Heineken, Mark Ritson and the Ghanaian Politician.

Poor Pepsi, they had to fuck up for a beer to get a shot at our hearts. If you have not seen Heineken’s World’s Apart social experiment campaign, you should; it will certainly not leave you indifferent. In tackling feminism, transgender rights and climate change, Heineken pairs strangers to bond, unbeknownst to both that they had opposite views on one of these social issues. After they seem to bond over talk and activities (thank you, college town social psychology professor), they both watch pre-recorded videos where one person admits their utter disdain for a social issue that the other person strongly supports. Alas, the dilemma of cognitive dissonance (thank you, college town social psychology professor, again)! You’ve just met and bonded with someone only to find out later that they are strongly opposed to something that you really care about. Would you walk out on them or stay and chat about your difference over beer? To their credit, they all elected to share a beer and iron out their differences.

As you would expect—and in no small way thanks to Pepsi’s idiocy—Heineken’s campaign has been very well-received. It has been shared millions of times on social media, and news media have made it a point to add it to their headlines. Heineken was on a frat house party celebration for their huge campaign win until my friend and also marketing’s grumpy grandpa Mark Ritson came along.

In a manner that only Mark knows how, he tore into Heineken, labelling their effort “absolute crap”. His simple explanation is that this campaign will not guarantee Heineken more beer purchase and the money could have been better allocated to profit-generating efforts. Just like his one-man war on the digital craze, Mark uses Heineken’s case to remind us of the other thing he hates: putting obsession with brand purpose over brand profit. Now, I know Mark seems to enjoys his middle finger up, me versus the world, King Kong ain’t got shit on me brilliant performances of intellectual tantrums. But if you will forget that he is British, you will see that his war on everything that colours the dreams of today’s marketers is more than cynical self-righteousness. He always has a point. But on this very issue, I disagree with Mark and here is why.

In Ghana where I come from, every election year, people contesting to become Members of Parliament do not campaign by promising their constituents that they will make better laws and represent their opinions when elected, as expected of an MP. They rather go round promising to build roads, public toilets, schools and hospitals that constitutionally is way outside of an MP’s job description. Along with these promises they give out cash, food, clothes, farming and fishing equipment and sometimes cars to curry votes from their constituents. If you ask any of the politicians, they will tell you it doesn’t make sense but everyone does it. If you don’t do it, you stand no chance of winning the election even if you are Jesus Christ (even he had to do some miracles to earn his celebrity status). Come the next election cycle, the MP is not evaluated on his activities in parliament but on whether he delivered on those promises. Promises have become a hygiene factor in Ghana’s politics.

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Promises are to the Ghanaian politician what purpose is to brands: it has become a hygiene factor in branding. Mark is right that profit is the key goal of a business and no amount of pimping that fact will hide the king’s donkey ears. There is no shame in admitting that, and a marketer must bear that in mind at all times; if something doesn’t add to the sales numbers in some shape or form, then don’t waste sleep over it. The question we should be asking here is if truly brand purpose does not add to the bottom line. Mark doesn’t think so. I disagree.

Since the days after World War II, brands have increasingly told stories of how they do more than just meet a functional need. If Karl Marx saw the sort of fetish products have become today, he would rattle in his grave. From the Malboro Man in the 50s to Nike’s Jordan gravity defying ads in the 80s and 90’s to Heineken’s recent campaign, we have seen an escalation of brands telling stories of how their products are more than just what functional jobs they do. Brands differentiated themselves on these so-called symbolic and psychographic attributes.

For a long time, we called this brand positioning, and I sat in Mark Ritson’s Brand Management class at the Melbourne Business School where he preached the good news of brand positioning. Brand purpose is the next phase of that now well-embedded expectation that brands do more than sell products. If brand purpose is useless then brand positioning is useless. Then even corporate social responsibility is crap too. As it stands, neither is.

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So like the Ghanaian MP who keeps campaigning on the promise that his job is more than making laws, brands keep telling us that they do more than sell products for a profit. Just like the Ghanaian constituents who now evaluate their MP on that promise made, today’s consumer also judges brands on that promise that they do more than sell products. Brands told us, we believed them and now we hold them to an ever higher standard.

If Brand A does something more in addition to selling products, then competitor Brand B has to outdo them else we will be less pleased. Pepsi shit their pants trying desperately to cancel Coca Cola’s Red campaign. Now that Heineken has had a hit, keep your eye on their competitors. They are planning a comeback. Of course, this is exactly what pisses Mark off but the reality is that the days of marketing conversation being about just profit is long gone. Today, marketing is about profit and purpose, just like the MP’s job in my home country is about making laws and building public toilets. That was not how it was meant to be but that’s what it has become and will be; it is what it is.

Brand purpose—even more than brand positioning—allows brands to tell stories. Of all people, Mark should know that people love stories; he tells them all the time. Stories allow people to suspend reality and dream, imagine, get out of their lives for a moment. A story does not have to be true, it just has to be authentic, and people will believe it. Heineken didn’t even have to admit the possible reality that some people walked out angrily after the revelation and did not sit down for a beer. Our brains had us all rooting for a narrative closure of happily ever after. Hollywood doesn’t exist for no reason.

The very fact that Mark notes that any beer brand could have done this campaign is exactly why it is good for Heineken that they got to do it. Yes, Heineken does not feature prominently in the ad but that is also how they achieved authenticity. They made us believe it is more about the issue than their beer. We believed them and now look, we are talking about Heineken’s ad, not that beer ad. So I disagree with Mark that this campaign will sell Heineken no beers; he doesn’t know that for sure. What we know is that it gave Heineken awareness and brand exposure; that is the necessary first step to brand equity and purchase. This is the same logic that Mark used to support why Ivanka Trump’s brand has benefited from her political involvement, despite the liberals’ brouhaha.

Today, some consumers demand that brands take a stance on social issues. As I have said brands showed us that they could do that and so we are simply holding them to their word. Australian brand Thank You. is entirely built on the brand purpose to end poverty. Even IKEA and ALDI, brands who do not play in the fanciness arena are now finding brand purpose in supporting LGBT rights and environmental protection. No brand wants to be like that very competent guy who run for MP in Ghana but refused to make promises and share freebies and ended up losing to the horribly less competent guy who did exactly that.

The contribution I make here is that brands must look to align their brand purpose stories with their brand positioning. A medley of stories works well if it has the same theme and that theme should be the brand’s positioning. Heineken has long positioned its brand around social engagement and camaraderie. This campaign told a story that fit into it. Similarly, Dove’s positioning on beauty strongly aligns with their purpose-driven campaigns on challenging Western beauty norms. Brand purpose if well used is a lever towards that ultimate goal of profit.

Nothing will substitute better product performance. No other purpose beats profit. But no one said these are the exclusive duties of a brand. Brands must do these and more. Purpose-driven ads are just the next phase of brands being more than selling to make a profit. Soon, brands will be expected to do more than just have purpose-driven campaigns. Somewhere in some corporate boardroom, some marketing person is planning that next move. Check!

