea was to extend the conversations around the brands, Peak and Gala would already have lost everything they gained from those now-controversial advertisements.
As I said earlier, brands will not let go of the trends train. It’s nearly impossible these days, because social media has become the place where “everything” happens. Tact and discretion are what would save the day. Social media conversations shift by the second, and the brand that wins is the one that is fastest in crafting clever copy while the trend lasts. But in doing this, attention has to be paid to the minute details to avert situations such as the one Peak and Gala ran into.
I also believe that marketers should begin to invest in a lot of user-generated content. Instigating this might be tough and a bit more costly. But in the end, you are better assured of creating your own community through active engagement of the audience. This has a greater chance to create real-time experiences because of the interface it orchestrates with the brand in question.
Ikem Okuhu is a journalist, a Public Relations professional, brand strategist and teacher.