All over the world, political campaign advertorials are a potent tool for engaging and shaping public opinions and ultimately winning elections. Apart from the traditional stomping, canvassing and rallies, advertorials are another sure-fire means of reaching the electorate.
From the United States to the United Kingdom, Africa to Asia and everywhere in between, every political season is usually heralded by a blizzard of campaign advertorials. While some advertorials are easily embraced, because of the presentation, precision, poignancy and resonance of their message, some leave the prospective voter with a sour taste in the mouth.
Many Nigerians still recall with nostalgia, the late Chief MKO Abiola’s stirring advertorial during electioneering for the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Almost three decades after, that ‘MKO is our man o’ advertorial remains one of the best that Nigerians have seen, because of its flourish, feel-good and relatable message.
As the people of Edo State countdown to the September 19th governorship election, which is a straight fight between the incumbent, Governor Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the season of political ads pervading the airwaves is upon them. But, sadly, Obaseki appears to have taken off on the wrong foot.
His debut campaign advertorial has become an issue of public discourse since its release both online and offline. The advert depicts a poverty-stricken family standing in the rain as an approaching SUV stops to hail them and happily shares brooms with each member of the family. The passenger hops into the SUV and left. In his trail is a confused family looking dejectedly at the uselessness of their brooms as the rains pour down on them.
A moment later, the same scenario plays out but this time, the Sports Utility Vehicle owner dashes each person an umbrella with which they could shield themselves as he also ushers them into the sanctuary of his vehicle. The next scene shows the family, gaily dressed and standing in front of a well-appointed building, to depict their newfound prosperity.
This could have been a succinct campaign material if not for the fact that it is a lame, defeatist and obtuse rehash of what had been done before. The hackneyed advertorial leaves the impression that one could take a 90-year-old donkey with four broken legs and it still would be less lame in comparison. In football, it is called an own goal!
It is worth examining a few elements that were obviously not thought through before this was pushed out with the imprimatur of the governor. If the ad was meant to disparage the APC, which symbol is the broom, and its candidate, Pastor Ize-Iyamu; it fell short and rather served as a stark reminder that Obaseki had failed the people; while reiterating what many have come to accept as the gospel truth, which is that he patently frittered away a golden opportunity to further liberate and empower the Edo people.
Again, if the people are as poor as depicted in this video, what has Obaseki done in three years as governor and leader of the APC in the state to ameliorate their situation? What economic reforms has he initiated or implemented to change their story? After all, the family didn’t drop from heaven immediately after he joined the PDP just last June; they are part of the people, who swore by his leadership from the outset.
So, how was Obaseki brainwashed into believing that the impoverished state of the people is to be laid bare at the doorsteps of the APC and not him? The governor needs a crash course in logical and critical thinking.
A smart campaign would typically use positive ads when they are ahead and reserve negative ads for when they are behind. That’s exactly what most campaigns do, according to a study by a Washington State University political science professor, Travis Ridout, PhD.
“If you’re behind, you need to shake things up, and that means making people anxious about the other candidate so they will reconsider their voting decision,” he says, adding, “If you’re ahead and want to cement peoples’ support, appeal to the emotions of pride and enthusiasm.”
Obaseki has seen that he is behind. Like a drowning man, he is clutching at straws to stay afloat. As a sitting governor, who has had the serendipity of ruling the state for the past three years, why resort to counter-intuitive mudslinging?
Why can’t he, as conventional political wisdom dictates, campaign on the strength of his achievements, if any? The plain reality of the advertorial in question is the absence of any worthwhile achievement by Obaseki to spotlight. Yet, he wants the people to give him another four years? On what basis, please?
In a strident editorial by a popular online medium, it states, “Obaseki, who is up for re-election next month on the platform of the PDP will need to fire some members of his communications and strategy team as soon as possible; and save his campaign. His campaign materials and Ads have been atrocious.”
In truth, how did he constitute his communications team? This question is pertinent, because the material could only have emanated from an amateurish communications team or a bizarre lack of materials to work with.
Once a synonym for shining hope and redemption, Edo State, relatively oil-rich, is today a state associated by discerning minds with failure, incompetence, insecurity and underdevelopment. How is it that in the space of three years, a state that was already comparing favourably with richer states in terms of infrastructure renewal and economic rejuvenation, became a laughing spectacle and is being treated as a minstrel show?
Dynamic strategies are an essential part of politics. In the context of campaigns, for example, candidates continuously recalibrate their campaign strategy in response to polls and opponent actions.
At no time during this electioneering has Ize-Iyamu attacked the person of the governor or his party. Instead, he has focused on propagating his SIMPLE Agenda, a blueprint that contains workable solutions to addressing the challenges confronting Edo State and its people, while challenging the incumbent to run on his record by reeling off his achievements. That’s not too much to ask or is it?
*Osagie wrote from Benin City, Edo State capital