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Dialectic of the Village Fools: Nana Addo and his 110 Problems

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Two friends, Apuu and Tɔɔ meet on a dead path somewhere in their village in Nanakrom

Tɔɔ: Apuu

Apuu: Tɔɔ. You are a fool to fools

Tɔɔ: That makes me a bit wiser than you my well-decorated fool

Apuu: I hear Nana Addo’s bald head has become a public drum

Tɔɔ: What has Nana Kyeiwaa Part 4 done this time? Falling asleep again?

Apuu: Look at this fool. Are you the only one who has not heard that the sleeping beauty has swelled ministerial appointments to an unprecedented 110?

Tɔɔ: Yes. So what?

Apuu: So what? Is your grandfather’s cocoa farm income going to pay their obese salaries, garden boy, driver, and Legon girls? Even some people who voted for him want to shine his head. This is a serious matter, you fool.

Tɔɔ: I see. The old man has 110 problems and a bitch ain’t one? He disappoints me.

Apuu: You painful fool. This is not the time for unproven ashawo allegations. Our economy is in trouble. People are working hard but their efforts end up in the devil’s pocket. Nana Addo promised so much; how could he now be so insensitive to our plight? What does he need 110 people for? The Finance, Energy, Agric, and Local Government Ministries have 3 deputy ministers each. What kills me is that even the propaganda club called the Information Ministry has 3 deputy minsters. Can you believe that nonsense?

Tɔɔ: Ah, I am surprised people are complaining now. I thought we had it coming. Didn’t people notice that the man appointed 40 ministers for various roles? That is some 38% increment in number compared to Mahama’s 29. That percentage reflects his overall number of 110 compared to Mahama’s 98. I think the old man has been consistent. So why are people crying now? Or Ghanaians can’t think in percentages only in absolute numbers?

Apuu: Ha! This fool has suddenly grown smart and cocky. Who cares about percentages? We think in terms of cost and tax payer’s money.

Tɔɔ: Who doesn’t? We say we want a democracy. Well, a democracy is a representational government. If our population has been increasing, and not remained static or declined, then it makes sense that we increase the number of ministers who serve the increasing population. I tell you what. I think this is a commendable text-book application of a key principle of democracy. It is a brilliant experiment that I think everyone else who lays claim to a democracy should note. Let the old man be.

Apuu: My friend, even established democracies who have larger populations than us do not have such overpopulated ministerial portfolios. The UK has 21, Australia has 20, and the US has 15; meanwhile Nanakrom has 40. What kind of over-learning is that! And then we have to pay them all these ridiculous amounts of money and benefits. For what?

Tɔɔ: Well, you are talking about established democracies. Ours is not, so I reckon we need more people to do the work, don’t you think? In any case, these countries you cited operate a federal system. That is very different from our unitary state system. If Ghana were a federal state, then each of the ten regions will have its own governor, cabinet, parliament, police, and members of the judiciary. Of course then we wouldn’t need 40 federal cabinet ministers because the states would handle many of their own domestic issues, including raising and using their own funds. But we are not. I don’t think that we are doing anything abnormal here with 40 cabinet ministers for 28 million people. As for the monies we pay, even the President of Ghana does not make half what a cabinet minister in America makes.

Apuu: Tɔɔ, I think you are lost in your head. You shouldn’t even be making that comparison. Those are advanced economies. We have big problems and cannot afford to even dream of getting close to them. The average annual income per person in the US is over $53,000. Do you know the average income per person in Ghana? $3900 a year! That is 7% of what an average American earns. So if I am to follow your kantamanto logic, why should our president be earning 19% of what an American president earns. Why shouldn’t he earn 7% of that? Don’t even get me started on all the allowances and galamsey monies that no one accounts for. And he is there doing job for the boys adding ministers like he is doing long division. And you also have the audacity to defend it. You must be out of your mind.

Tɔɔ: I am sure I am because I have succeeded in smoking out a fool’s temper. Look, your argument is sound. But then if we have more problems than America, then certainly our president and ministers deserve to be rewarded more because their work is harder. Using average income is fair. But if America with their $18.9 trillion national debt can afford to take care of their president and ministers, we can also certainly manage around our national debt of only $22.7 billion to take care of our politicians who have more difficult problems to solve. Anaa?

Apuu: Massa, massa, Daavi’s apio is toasting your brain. What has any politician ever done for you? What hard work? Don’t get me worked up. I have not had my breakfast yet.

Tɔɔ: Apuu, this is not really about the numbers, is it?

Apuu: What do you mean?

Tɔɔ: I mean the problem you and many people are complaining about has got nothing to do with the number of minsters or what they are being paid.

Apuu: Did I have water in my mouth when I was talking. Ah, ok so what is about.

Tɔɔ: I think the actual problem pertains to a general perception that people in politics do not add much value to the welfare of the populace, except to their own back accounts.

Apuu: Oh but that is obvious. After all, most ministers get their jobs as rewards for campaign exertions and not due to their competence for the job.

Tɔɔ: Good, so regardless of their competence, you think they treat their appointments as pay checks for campaign effort and use them to cash out unthinkable financial rewards.

Apuu: I don’t disagree. I think that every additional minister is just another another “greedy bastard” to feed.

Tɔɔ: You see o. Because if we really believed that every minister is another competent human resource to work for our welfare, then we would rather ask for more numbers. After all, as the Akans say, “a lot of meat does not spoil the soup”.

Apuu: Yes, this one is a case of adding more bad nuts to the other bad nuts that we are painfully chewing but can’t spit out.

Tɔɔ: So you agree with me that although the financial cost of maintaining ministers in Ghana is high, that is not really the problem.

Apuu: Well, the general complaint is specifically about the cost of paying salaries, allowances, support staff, and so on.

Tɔɔ: Yes, but you can see that what they are actually complaining about is having to spend so much remuneration for personnel they do not value highly anyway. I think reasonably, people would not mind paying a lot for extremely good service. But in this case, people do not see the value for money because they strongly assume that political staff do not add much value to the people’s welfare.

Apuu: I can agree with that. So what’s your point?

Tɔɔ: I think what Nana Addo needs to be really responding to—in deeds, not words—is that these 110 are going to add value to the economy and welfare of people; that they are not there for chop chop; that this is not a job for the boys, but jobbing for the people. If he shows authority on this and show through obvious change that the 110 are really delivering results we can see, people will even ask for more ministers.

Apuu: I must admit, for a moment, you stopped being a fool. You are right. But I am afraid you are also being a hopeless optimist. I don’t think the old man has shown any evidence so far that he will uproot corruption as he promised.

