Vision 2020 And The Role Of The Advertiser

Vision 2020 And The Role Of The Advertiser

By Reuben Abati

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Speech delivered at the Advertisers' Association of Nigeria 13th AGM/Media Awards Night, Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, June 12, 2009

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INTRODUCTION

Let me begin by thanking the Executive Council and members of the Advertisers' Association of Nigeria for inviting me to say a few words at this occasion about Vision 2020 and the role of the advertiser. I am a member of the National Technical Working Group on Vision 2020, so I can claim some familiarity with the subject, but my interest essentially is that of an independent analyst and commentator. As Nigerian citizens we are all also invariably major stakeholders in the proposed plan to turn the Nigerian economy into one of the twenty strongest economies in the world by the year 2020. For this Vision to be successful, Nigerian citizens in every circumstance need to be mobilized to believe in it and claim ownership of it, but the starting point for that will be their understanding of the Vision, and how it relates to the fulfilment of their rights and expectations, and how best they can contribute to its realization in all aspects. For, it can be taken for granted that the underlying principle that Nigeria can become a successful economy with implications for the human development index is bound to strike a special chord among a people whose innermost and most urgent desire is for progress and change. In seeking to define what their role could possibly be in relation to this, Nigerian advertisers are giving voice to an important aspect of the Visioning process. But there are issues and challenges, some of which I intend to highlight.

CONCERNING VISION 2020

Upon his assumption of office in 2007, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, Nigeria's current President, had announced a seven-point agenda as the fulcrum of his government's development proposition: The agenda includes Critical Infrastructure, the Niger Delta, Food Security, Human Capital Development, Land Tenure Changes, National Security and Wealth Creation. It soon became clear that the seven-point agenda was proposed in the context of a grand vision of economic development that is expected to translate Nigeria into one of the world's top economies by 2020.

 While inaugurating the National Technical Working Group on Vision 2020 on April 18, 2009, The Hon Minister of National Planning, Dr Shamsudeen Usman had provided a justification for the Vision 2020 initiative when he submitted as follows:

"It would interest you to note that our recent desire to take a giant stride on growing the economy was heightened by the Goldman Sachs Economic Research Group's analysis of emerging economies in 2005 titled ‘How Solid are the BRICs' (BRICs being an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India and China), in which these countries' demography, geographical features, size of the economy, natural and human resources endowment and other macro-economic fundamentals were assessed, relative to those of other economies, In the analysis, Nigeria was identified among the group of the Next Eleven (N11) emerging economies. Other countries in this category include Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey, and Vietnam, the result of the analysis showed that given the indicators mentioned earlier, that the countries represented in N11 have the potentials to join the league of the 20 largest economies by the year 2025, if their economies are well managed and resources effectively harnessed. It is interesting to note that a recent update, Goldman Sachs report has maintained that Nigeria's long term potential remains intact despite short-term difficulties brought about by the global economic crisis…."

 The Minister of National Planning later added as follows:

"…there are some pre-requisites for Nigeria, if it is to move from the present 40thglobal ranking, to be among the 20 largest economies in the world by the year 2020. In Africa, Nigeria must rise from the current 3rd position with a Gross Domestic Product of $294. 8 billion to overtake Egypt ($432. 9b) and South Africa ($467. 6b) among other world leading economies. It should be noted also that these pre-requisites cover political, economic, social, technological and other spheres."

 The Federal Government has since commenced work, two years into the Yar'Adua presidency on the setting up of the structures and processes for the realisation of Vision 2020, beginning with the definition of a policy document, currently being formulated by Technical Working Groups (NTWGs) focusing on different sectors of national life and economy. In addition to the NTWGs, there is a National Steering Committee and Stakeholder Development Committees, and a Business Support Group "whose membership is drawn from the private sector, including the media, with the aim of mobilizing resources from the private sector and generating publicity and buy-in for the vision." The Vision 2020 period is designed to coincide with three medium-term national development plans: 2007 -2011, 2011-2015, and 2015 – 2020.

