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I don port ooo…

I don port ooo…

Those choruses! And the creative visual rhythms of dance steps that accompany them; the sheer exquisiteness, the lyricism of the song, the dexterous performance, and above all, the aptness of its timing: the final NCC date for telecom operators in Nigeria for mobile phone number portability.

These and other factors make the new MTN ad one of the most imaginative ads in the recent history of advertising in contemporary Nigeria. To think that MTN convinced the popular brand icon of Etisalat to “port” to their network at this auspicious season is indeed a smart advert strategy.

Permit me the indulgence to port, too, though temporarily (is that not the idea?), from a theoretical space of discourse, culture and media studies, to the more pragmatic site of adverts and their semiotic signatures and propositions. A quick confession will, however, also suffice: I am not an advert expert or a guru in creating inventive and glitzy media contents that promote ideas, services or products, but, as a student of media and culture in UI, I understand the cultural import of media processes, and it is for this reason that I could not but notice the new MTN Ad, with former Etisalat’s Saka as a major brand representative, as well as lead performer in the cast of the 46-second text. When I first saw the front pages of The Guardian and other publications on Tuesday, 22nd April 2013, with Saka claiming to have ported and calling readers to join him at MTN, I immediately knew that an advert war might well be underway. Then I saw the video!   

Okay, wait. For those who do not know Saka (I can hardly think there are many who do not, though), the ace comedian and Nollywood actor, Hafeez Ayetoro, here is a quick introduction. For many years, Saka was the face and voice of telecoms company, Etisalat, and his many performances in the Etisalat ads were indeed successful, as the agencies that mobilised the Saka character for Etislat sought in him an image that could connect with a less elitist audience, since hip hop star, Banky W had already attracted for them a more sophisticated middle class. Etisalat’s Saka was, therefore, a successful ad icon because of his connection with the commoners of the country, and because of the many comic reliefs he provided. Talk about the import of local colour in ads. Understanding the centrality of comedy to present urban culture and popular imagination in Nigeria, Etisalat had undoubtedly found a way to consolidate on their dominance in the telecoms advert space in Nigeria. If you remember that for about 90 days, Saakaaaaaa! dominated the airwaves, then you probably know what I mean.

Then, suddenly:
I don port ooo… I fit dey carry am come to MTN "Easy"...

The energy and the passion that emanate from Saka and his band will win many over, as “I don port ooo” does not pretend not to have a music appeal that will resonate with many, whether of the advert elite or my friend who sells recharge cards on campus. Did you also observe the constant use of the word “easy,” an Etisalat’s specialty in convincing consumers that theirs was the “easy” brand? Familiar? Then, the advert text boasts of a good use of suspense as the identity of the dancing image is delayed; but when we eventually see it is our beloved Saka, we immediately know that MTN might have pulled a fast one on Etisalat, as Saka, also in a green traditional attire — symbolizing his having turned his back on Etisalat or even Glo — has this attire transformed into a bright yellow one. Saka leads a music band and his dance and eloquent music cleverly deliver his message: I don upgrade to MTN!

With good audience participation achieved through call and response and other theatrical features, MTN’s “Saka’s I don port ooo” does not only show that a good ad requires long-term planning, creative research and strategic delivery, but it also reinforces the needed traditional essentialities of a good ad: grab attention, show its message instead of merely telling it, and quite importantly, call for action, as Saka does:

Come join me for the network wey no get part two… carry the same number go

I am of the opinion that MTN has done a good job with this ad. It will certainly continue to raise a lot of issues. For instance, is Saka morally justified to have left Etisalat for MTN? Remember that he had equally done the Etisalat ads with the same level of loyalty and enthusiasm we see in this new ad. But, who does not want be well-paid for their gifts? Is this advert not too short? Was the agency that came up with the ad in a hurry to do the job? Knowing the sometimes epileptic nature of the MTN network, could one opine that Saka is mobilised as bait to getting unsuspecting celebrity-minded consumers? I will leave these details to advert practitioners to worry about. One thing is, however, certain; this new Saka ad cashes in on indigenous performance forms such as music, dance, audience-stage interactions and the like to tell a story — a perennial feature of African cultural texts. This MTN ad shows us: get the right character; tell a good story, and then you might just deliver a good ad.

saka port back

Then we may also need to think about how words like “port” “Sakacious” or “Sakastic” (a friend actually told me to continue my Sakastic enquiry after I had asked of his views on the ad) may also find their way into our urban registers soon enough. Whether “port” will be attributed solely to MTN, as Ibadan-based advert aficionado, Caroline Latona would have us believe, since MTN seems to have used it first in the media, is another issue entirely. Only time will tell. Another thing time will surely reveal is my own fear that Saka’s new romance with MTN is nothing but a possible sarcasm.

Yeku is a graduate student at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan

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