Tɔɔ: Don’t be an impatient fool. Let us give him time. That is why I consider this an experiment. I agree that it is so abrupt that it irks people. But sometimes the only way to implement change is to take a Nike mantra, and just do it. Democracy can be slow, so maybe he is being a decisive leader and doing what he thinks will help him do the job he wants to do. Let’s give him time. But let us also be vigilant citizens and yes, let us criticize when we must. In four years, the ballot box will give us the chance to pass an overall judgment on the old man and his 110. Until then, we will keep watching; we will keep checking if the promised change is making any difference in the weight of our pockets.

Apuu: I will tell you what I need now?

Tɔɔ: Palm wine?

Apuu: Fool. Palm wine and some meat. Why just palm wine? Do you want to kill me?

Tɔɔ: Hahaha. I think we are in the same boat.

Apuu: Well, let us take this conversation to Daavi’s spot; good meat and an educated palm wine always open the brains up.

Tɔɔ: Ah! God bless Daavi.

Marwako vs. The People of Ghana

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The Ghanaian “consumer jihad” against Jihad Chabaan and Marwako is a public trial for our business systems and support institutions. Chabaan, the Lebanese supervisor at Marwako’s Abelemkpe restaurant allegedly shoved a female employee’s head into blended pepper (chili) apparently for spoiling the blender. So far thousands have signed petitions, ministers, celebrities, the second lady and Amnesty International have joined the pre-trial jury that is calling for heads to roll.

Chabaan is facing trial, but he is not alone here. Marwako has been put on trial and the consumer jury has already sentenced the brand to a lifetime boycott without parole. The police are on trial, and are being judged for their ability to carry out due process. Government is on trial to determine if it will help make an example of this case. Every employer and brand in the country is on trial as employees who have been assaulted, abused and cheated sign up as witnesses against unfair business and labour practices.

The lucky culprit who has escaped trial but should be on trial is our mediocrity, our culture of silence and “leave it to God”, our willingness to forgive and forget unforgivable and poor customer services, our fear of power, and our “short-term memories” that easily bury fatal negligence by service professionals. A petition that calls for an end to “inhumane treatment of Ghanaians by foreigners” is reasonable under the circumstance, but myopic because it is not only foreigners who mete out inhumane treatment to Ghanaians. This is the mediocrity of thought—the lucky bastard—who has escaped trial.

I too celebrate this trend of activism. The Ghanaian consumer is holding a brand accountable for its abuse of its internal customer—an employee. Excellent. But unless we make such public trials a culture, we may only be making an example of a piss in the ocean. So let’s report offences and workplace abuse, complain about poor services, write online reviews, and share our terrible service experiences on social media. Let’s hold ALL businesses and brands accountable, now and always. Vela damus!

Branding the Enemy: NDC, NPP and the Politics of Stigma

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My unfortunately educated brother, Yaw Boateng Festival once told me a story. It is common knowledge that the traders in Kumasi Central Market are NPP mouth soldiers. So once, just to piss them off, he decided to play the NDC spokesperson in an argument with them. One of the women rebuked him angrily, “You, we sent you to school to educate you and you have turned out to be an NDC member”. I bet you didn’t see that coming. I bet you did.

There is a chronic perception that the NDC is the party of the uneducated, the so-called verandah boys. The NPP on the other hand is the party of the elite, well-spoken and educated people. The woman’s statement is probably the crudest way I have ever heard anyone represent this belief, and yet, alas, there it is. The NDC and NPP have such divergent brand images in this regard. But the jury seems to agree that NDC’s image is a problem.

First, let’s interrogate the validity of each party’s perceived brand image. Is it really true that NDC is the party of illiterates? Well, that is a questionable assertion. The NDC has provided three presidents and the NPP two, and it is only the NDC who gave us a PhD holder as president. I have heard some NPP friends say NPP has more “men”—that is educated people—to run the country than the babies with sharp teeth that the NDC has been assigning to ministerial portfolios. Besides the misogyny of this assertion, I am not convinced by this one either. Many of the current batch of NPP ministers under Nana Addo are recycled from Kuffuor’s government. The new faces like Ken Ofori Attah were co-opted from the public, just like Mahama co-opted Prof Jane Opoku-Agyeman. So where are the “men”?

Here’s where I think the issue lies: history. The NDC is a re-imagined and rebranded military regime. Like all successful military leaders and dictators, Rawlings was a populist. His NDC was then birthed in this image of populism, appealing to the commoner, engaging with the unremembered villager and raising affection through charisma, drama and politics of action. And consistently in the NDC, these things are rewarded over anything else. That is why babies with sharp teeth thrive in this party, and only very likeable people front the NDC as presidential candidates.

The NPP on the other hand is built on tradition: a tradition of an organized educational elite who seek to oppose an existing political process. The UGCC was established by elite men to oppose colonialism and through the Danquah-Busia tradition, was reborn as the NPP to oppose what they saw as Rawlings’ undemocratic regime. This is why the NPP seems to have a factory of elites, appeals to the educated, and follows tradition to choose their presidential candidates.

So the answer lies with history. The NDC is a populist military regime reborn as a political party; the NPP is the new face of a tradition of elite opposition to the dominant political process. For this reason, the NDC has been seen as the common man’s party and the NPP has been seen as the educated man’s party. By current practices, in reality, neither party is more significantly elite or populist. But their respective histories have given them their current image and such images have been enduring.

Hardcore party members will fire me over this and argue that this is not true. But I will encourage them to do some market research first and not get pointless intellectual erections over this. What is more important is for us to interrogate the value of the respective party’s brand image now that we know why many people perceive the parties in that light. You must wonder, what is wrong with being populist? Why does the NDC have to bear their image as stigma and the NPP wallow in the privilege of their image. Well, that is a freaking complicated question. But the easy answer lies in our culture.

The Westernization of our culture since colonial rule has made us believe that the educated person is more valuable and intelligent than the uneducated person. In Ghana, a gentleman [krakye] refers to an educated man, not a well-mannered man. Indeed, it is now a global perception that education is the key to progress. The general perception then is that it is better to have an elite group running the country. Even if they are book-long, that is still more respectable than having a bunch of know-nothings directing the affairs of our country. For this reason, the NPP is perceived to have a better image than the NDC.

Of course this has not stopped the NDC from winning elections, and you cannot also rule out tribal voting in our politics yet. The NPP has been justifiably branded an Akan party. Again this is steeped in their history as well as their decision to choose only Akan presidential candidates till date. They have a real opportunity to change this trend with the very competent Dr Bawumia; it is an opportunity that will be unfortunate to say the least if they don’t take it. But I won’t digress into this matter today because this is not yet a problem. I don’t consider their Akan image to be a stigma since there is no stigma in being Akan or being any tribe for that matter. I don’t have the tolerance for tribal and discriminatory nonsense. So let’s stick to the stigma that has proper teeth.