 The Minister of National Planning pegs the justification for Vision 2020 on the reports by Goldman Sachs about Nigeria's potentials even in spite of global economic recession and "the need for Nigerians to dream the DREAM and make it a reality." It must be a sobering fact that close to 50 years after independence, Nigeria is still being described in terms of its potentials. On the question of dreams, it is perhaps acceptable that nations and leaders should dream and see visions. Much of the world's great strides has occurred through dreams and visions and the efforts of visionaries. But generating an idea is one thing, generating a workable idea is another. Possibly a more practical justification for Vision 2020 is the ineffectuality of the country's past development efforts, the mismanagement of the country's development plans and the reality of failure in the social, political and economic environment.

 Nigeria is said to be the 40th economy in the world, but its conditions are far below the scale. The state of critical infrastructure in the country is horrendous, the contribution of manufacturing to GDP has been dropping consistently over the years, in the face of massive de-industrialization. The Nigerian economy is also heavily import-dependent. Difficult local conditions, and a continuing disconnect between monetary and fiscal policies as well as high costs of production have conspired to make imports more attractive and affordable. Politically, the country faces an enduring crisis with the electoral system routinely compromised by professional politicians, a situation that is further compounded by the failure of governance and rank corruption within the system. The social sector is also troubled. Religious and ethnic differences continue to result in violent confrontations. Human Rights abuses abound.

 Human Rights Watch, an international NGO in its 2009 mid-term report on the Yar'Adua administration scores Nigeria low on the issues of human freedom and national integrity. The country's value system has failed. Less than 50 per cent of the country's children of school age are in school. About 70% of the population lives below the poverty line. Meanwhile national population continues to grow at the rate of 3% annually, while life expectancy hovers between the ages of 47 and 52 years. There are serious problems with the country's justice administration process. Nigeria has also lost so much in terms of its external image in Africa and beyond. For a country that seeks to compete with other nations within the international space, the foregoing conditions are unsustainable. The country needs to seek new direction through economic, social and political transformation.

THE ADVERTISER

 It should not be surprising that ADVAN is focusing on the role of the advertiser in bringing about such transformation. Its members and their firms generate most of the activities within the Nigerian economy, and they are directly affected by limitations within the environment. Prices of products and services are rising, the cost of production is also on the upward swing, meanwhile, increasing poverty has weakened consumer spending, resulting in huge stocks.

 Companies are having to reduce marketing budgets, other firms have closed shop and relocated to other countries where costs of production are lower. Change therefore is in the interest of the advertiser, and the rest of the industry. It is most fitting that the task of transformation cannot be achieved by government alone, and in its articulation of the process, the Federal Government considers a stakeholder and multi-sectoral approach to the initiative. Besides, the role of the private sector is paramount. The subsisting economic model in Nigeria places much emphasis on private sector-led growth. In defining, designing, implementing and evaluating the Vision 2020 process, government places a special accent on partnership with the private sector.

 The advertiser, not necessarily as a member of ADVAN, but in a generic sense, has a lot to contribute in the context of such partnership. Without any doubt, the vision of advertisers is congruent with that of Vision 20/2020. Advertisers are key players within the economy; they represent businesses providing products and services, and seeking to add value even as they seek to create brand mind-share and promote brand essence in a competitive context. 

 A robust Nigerian economy in 2020, with the aspirations outlined by the Visioners, should translate into a more conducive business environment for the private sector, and other investors, and an expansion in capacity utilization, even absorptive capacity, creating job opportunities, and greater scope of activities within the economy. Thus, Vision 2020 as a policy direction has implications for business planning and strategy. The transformation, which Nigeria seeks ought to compel the advertiser and other stakeholders to engage in similar planning. Vision 2020 could translate into a complete re-making of how products and services are advertised, changes in budgeting plans and a complete shift in marketing communications strategy.

