“Mad Men” is a “term coined in the late 1950s to describe the advertising executives of Madison Avenue…” – T Frank
Yesterday (11th Nov 2014), I woke up determined to get to the office earlier than usual, but I arrived later than usual. The reason was an unanticipated traffic jam. It remained unexplained. Later in the day, I overheard a generous advice about which routes to follow to avoid being caught in the traffic, but I didn’t bother to seek explanation. Further in the day, I glanced at a charade on NTA (Nigerian Television Authority) which we are used to expecting nothing better from. You know it is a charade when you see the face of Goodluck savoring the buffet of flattery. What caught my attention was at the top right hand corner, which read LIVE. Then it was mentioned that Goodluck was declaring his candidature for Presidency in 2015. Hadn’t he done that already, what was the buzz about TAN and some concert they had about how so many Nigerians insist Goodluck seeks presidency. By the way notice that TAN is an anagram for NTA. So this event was the cause of the morning traffic jam, and so the cause of my lateness. Not to mention the most obvious recent killings and increasing domination of Nigerian territory by militants even on the day of this event.
Ok I need to write. Obviously, someone has been playing intense advertisement campaigns for Goodluck. The flood of online advertisement (via Google perhaps) is drowning, once you are connecting to the Internet from Nigeria. So many posters with captions that make your jaws drop; if your jaws are not busy chopping national cake that is. Whichever firm has been contracted to advertise Goodluck, they have my respect for knowing their business. But they won’t get praises from me, and not only their profit driven ethics. They don’t seem to be doing anything sophisticated, they are just playing fundamentals, but pretty well.
For those who don’t already know the TV series Mad Men, it is about advertising in New York of the 60s with all its capitalistic ambitions, machismo, misogyny and political scandals. “Mad Men is set in the 1960s, initially at the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency on Madison Avenue in New York City, and later at the newly created firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce… ” (Wikipedia)
“Mad Men is set during what industry insiders called the Creative Revolution, when advertising professionals stopped bowing and scraping before the client and overturned the traditional language of advertising itself.” – T Frank
Being interested in advertisement strategies relying on human psychology, even though for self defense against media-control, it may be worthwhile to draw a few parallels and points of reflection between what we have being sold about Goodluck and prevalent strategies of advertisement. Hence my interest in the TV series Mad Men. What follow are by no means exhaustive, but it is something:
No one in their right minds should take advertisement posters or videos for reality. We are expected to know that it is posing and acting; therefore staged. I find it curious that all the events held by Goodluck’s supporters are on a stage; therefore staged. Even the opposition use stages it seems but what makes supporters of Goodluck stand out is their acting skills. I once thought the sycophant was a great actor, in control of his mischief, but watching speech by some “respectable” Nigerians praising Goodluck, it is hard to believe they are simply acting. I am more inclined to believe sycophancy is delirium… or dementia. I may be wrong, it may simply be a fooled audience at the mercy of creme de la creme of actors. Since realistic acting is supposed to mimic reality, what acting surpasses one that leaves its audience dumfounded as to where the line resides between reality and a staged play. Perhaps even the “actors” (aka praise singers) are incapable of this discernment, hence this demento-cracy.
As is the trend in Hollywood, block busters these days cannot afford to be found lacking in representation. Lest the Blacks would feel the movie is not for them, or the Asians, and the Latin Americans. This is often not an explicit demand from the audience, even though it is for the major studios, but audience are more likely to connect emotionally with the movies if there is at least one person from their racial background. Other times the movie suffers from critics for not representing minorities enough. It is similar in advertisement, especially in Nigeria where tribal sentiment is almost divine. This explains why something as national as Indomie noodles, or Royco cubes, cannot afford to neglect posters inciting locals to go and purchase these products. No better language of incitement than language of one’s tribe or familiarity, which is why the devil speaks every language, and why revolutions were crafted with local languages all over the world. No wonder Goodluck has so many tribal costumes, it wont be surprising if there is a Special Adviser on Costumes.
The striking bit about all the praise singers of Goodluck is their unearned appropriation of the status of representatives. All the few I heard, begin by mentioning the constituency they represent. There is no controversy over representing organisations. However it takes a lot of audacity claim to represent a constituency for which an organisation does not exist. For instance, a delegated member of Market Women Association of Lagos may represent that organisation, but it would be ambitious to claim to represent market women in Lagos. But in the world of make-belief, like Hollywood, we have seen the US (aka the world) destroyed countless of times, we have seen American military continuously play the hero, we have even seen… Seeing many that claim to represent North-Central, North-East, North-West, and South-West, I wondered how audacious their acting.
Deception or Semiotics
In the context of advertisement, Semiotics is the craft of embedding hidden meanings into artifacts of advertisement like logo, slogan, brand names, product specification etc. It is through semiotics that people buy a white Apple product, when the hidden meaning is that having an identifiable apple product boosts self-esteem. It is also how these days Indomie noodles is sold to lower social class of Nigerian because Indomie has the hidden meaning of being associated with middle class sophistication. So many examples.
With regard to Goodluck, it seems to me they lack in sophistication of semiotics. But like I said, the firm in charge of this advert campaign may not be sophisticated but they know their fundamentals. The two I see in play are the semiotic-crafting of repetition and fame. By bombarding the public with quotes about the alleged competence or effectiveness or good governance of Goodluck, and with enough repetition, the public would begin to believe it themselves. The default disposition for humans is truth and as a result, to be gullible. Since falsity is not expected to last without being betrayed, the human mind confuses the reverse as true; that is whatever persists is true. Therefore an advert firm need only put covert effort to make an information to persist in public space and eventually the human mind would start to believe it. The second craft of semiotics concerns the conflation of fame and success. When someone is famous, especially in a good light, the hidden meaning is that the person is successful, therefore an agent of success. Bombarding the public with Goodluck as this man of all tribes and all ages (by the out-of-place Polo shirts), the public eventually see him as an emblem of success.
Due to arsenal from the field of psychology which are employed to achieve advertisement ends, advertisement is regulated in many countries today. Some adverts are basically lies, wrapped cleverly so that they may not be legally classified as misinformation. Most times they are clear misinformation with impunity. Some adverts are targeted at weak people, like children and those with bad habits, to win control over their desires. Even adverts on controversial topics are regulated by these countries. I propose Goodluck’s advertisement campaign be regulated! So much misinformation.
There’s even insensitivity! See below. This is the epitome of insensitivity. Twisting the now catchy #BringBackOurGirls, who are in captivity for 212 days today, into an advertising pun?! Where is the limit?
What is more controversial than the claims made on these posters. Many including myself believe they are more lies than controversial. Moreover it is targeted at a public whose awareness of their civic identity hardly goes beyond claiming they are Nigerians.
Mad Men of Nigeria
Seeing these parallels between the advertisement of the person Goodluck and his supporting partners, while keeping in mind the Mad Men TV series, it would be fitting to call Goodluck and his structures Mad Men! In what sense, you decide.