Here, there is a looming danger for the NDC. If you look at the voting patterns of the last 20 years, more educated people tend to vote for the NPP, whiles more uneducated people tend to vote for the NDC. It is increasingly becoming a social crime for an educated person to be or vote NDC. This is regardless of the fact that both parties have been led by elites and have had populist manifestos and campaign strategies. It has everything to do with their image. If this pattern is to continue, we can then project that as more and more people become educated and the less educated people phase out, over time, the NDC will be seriously threatened as it will lose its core voter base. I know this looks gloom.

What should the NDC do? I have seen some attempts to challenge the perception that you don’t need an education to run a country well. Nonsense. No where in history has that ever been true. Wisdom is not in the classroom but it lies in education, and these days education is formal and in the classroom. Fighting such a well-established belief is a horse that won’t run.

So should the NDC engage in an explosive rebranding towards a more elitist outlook? That may be considered inauthentic—a mere imitation of their opponents—and may end up alienating their still large core following. Should they stick with their current image and make the most of it, hoping against time that such projections are unfounded and will not hurt them in the long term? That’s also a risky venture.

Politics—like religion and marketing—is a game of perception, and perceptions beget image. I am not sure if they know, but the NPP has a glaring flaw in the way their party’s brand is presented. And the NDC has some interesting assets sitting deep within the stigma of their verandah boys image. I think the NDC has the perfect recipe to make an amazing comeback with a different brand position that will play out on the strength of their current image, and exploit the flaws in the NPP’s image. It will also serve them well in the long term.

But…I am not going to provide any specific ideas here to help either party. Plus, I don’t do stuff like this for free anymore since I am paid well for my ideas. But if someone is interested ahead of 2024, you know where to find me. Wink.

Superman and the Virgins: Marketing Sex and Stigma in Ghana

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Mighty Power, Kasapreko Alomo Bitters, Cargo Gin Bitters, Joy Dadi, Agya Appiah, Adonko Bitters and now Guinness Ghana’s Orijin Bitters. These are just examples of the growing market of unapologetically bitter alcoholic drinks that promise the sweetness of sexual odyssey. I say odyssey because like the Greek mythologies, these drinks are championing a shift in how sex has been socially handled in Ghana, from a women-shaming exercise to a men-as-hero shaming game. It is subtle and yet disturbingly powerful, and someone has to say it. Can I?

Once upon a time, female virginity was a virtue. Today, well, who knows? But I remember the days when the conversations on sex was heavy on keeping girls in check to ensure they were married off as virgins. Weird part is boys were set free to explore their sexual machines and so you wonder who they were sleeping with, if all the girls were thus being kept in the virginity loop. I remember when Reggie Zippy had that “Virgin” hit where he markedly queried that “every dude says he wants to marry a virgin, but it is the same dudes who do not let the girls keep their virginity”.

Skip the irony and the underlying politics was even more questionable. Religious and Moral Education was geared towards taming girls right between their legs. Priests used the story of the woman caught committing adultery and brought before Jesus to remind women that they, not the men, would be the gongs of shame if they don’t keep their legs closed. Stigma was piled on teenage pregnancy, and in every school I went there was always that girl who was branded the “chop bar bowl”, “school prostitute” or “area girl”. Meanwhile, guys shamelessly shared their conversations between sports and how many girls they had slept with.

Sex then was a tool of women-shaming and control. I am not really sure that has disappeared entirely but certainly now the value of female virginity has diminished. Women now take an active part in conversations on sex, and frankly do not mind talking about their sexual adventures with others. In fact, the collective narrative has so shifted that in the movies and media, sexual conversations are now more vivid and led by women. This has slowly confronted many of the taboos on sex, ripped off the sacred mask of virginity and largely dismantled the sex-as-women-shaming cultural machinery.

But this has led to a massive change in the conversational tide on sex, and it is both fascinating and disturbing. Sex has now become a men-shaming tool…and it lies subtly within the army of products that are advertised with the promise of increasing sexual performance…for men. Let me explain.

Now that it is no longer shameful for women to have and talk about sex, men must be ready to have sex as long as women want. The man who is unable to do that is a disgrace to all men. Hence, the marketing campaigns call on you to get your hand on one of these sexual-performance enhancing products so that when you go on the road, you don’t run out of fuel before you reach the woman’s desired destination. The banner word for men-shaming is premature ejaculation, where mature ejaculation is decided by the evaluative tastes of your woman. Just as we used to shame non-virgin women and heralded virgin women, now we shame the bedroom Usain Bolts and hail the Haile Gebrselassies of sex. The tides have turned.

I have had conversations with guys who boast of their ability to have sex for hours. There must be an exaggeration in there, right? Maybe. But I am fascinated by this successful creation of the mentality that a real man—the new Superman— is the man who is able to take a woman on a sexual marathon till she wants no more. The man who is unable to do this is no man, and should be ashamed; his place shall be among the eunuchs!

And this is an issue even for married people. If you don’t perform in bed to your wife’s satisfaction, you are toast. I know guys who court other people’s women by asking them if their men perform well enough in bed. If you slack, before you know, someone is eating your thing for you. Hmm!

Oh yes, and girls are pushing this agenda big time. For girls, it’s not only the performance, even the size of the manhood counts. A girl once told me that girls have a way of telling if a guy is small or big: guys with big butts tend to be small in between their legs and vice versa. Some guys are checking their behinds right now, I tell you! So girls do share stories with their friends about their sexual experiences, giving grades on the guy’s performance, and if they will “do” the guy again based on his performance. My guy, you know that’s what happened to you and that’s why the girl is no longer replying to your text. From a marketing perspective, poor performance does not beget repeat purchase, but you see where the conversation is going.

This change in the cultural discourse on sex is what is now transpiring in the massive marketing of sex-performance products for men. Sex doesn’t have to be healthy anymore; it just has to last long. The woman will decide the duration, and the man must simply keep it up and standing, ready to “open fire” on call.

So the next time you see that advert promising you a better sexual performance and you find your insecure self considering a purchase, think again. And if you go about strutting your stuff as a sexual superman, reconsider if you are not simply playing to the script of shame, where you recognize the shame, and worship it by showing how you appease its sanctions. Sex as a tool of social shaming has simply swapped its gender victim, and I don’t know where to stick my moral dart on it. Sigh. I need a drink. No, not Adonko Bitters! God!! Were you even reading!!!

The Cultural Masturbation of Time

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Pumping fireworks to mark new years, popping champagnes to celebrate birthdays, and turning the clock to mark changes in seasons. These are acts of self-pleasure to mark days that are otherwise ordinary for others, elsewhere. The elevation of certain days above others like the Thank God it’s Friday fetish that turns responsible people into canneries of drunken sailors is arguably nothing but pure self-pleasure. If the world stopped celebrating Christmas, New Year, birthdays, Valentine’s day and their many tributaries, life will still go on perfectly.