 To cite just two examples: in the context of a 20:2020 Nigerian economy, there is bound to be greater competition of brands, increase in purchasing power may also well mean a phenomenal expansion in market share, and volumes, requiring different patterns of media space purchase. Media channels and advertising agencies in the context of an improved economy may also be better positioned to deliver value with obvious cost implications. To a great extent therefore, Vision 2020 could become a source of unity for industry, and a catalyst for changes in the structure of business. Advertising is a people's business much in the same manner in which Vision 2020 is about people and their lives. Marketing activities, such as engaged in by advertisers can help ensure full utilization of a nation's productive capacity, promote competition and inspire the people's spirit of entrepreneurship, with win-win spill-over effects for all stakeholders including government which stands to gain higher revenue from taxation and other regulatory interventions. 

 This idyllic expectation is achievable however only if government is determined to translate its plans into measurable outcomes. Good governance is central to whatever development plans government proposes. Incidentally, this has been a major area of failure since 1960, and it is the primary source of the challenges that the Vision 2020 proposal faces.

VISON 2020: OF CHALLENGES AND PUBLIC PERCEPTION

The biggest problem that the Vision 2020 project faces is that of widespread public cynicism about it, arising from frustrations with the country's leadership and the stark failure of similar development plans in the past. Nigerians in the past two decades alone have witnessed so many of such initiatives as Vision 2020. The most famous of this is perhaps the Vision 2010 plan by the General Sani Abacha administration in 1997. In the Vision 2010 Main Report, it is stated inter alia that "Our vision statement for Nigeria by the year 2010 is – "to be a united, industrious, caring and God-fearing democratic society committed to making the basic needs of life affordable for everyone and creating Africa's leading economy."

 The Report is detailed, with expected outcomes and time lines. It is therein stated instructively that "The Vision as crafted by the Committee is intended to serve as a compass to guide our collective actions to reach our targets by the year 2010. We can then plan for the period, 2020- 2050 – during which we would aim at joining the developed nations in particular, the major powers which are responsible for shaping the future of the entire world." 

 It is obvious that the Vision 2020 project had been anticipated in the Vision 2010 document, but to be noted carefully is the fact that all the expectations and the action plans articulated in the Vision 2010 document were not realized. Still the Nigerian government continued with the Visioning process. In 2004, the Obasanjo Government launched what it called a National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) to cover the period 2004 -2007. NEEDS-1 as it was known was a medium-term strategy "to achieve effective poverty alleviation through wealth creation", taking into consideration "political socio-cultural and other peculiarities of the nation." This was followed up by NEEDS-2 to cover the period 2008 – 2011 with emphasis on four goals: poverty reduction, wealth creation employment generation and value re-orientation. Not many Nigerians can point to many achievements deriving from NEEDS- 1 and NEEDS-2 which were even extended to the state and local government levels as SEEDS and LEEDS respectively.

 However in the introduction to the NEEDS-2 document, it is declared that "Nigeria aspires to be in the league of the 20 leading economies in the world by the year 2020. " It is this aspiration, pointed out in the Vision 2010 document, and restated in the NEEDS-2 document, that now forms the substance of the current Vision 2020 process in the context of not four goals but seven. Without the people's buy-in however, not much may be achieved. The people are frustrated with their leaders. There have been so many reports of corruption and political brigandage since 1999 that even in a democratic context, the people nurse doubts about the future.

 Poverty is yet another challenge: Vision 2010, NEEDS, Vision 2020, Re-branding Nigeria sound like slogans to ordinary Nigerians who are more pre-occupied with survival. There is also a lot of ignorance and alienation in the land. Nigerians at the grassroots level are not easily impressed by reports that the government is dreaming or seeing visions: they are interested in practical, immediate results. All of these constitute a marketing and communication challenge, and an opportunity for a proper definition of partnership between government and marketing professionals. Marketing plays and can play a central role in the development process. To sell Vision 2020 to Nigerians, to communicate a sense of where we are, where we should be going and what we need, the midwives of the Vision 2020 process require skills that are in the province of marketing and communications. In this regard, I recommend the expression of partnership at all the key stages of the Visioning Process: (a) Defining the Vision, (b) Communicating the vision, (c) Implementing the Vision, (d) Monitoring and Evaluating the Outcomes.

