Politicians have mastered the art of driving engagement

They say that military intelligence is the second oldest profession in history and it has even less morals than the first. For the past weeks we’ve been fed abundant cloak-and-dagger stories involving plots around the bungled elections that can put Hollywood script writers to shame.

Those who come up with this stuff should migrate to one of the movie capitals of the world that  pay a fortune for creativity and the ability to spin a yarn that captures hearts and minds.

The advertising industry is left in the dust as political strategists and online Jihadists race past and drive engagement that brands can only dream of. Politicians and extremists alike engender in their audiences such a strong sense of belonging and stir passions to such a high degree that can eventually make parents disown their children, force clans to banish their members, and drive a gigantic wedge between lifelong friendships.

That would never happen among users of everyday brands like margarine, washing powder or alcoholic beverages — even though advertising managers spend billions annually as they try to establish fanatical brand loyalty.

The end user of political campaigns in Africa are voters who are comprised mostly of the ‘struggling poor’ as defined by the Y&R Cross Cultural Consumer Categorization. The struggling poor work extremely hard and are the backbone of African economies, but they have limited education and tend to be employed in low paying menial jobs.

They don’t save because they live hand-to-mouth, and they will work for their employers until they are old and grey. They are lucky if they get a pension that can see them through their twilight years and thus their key motivation in life is escape. As they plough on, they pray for a lucky break that will miraculously get them out of this vicious cycle and this turns them into the largest subscribers of lotteries and sport betting services.

Cunning politicians offer change as that lucky break, and with nothing to lose they embrace it line, hook and sinker. In the midst of it, tribe is established as a means of differentiation. With Mr. Kenyatta being the founding President, working precariously with the first Vice President, Mr. Odinga, we see a continuation similar to a run-of-the-mill TV series at best — 53 years later in Season 4, Mr. Kenyatta is the incumbent and Mr. Odinga the challenger.

Originally I was of the impression that blind passion for politicians was unique to Africa, until we witnessed something similar in the last US elections. Good grief, we are faced with a global epidemic!

Apart from the insights that we gain from political campaigns, advertisers can also learn a thing or two from our forefathers. A story is told of the grandfather of smallpox who visited a small village in Rwanda on his quest to eradicate the disease.

He arrived to find empty fields and homes, but eventually located the chief and asked him to summon the villagers, who came with astonishing speed. On inquiring why they appeared so eager to receive their vaccinations, the chief confessed that he told his villagers to come and see the tallest white man on earth, and that got them moving.



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