There is therefore merit in the argument that everyday is a new day, and an opportunity for change, for resolutions, and fresh starts; you do not need to change calendars to feel so. You do not need an elevated day with a contentious history to celebrate your mother, love, or your Messiah. While you wait for the glamour of a new year, a new government, a new house, a new car, a new house, and a new job to be thankful and hopeful, every other moment that you consider ordinary is an empty space for you to feel all these things. Simply put, make hay while the sun shine; do not wait for an eclipse!

The above argument is a philosopher’s stone and which in my rugged opinion should shatter most glasses of disagreement. But we must not be too quick to dismiss the utility of the deliberate ritualization of some days as more superior to others. Because the marking of some days as eventful and sacred, even if its seems logically pointless, is an important reminder of our own mortality, like the measure of time itself. Let me explain.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of humans is our ability to measure time. Our chronometric ability to connect seconds to millenniums is the only way we have mastered time, even if it masters us all with death. But this is exactly why me mark time, that we may know how to measure the length of our days, when to expect death, and when to celebrate our ability to evade death.

When we celebrate certain days as eventful, we do so to inherently remind ourselves that we are on a temporal lease. While every second counts, only certain moments, like new jobs, new years, birthdays are worthy reminders of our mortality. We do not celebrate every second, hour and day because we do not want to remind ourselves every so often that we are on death’s waiting list. Call it terror management, if you please.

Thus when we do remind ourselves, on occasion, we do so with pump and revelry, not just to give the middle finger to death, but also to cover the underlying terror with a show of pleasure. We celebrate birthdays as a pleasurable increase in lifetime, not as a terrifying incremental proximity to our death; we celebrate Mothers’ Day as salutations to our mothers, not as a reminder that we might be reading the same words in their funeral tribute one day; we celebrate new years as moments of hope and a fresh start, not as a collective migration of humanity through time towards a probable apocalypse.

So although we ought to celebrate every day as opportune, and not just elevate some days as more special than others, we still need such self-pleasure of occasional pump and ceremony to tolerate our otherwise inevitable slow march to our end. On this day of the commemoration of my birth, I raise a glass to all the special relationships that have filled the void of my inevitable march to the grave. While I am here, may my tenancy of time be a source of joy to other co-tenants of time: you. Happy birthday to me, and to you as well; it’s a new day for you too, dammit!

The Tipping Point of Bribery

bribery

The only difference between paying tips and paying bribes might just be semantic. I’m not drunk; let me defend my sobriety.

It was at LaGuardia airport. The taxi driver dragged my bag out and threw it on the ground, slammed the trunk angrily and screamed, “fucking nigger” as he marched with fuming inelegance into the car and sped off. What did my mischievous self do this time to upset a taxi driver? No, I didn’t box his ears from behind, are you crazy! I probably should have blown air on his bald head but considering that’s where I’m literally “headed” I was prudent not to endanger karma.

So what did I do to piss off this “yellow cab” driver? I did not have enough cash to pay him a tip. Well, I also thought tips were only a highly recommended voluntary extra payment, but well, this guy actually demanded it, and when I showed him all the cash I had was only enough to pay my fare, he gave me this top notch unforgettable exit service.

Fast forward two weeks later, I was in a taxi again in New York, this time to JFK and here I was, being given a sermon by this taxi driver on how my tip should be really good considering all the shortcuts he was taking to get me to the airport in time for my flight. Of course, this time I came prepared with enough to tip. Let’s say I had been properly schooled.

I am not the only one with stories about how service providers in the US have used coercion and persuasion to take tips from people. In fact when I shared my story, it aroused series of similar testimonies in different settings from restaurants to bars where service providers have sometimes even specified how much tip they want. I don’t know what God thinks about it, but these guys are making us pay tithes to them too, and for what, services we are already paying for.

For someone like me who comes from a country famed for bribery, this extortionist punch of tips has had me seriously rethinking bribery, as I know it, having worked in and with public institutions. I think that for all the jiggery-pokery of semantics and the socio-legal permutations, we overestimate the innocence of tips and the guilt of bribery. I am still sober.

There are two distinct differences between tips and bribes: time and transactional space. Tips are often paid after the service and bribes are often paid before the service. The intent is supposed to in the case of tips appreciate the service received, and in the case of bribes influence the service about to be received. Well, if you think about it, it’s all about influencing behavior, and the timing can easily be shifted. If I frequent a particular restaurant and pay heavy tips always, needless to say, I would seriously influence future transactions and the service rendered to me. We have all been to places where certain customers are received as local heroes and given preferential treatments because they tip heavier. So unless it is strictly a one-off transaction, tips influence future services like bribes.

Even in one-off transactions, one could very well argue similarity, within the scope of anticipated reinforcement. In anticipation of a tip as reward, I offer good service to influence both your decision on if and how much tip you would give. If the ensuing tip does not match my expectations vis-à-vis the effort outlay, then I would want to kill you, like my first taxi driver, so it better. Or I may shamelessly negotiate a favorable outcome by overtly linking my effort to the anticipated tip, like my second taxi driver. Whichever way you shift the payment within time, tips can influence behavior just as bribes do. It’s a game of influence.

However there is the second factor of transactional space that challenges the above argument—tips are paid in private transactions whereas bribes are paid in public transactions. Even if you paid a public official money after a transaction because you were elated with the service, moralistic regimes are likely to proclaim it bribery rather than a tip. I could see sense in the argument that we should not permit people who render services to the public, whose roles call for objectivity and impartiality (private businesses are permitted to be as biased as the devil’s wife) and whose jobs are funded by our taxes should not be placed in the game of influence, be it tips or bribes.

But why not! Why shouldn’t public officials be allowed to take tips? I would like to pay a tip to a cop for stopping me to check my car trunk in the middle of the night, just in case I have finally killed Sefa and put him there to rot. Because the last time I checked we pay tips to supplement the low wages of staff. Well, arguably, public officials, especially in my low-income Ghana are paid way worse than their private sector counterparts. As a matter of fact they need those tips more, you see. I believe like the private business, it will be that extrinsic motivation that finally gets public servants off their “it’s not my father’s business” attitude into rendering Jedi services. What’s good for the private goose should be good for the public gander, don’t you think.

I’m not saying they should break the law, or subvert processes, I’m only saying we should consider letting the customer influence the quality of service they receive from the public service provider, as they do the private ones. You are right; the nihilist within me is at work, but why not. Why should we bother with delineating bribery from tips when there is absolutely no axiological difference between them, when they both seek to influence. We may not be dealing with the headache of bribes if we normed it by tipping it from its moral low ground of corruption to that moral haven of candor that its identical twin, tips enjoy.

Else, let’s abolish both, because they are both, in my opinion pointless equally as they are useful equally; equally capable of evil as they are of positive utility. I pay taxes that pay the public servant, well, so do I pay for the services from that restaurant. If I am required to pay tips to the latter, why not pay tips to the former. If it is inappropriate to pay tips bribe to the public official, why should I be required to pay bribes tips to the waitress?