(a) Defining the Vision: The Federal Government is currently at the stage of defining the Vision 2020 in terms of its content, priorities and concrete deliverables. Advertisers and their firms as key players within the economy can be involved at the various planning stages as members of the Business Support Group, the Stakeholders Committee and the Technical Working Groups, and where they are not members, their inputs can be sought, or they can as relevant groups make representations. Assessing the interests of the products and services segment of the economy, as well as market behaviour requires marketing research, and the kind of knowledge that marketing experts can place at the disposal of the process. The visioning process also requires proper segmentation of sectors and interest groups, an area in which marketing experts can provide useful insights. But more importantly, the participation of the marketing industry in the Visioning Process provides an opportunity to include in the knowledge-pool that is generated, the concerns of the industry and its various audiences in society, as well as the latter's behaviour and peculiarities. Nigeria seeks to be differentiated from other countries of the world. The definition of that proposition can be supported by the marketing and advertising industry.

(b) Communicating the Vision: This is perhaps the key area in which the advertiser can bring marketing strategies to bear on Vision 2020. At the heart of the entire Vision 2020 idea is the plan by the Nigerian Government that the country can be re-branded. This re-branding objective was a key component of the Vision 2010 document, with the adoption of a Vision 2010 Slogan: "A great Nigeria.. is ours to build." Ahead of the official launch of the Vision 2020 document scheduled for October 1, 2009, the Yar'Adua government has since embarked on a re-branding campaign, under the auspices of the Ministry of Information and Communication. The adopted slogan as announced is "Good people, Great nation."  

 The Minister in charge of this campaign, Professor Dora Akunyili had pointed out that the campaign will be mostly driven with private sector support. Advertisers and their firms are primarily engaged in the business of branding, turning products and services into strong brands, packaging symbols and ideas, with the goal of adding value in the market and gaining greater equity. It is the same objective as the Vision 2020 and the re-branding project. Firms can be encouraged to adopt the Vision, and to plan their businesses on the Vision 2020 template. This can then be incorporated into their own business campaigns, a buy-in that will immediately offer a grassroots dimension to what is otherwise considered an elite activity by the majority of Nigerians. This social marketing can be classified under Corporate Social Responsibility contribution. Oftentimes, CSR efforts by Nigerian companies are designed for the selfish purpose of self-promotion, rather than a genuine attempt to promote social causes or ideas. Advertising can be better utilized as a social and technical vehicle for promoting ideas and values about Nigerian culture and heritage, and not as an instrument for misleading the people on the truths about their own lives. 

(c) Implementing the Vision: Much of this will depend on government and its departments and agencies. It is important to stress that stakeholders also have expectations from government. Government must ensure a sustained open communication of the process of implementation, challenges and outcomes. Stakeholders also need to be continually engaged to deepen the partnership that was originally sought. Marketers in particular can offer advice on strategies of innovation, communicating change, and the management of uncertainties. In addition, respective stakeholders in achieving the new brand, must translate the new reality into shifts in their operations. The advertising industry in particular will need to strengthen its rules with regard to standards, and compliance with ethics. Greater quality assurance in products and services will be expected from advertisers, in particular, for whom the sphere of operation is bound to be more competitive and international.

(d) Monitoring and evaluating the outcomes: This is a citizenship responsibility for all Nigerians, be they marketers or other stakeholders. The governance process can only be deepened in the context of a feedback reality.

 In the final analysis, the dream of change and progress that is represented by Vision 2020 can only be realised if political leaders themselves show moral example by transforming themselves into agents of change. The re-branding of Nigeria must begin with the re-branding of the leadership elite, and a general re-orientation of the citizenry, to inspire trust among the people and faith in the Nigerian brand. The test of the Vision 2020 process will not inhere in the production by October 2009, of a well-articulated policy document, it lies in translating projected goals into concrete and measurable inputs and outcomes. The short and long of it is in the earlier declaration "that the countries represented in N11 have the potentials to join the league of the 20 largest economies by the year 2025, if their economies are well managed and resources effectively harnessed."

Reuben Abati

The Guardian Newspapers Limited, Lagos, Nigeria