Of course I won’t pay a tip to the police for arresting me for murder, but why can’t the victim’s family do that. Surely, it will motivate the cops when they stand in the cold checking car trunks the next time. [As an aside, cops certainly won’t be harassing/shooting black citizens for pointless reasons, considering that may not help their tips; I doubt any cop will say they don’t want a black person’s tip. I don’t think any waitress has refused someone’s tip on the basis of his or her skin color yet, why would cops].

If my consular officer refuses me a Visa, he’s not getting a tip from me, because I am not satisfied with the service, dammit. That does not mean he should give me a Visa if I do not warrant it, but he would more likely be nicer about refusing me the Visa, and will be likely to show me how to make an improved application, rather than dismissing my application like it was a letter from his wife’s divorce lawyer.

We wouldn’t have to police bribes in the public sector or make it this sacred thing that is conducted with cultic diligence. Public servants won’t have to shamelessly stall on their work to signal an invitation for bribes before they hasten to duty. The rules of engagement will be clear: if you want extra payment, do your job, and well, and the satisfied customer will reward you. If the private sector is allowed to maintain such a practice and it has not degenerated into mass madness then the public sector that regulates the private sector should be able to do it. Else, like the Aussies, say no to bribes, say no to, tips. What you earn is what you have earned. No room for extra nonsense!

Now I think I am getting drunk in my head, but hey, give this drunkard a break! The point is, any money marked as extra payment will almost always influence behavior whether it is paid before or after the transaction. It can be good such that it leads to better services, and it could also slip into insanity, if it is subverted for exploitation. If any culture decides it’s good to have such a practice, then it is hypocritical to call it “bribery” if it is paid before a service, and “tips” if it is paid after the service, because the outcome is the same. If due to lack of imagination you limit it to just the private sector but you assume cynicism when it comes to the public sector, then it is unfortunate and discriminatory.

Well, I’m crazy, obviously. Let those with a more sane opinion on this matter throw some my way.

A Letter to the CEO Of Ennkasa Apparel

Ennkasa4

Dear Mr. Awuku,

The last time our paths crossed, they called you Gunshot, and I was a seismic (how self-indulgent!) prefect seizing your non-school shorts somewhere in Fraser House on a drub Saturday evening in 2007. But times have changed. I have since been banished to the self-righteous world of academia, and you are doing something more exciting in the anti-nakedness business. I hear you are building a brand, and it is for this reason that I have come to eat your house matter. Although I hear your Ennkasa brand clearly specifies that I keep my fat lips shut, I am shamelessly helpless in that department. So please be my host.

First, let me sing your praises. I love what you are doing. Brand building is a Herculean task, and very few possess the imagination and desire, and accrue the learning and luck needed to succeed. So nice one. Let me tell you what I like about your brand, and think you should keep doing.

You are different.

The essence of a brand is differentiation. People should be able to tell who you are, what you stand for, and why you are unlike anyone else trying to do the same thing you are doing. Your difference does not lie in your suits necessarily, although sincerely I have not worn your suits before to judge objectively. But telling from the design of your suits, which are aesthetically pleasing by the way, I am confident, they are not necessarily novel. I have seen such designs elsewhere before. But that’s exactly why you are different. You are building excitement around a simple product offering by enamouring it with drama.

ennkasa1

Branding is about influencing consumer perceptions that you are different. Key to influencing perceptions is grabbing consumers’ attention from the sea of brands they are exposed to daily. Here is where you win, handsomely. All the drama you build in your ads, the nicely gagged models, the Alexander Graham Bell telephone attached to the suit, the little snippets of “son of man” wisdom, the testimonial images of people wearing your brand and the unusual settings of your photoshoots are shattally and sarkcessly on point.

These dramatic communication strategies command attention, and go a long way to suggest to consumers that you are different, even if the product itself is not necessarily unique. You get away with creating the notion that wearing a suit doesn’t have to be formal, vanilla and boring. The suit is after all, to borrow a line from the movie Kingsman, “the modern gentleman’s armour”. Wearing a suit communicates an exciting and interesting personality. Apple didn’t design the first smartphone nor the first tablet, but they produced the perfect mix of design, drama and product performance to convince the world that they are the gods of these products. So keep doing what you are doing, and only ECG will be your limitation.

But you can pay any fool to sing your praises. So let me tell you what I think you can do to grow your brand. This is obviously unsolicited, so throw it to the dogs if you may.

Do you know your target market?

Whenever I teach segmentation, targeting and positioning to my class, I begin with the parable of the sower. My interpretation of this parable in a marketing context is that if the sower had purposely looked for the good soil and placed his seed there, he would have had an almost 100% return on his investment. Instead by indiscriminately throwing the seeds, he only landed a 25% return (the rest fell by the roadside, in thorns and in rocks). Similarly, in any given market there are roadside consumers (those who barely pay attention to your brand), rocky consumers (those who easily get excited about your brand but never actually follow through to patronise it), thorny consumers (those who commit to your brand, but leave you when competition makes a tempting offer) and good soil consumers (your brand loyalists).

If you engage in undifferentiated marketing, by targeting everyone, you too like the proverbial sower will reduce your chances of success by 75%. So why not deliberately seek out that 25% of the market who are really suited to your suits. Do you know those people? Find out, or determine who you want them to be, and focus your energies on them. One way to do this, is to determine who is the ideal person you want wearing your clothes (and automatically who you don’t want wearing your clothes). These days, almost everyone is on social media, and so advertising on social media really means advertising to everyone, and that means advertising to nobody. Branding is about strategic discrimination, because you can’t serve everyone. We academic marketing people call it segmentation and targeting. I know, we are silly like that with pointless terminologies.

So find out who you want to wear or is wearing your clothes: what they do or where they work; where, how, why and on whom they spend their time and money; how, why and what they wear; what is their lifestyle; are they religious; what is their level of education; what is their attitude towards money and locally made clothing; where, how often and with whom do they shop; what are their life goals, fears, hopes and desires, and so on. It is important that you know your target customers so well that you can think, feel and even become them. I know it’s a lot of work, but whoever said building a brand was easy. Don’t worry, you have time to work these out gradually. You can always hire a good research agency to this for you too, if you want. I can recommend a few. But, I digress.

Once you know who they are/should be, now you need to design your clothes, set your prices, and tailor your communication and distribution to suit them (I love these tailor puns!). We marketers call it positioning, go figure. But it is the magic key to successful branding. You can position your brand around their fears or hopes for example, using the same dramatic approach you are using now. But you can see how less effective your current approach will be if it has no specific audience. For all you know the people who are most likely to buy your suits find the gags on your models a bit disconcerting, or maybe not. For all you know they want more than suits, or always wear something in addition to suits that could open up another product line for you. Perhaps they are willing to pay more for your suits than what you are  currently charging for them? But how can you know unless you find out who they are and what they want in life?

Remember this. When people buy things, they buy them to achieve some goal or solve some problem in their lives, and not necessarily for the sake of the products. It was the legendary Peter Drucker who said, “the customer rarely buys what the business thinks it is selling him”. People do not buy products, or suits for that matter, they buy hopes, desires, goals, security, happiness and relationships. So find out who your customers are, what they want in life and position your brand as an indispensable partner in achieving those life goals, and you will be swell.

Don’t forget the little things.

It is easy to get caught up in the aesthetics of marketing, and forget the little things that matter most. So as you move into astronomic branding strategies, here a few little things you should never forget to do.

  1. Quality. If the quality of your clothing is subpar, no amount of advertising and Banksying will save your brand. The most powerful ad is the quality of your products. So invest in making good suits, and you will be surprised how many brand apostles you will create. Remember, you make clothes, and as Shakespeare noted, “the apparel proclaims the man”, and I think that is what your Ennkasa brand mantra projects: to let the apparel do the talking. If your suits are great, and someone wears it, it will naturally generate a conversation about your brand. So make sure they are.
  1. Customer Service. Nothing beats superior customer experience in today’s world of marketing. The easiest way to differentiate your brand in Ghana is through proper customer service, because in Ghana, for many businesses, the customer is the pawn. You can make a difference by literally worshipping your customers. Know your customers by name, know when it is they or their child or partner’s birthday and give them a gift/message, deliver clothes for free, treat them like queens/kings, and never win an argument with your customer. These are simple rules of customer service and they only require a little extra effort. I heard someone say that the only difference between ordinary (brands) and extraordinary (brands) is that little extra. Put in that extra effort to delight your customers, because as Roger Staubach noted “there are no traffic jams along the extra mile”. You will be peerless in that department.
  1. Be reliable. Reliability is easily a part of the two things I have just talked about, but because it is an Achilles heel among Ghanaian tailors, I choose to address it separately. It is a well-known stereotype: Ghanaian tailors are as unreliable as the nation’s power supply. A tailor will promise you your shirt/dress will be ready by the 10th, and you will be lucky to get it by the 30th. When they see you come to complain norr, then they will pick up your material and say, “oh I have been working on it o”. Oh chale, some tailor took my money and didn’t produce the shirt until after two years when I traced him to some lungulungu place, and went to seize a shirt of my liking from his shop. I tell you! But not everyone has my Motown prefectorial clothes-seizing skills, which you have experienced firsthand.

My personal advice is to deliver when you say you would. From contractors to pastors, from politicians to physicians, people are more often unreliable in Ghana, I have found. You can be strategically different in this regard. In fact, manage expectations, tell customers you will deliver on the 15th when you know you can finish on the 10th. That way you can delight them by delivering before time, and you give yourself room to manage any unforeseen disruptions to your timelines. Enough said!

I would like to think I have not said anything new here that you didn’t know before. After all, business is common sense, but you see, common sense is not common practice. So I hope you will find my unnecessarily long note here useful. Otherwise, I apologise for wasting your time. I am a fan of your brand, and will be keeping an eye on your moves. From time to time, my itchy mouth may find its way to your doorsteps. Until then…

…Akora Apantan.

Personal Branding? Nonsense!

james

I am one of those people who think that the concept of personal branding is a nursery myth. I mean, the idea is so generic that it is counterintuitive to what branding stands for. Think about it, everyone has a name that identifies and differentiates them from others, and have a personality, which invokes different meanings and emotions among those who know such a person; that’s simply the definition of a brand, which makes everyone a brand. If everyone is a brand, then no one is a brand. Logically, personal branding is a booga-waga (I made up that word) of nonsense.

But you see, for the advocates, personal branding is more than a philosophical dictioneering (another made up word to mean making up words, yaay!). In reality, if the known personality of a person sells things—gets other people to reach their wallet and buy—then that person is a brand, a person-al brand. I think it just about makes sense, because the last time I checked that happens a lot, so often, it will be quite insincere to dismiss the concept of personal branding; it’s some real shit, people, it is, and Nike has just smashed what it means! That’s why my big head is reeling.

The global sports apparel giant has just signed the NBA superstar, LeBron James, to a lifetime deal. Now, take a moment to process that…a moment of silence, s’il vous plaît. Encore…LeBron James, who grew up without a father, born to a teenage mother who raised him single-handedly, is now going to be paid millions every year by Nike till the day he dies…how he wishes he could live forever. Somehow, this is not too surprising, considering Nike had signed him to a $90 million deal when he was only 18. Now after a 13 year-engagement, their marriage has been signed, sealed and making you jealous…together, till death do them part. Why has Nike fallen so hard for LeBron? This has been hailed as a triumph for what a personal brand can do, so let’s go back to personal branding, shall we.

Nike has a line of LeBron James basketball shoes (like Jordan’s) and clothing that are sold at a price point that could feed my family in Ghana for a month. In the past decade that James has been on top of his game, wining two championships and 4 MVPs, his shoes have made Nike an untold fortune. So essentially, all those people who have been hitting their wallets to purchase these expensive LeBron shoes over the years have put him in this enviable position. But why does Nike want him for life, after all he is 30 now, and his career will soon be over. He won’t sell as many shoes in the next decade, will he? Younger, hotter stars like Curry and Durant are selling well and are expected to out-sell LeBron’s soon. Even Jordan’s sell about eight times more than LeBron’s. So why does Nike want to keep the dude for life, considering they have never done that before?

It’s almost romantic to suggest that for all the fortune LeBron has brought Nike, he deserves it; it’s business people, there’s only permanent interest. Michael Jordan has made much more fortunes for Nike, but he didn’t get no such deal. You could also say LeBron has such a strong brand that Nike has found it prudent to keep him as long as he breathes. I don’t buy that either. Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Laura Ashley, Kiichiro Toyoda, Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer, and even Michael Jordan were all household names that got things made and sold, even revolutionized the way things are sold, but none of them by their sole personalities, or personal brands, if you are keen, sold the million units of the things they produced. Those things flew on the name and quality they gave them, and became their own. That’s my theory.

Nike has been able to establish an upscale basketball shoes market with the LeBron brand, bringing in $340 million last year alone. Although, the man himself had little to do with the management of the brand, he lent it a necessary foundation. LeBron’s shoes have built and are still building on LeBron’s name and career, but Nike knows that long after LeBron is done playing or living, the brand of shoes will live on, because the brand has taken a life of its own. Air Jordan still sells, and sells crazily well, although Michael Jordan has not shot a professional basketball since James shot his first, and they will sell long after the now 52 year old legend is gone. That’s the reason why Apple, Ford and Toyota cars, and Marks and Spencer apparels still sell. Those names built the brand, but the brand has gone on to build its old own life and will live on, if only it is well managed like any other competing brand.

Nike has only done the reasonable thing, because so long as they used his name to build the brand, they were always contractually obliged to pay him some money. They still pay Michael Jordan; Forbes reported that Nike paid him about $90 million last year alone for his Air Jordan’s brand, and LeBron is on the same trajectory, once he retires. So why not make it official publically, and call it a lifetime contract. Nike has simply redecorated royalty payment into romance; it’s nothing to swallow pebbles about.

Yahoo was arguing that Nike perhaps estimates that LeBron will stay relevant after his career. Uhmm, I don’t think so. Nike knows LeBron’s shoes will still be relevant after his career…and life. You think Nike seems to be telling LeBron, “the shoes we put your name on will continue to sell in your lifetime, and so we will pay you as such”. In reality Nike knows the shoes will continue to sell in their lifetime, not just LeBron’s.

What’s my point? I still think personal branding is a lazy concept. I will take a psychology lecture on personality—and I think psychologists are as boring as a monkey on a rock—over a Wes Anderson movie on personal branding. There are people who do things, and build recognizable names, like Mr. James. But once you put these names on products, the product will go on to build a brand of its own, very much independent of the person.

Of course, so long as the person is alive, they provide a reference point for the brand, and so it’s important the person does not mess up, but that applies to every CEO. The person becomes a brand association of the product, and not the other way round.No one thinks LeBron is good because he uses those shoes; they think the shoes are good because LeBron uses them. Branding is meant for things, and well, animals because they were the first to be branded, but come on you can’t brand people!

Somewhere in my village, there is a storekeeper, a tomato seller, a cobbler, a second hand clothes seller and a roadside food seller whose personalities and relationships affects whether and how much people will buy from them. Even they make a more convincing case to be considered as personal brands. But they are not, because they know eventually they sell things, not themselves. Even if Kim Kardashian and her questionable bunch make most of their money by showing their “lives” on TV, people know they are paying for television, and that will remain the product; the Kardashian brand will remain a TV product or whatever they sell these days, and never the person, really. Even sex workers, who literally sell their bodies, do not claim to be personal brands. But if you ever find one like that, call me, and I will definitely change my mind.

 

 

THE DEATH OF A YOUNG MAN.

pfordI was only 11 years when I met Princeford. Believe me, in that JSS 1 class, he did not only have the longest name, he was also the fattest kid, and of course he’d always walk funny. Stanley Gli loved to play with his behind, something he would not risk doing these days without earning suspicious looks. Without doubt, he was the smartest kid in the class, well, I have to admit that considering he came first in class more than I did.

I’m not sure how we became best friends, but I guess I am too likeable a guy not be friends with, what else? Well, all right, no silliness, I’d confess that I badly wanted to be friends with him, because in my mind he was the coolest kid ever. Goddamit he knew every country in the world and its capital city. Who wouldn’t want to sit at the same lunch table with him! Even the skinny weirdly popular but fragile Nyanyano boy, was his friend, so I figured it was only natural that the stout bigheaded me completed that triad. You could label us the fat, short and skinny crew, but we called ourselves the A Team: him, Raphael and me, us. We were fancy too, Princeford called himself Captain John Smith, Ralph was Marco Polo and I was Monsieur D’Artagnan. I know, it was silly, but we even had our sacred book called the A Team Diary, and in it we had images of our personalized swords, drawn masterfully by Princeford. We were serious!

The last time I saw Princeford was in December, when I last came to Ghana. If you only knew him from University then you would be well accustomed to his listless taste in personal appearance, often sporting faded t-shirts, distressed jeans and a well-travelled ahenema. Somehow, his wide foot was always covered in dirt, but he could care less. When we met, over some fried yam and forgettable shito, we argued as we always do about everything. He was doing great stuff, with his writing and cinematic ventures, and I was excited for him. He reminded me as always that I was throwing away my acting skills and that he was writing a role for me [he always said that but I never got to see it, that sneaky dude!]. We laughed about our lost dreams; he had wanted to be a pilot and I had wanted to be a lawyer. Dreams! But he said he was proud of what I had become and what I was doing, and it meant the whole world to me. Believe me, he of all people, had the utmost right to claim pride on me. He did!

You see, when I met Princeford 14 years ago, I was an avid reader, but I had never written anything in my life. He had written a ton of novels and poems. He became my mentor, editor and to be fair, my bully-critic! He would tell me if what I had written didn’t make sense. He’s the reason why Raphael and me are pocket poets today. We had a challenge of reading a book a day from the library so we could see who was the fastest reader. He gave us fantasies, because it was he who snuck us to his home [I was not allowed to watch TV then], after Saturday classes, and showed us all the childhood animations from Pocahontas to Mulan and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, alongside some boiled cassava and kontomire stew. He had chickens that he kept as a pet dynasty, and had names for all of them, with a well-sketched family tree, which he updated often. By his unabashed freedom to hold crazy fantasies, we too believed we could hold same, and we did.

Why did I go to Achimota School? Because Princeford told me to, and despite my dad’s best persuasion to get me to go to Adisadel College, there was nothing more I wanted than to go to the same high school with my best friends. Before I met Princeford, I had never heard of Achimota School, and yet my best school memories were made there. I was glad I listened to him. Oh of course, my broke self would often trek to Livingstone house to “steal” food from him when I run out. He’d let me “steal” his food, and then call me names afterwards. I told you he was sneaky. As if you would know it, we went to the same University. We stalked each other to the very end.

When a young man dies, the loss is profoundly felt. He was only 26, and he had so much he wanted to do. I know this! But it is amazing to me, how much anyone can achieve in 26 years! Not all the things he wrote, for he wrote much, not all the things he said, he liked to talk too, not all the places he went, his feet had been places, but the lines he wrote into the script of my life. I have asked myself what would I have been if I had not known “Efo Agudz” for the last 14 years, and I am profoundly indebted to what his friendship, bullying, arguments, encouragement, persuasion, teasing, generosity, brilliance ad occasional stupidity meant to me. I envy him, I envy him so much, for what a pillar he had been for me, and for the many others who mourn him. I celebrate him!

It is dangerous to lose the fear of death, because then one may take life for granted. But it is an enviable place to value life and not fear death. For it is every man’s place that one day we shall die, and death does not share his roster with anyone. He likes the surprise punch. Princeford’s passing has reified in me the belief that it’s not the length of our days, but the breadth of our days. It’s about how many have smiled because we have lived, how many have had reason to live because we lived. If I die young, I don’t want to be mourned. I too want to be celebrated like my dear friend, for there is no pain in a short life, only a wasted life. His was well lived!

The first novel I wrote was set in New Orleans. Of course, then I had never been to New Orleans, but Princeford, who himself had never been, drew a detailed map of the city for me which I used in my novel; he was smart like that. Incidentally, the first day I arrived in New Orleans was the day he passed away. The first novel Princeford gave me to read was Phillip Margolin’s Gone But Not Forgotten. So are you my sneaky friend, gone, but not forgotten.

Princeford Amenyo Agudzeamegah! Fare thee well, my friend!