Does Melcom Need Celebrity Endorsement or Reality Indulgence?

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Last year, Forbes run an article titled “Save Your Money: Celebrity Endorsements Not Worth The Cost”. But this is hardly novel; there’s been a solid number of research that conclude that it’s not worth paying a fortune to get celebrities to represent your brand. Ads with celebrities do not influence purchase behavior any better than ads with non-celebrities. Besides the ridiculous financial cost of plastering a celebrity over your brand, it becomes a marriage where their shit, and often there’s shit going on with them, becomes your shit, as a brand. From Tiger Woods, to Oscar Pistorious to Lance Armstrong, to Paula Deen, there have been major embarrassments for brands because the “face” of the brands messed up. Yet, brands continue to splash millions on celebrities to represent them. Why? It’s a game of attention.

Some research suggests that the average consumer living in the city is exposed to as many as 5000 brands and ads in a single day. Incredulous! Of course, in my “donkomi” Ghana, this would be significantly less. It still does not defy the incredible battle for the consumer’s attention, and this is where celebrity endorsements bring home the goods. Celebrities are recognizable, often good looking faces, and by the magic of the brains, we are more likely to recognize and memorize ads fronted by a recognizable face than one with an unfamiliar face. So even though, consumers may claim in a research that they are not influenced by celebrities in their purchase decisions, they sure are more likely to be aware of brands endorsed by celebrities, than those by non-celebrities. It’s just the brain’s way of working, and I’m certain when internalized, it does in deed influence purchase behavior. We had known and been saying it long before Taylor Swift sang “Haters gonna Hate Hate Hate” and now somehow we cite her when we have to say it as if she came up with it. That’s the power of a celebrity in creating awareness. It’s why brands splash the cash on them.

Now if you think deeply on it, then a brand is in its own right a celebrity, just as a celebrity is a brand in his or her own right. By every common sense then, since the brand is the one paying the millions, they should get a celebrity who is more popular than the brand to truly get their money’s worth. Otherwise it will be double jeopardy to pay ridiculous amounts of money to someone, only for the person to get more famous by their association with your brand. I call this endorsement parasitism—a situation where an endorsement favours one party at the cost of the other. Ideally the relationship should bring mutual appeal and returns for the brand and the celebrity, or best, synergy, such that their relationship brings more benefits for them both than they would achieve individually otherwise.

Often when I give such tutorials, it is to avid undergraduate marketing students, and I’m paid some good dollars for it. But Melcom has given me another compelling reason to put my fat lips into their affair again, so I have come for them; their affairs with “celebrities” keeps pissing on my parade. Somebody has to tell them something so I figured why not insignificant me! They got Asamoah Gyan out, God knows they had to, what pernicious sin that endorsement deal was, and got themselves a certain Victoria Michaels. Come on, Melcom, are you turning this into one of your electronic products!?

For many of you reading this, I have just made Victoria Michael popular; this is the first time you are hearing the name. Who is she? Apparently she is some award-winning model. Don’t ask me the award else I will remind you I’m an award-winning talking bird. Victoria is a pretty face, but not any prettier than my own Yaa Boatemaa. She’s talked about her passion for the brand and reminisced on how she used to shop at Melcom for school when she was in High school. Fair enough, but does this make Victoria any more worth the deal than the many other pretty faces, who given what she is getting, can also find in their long locked memory their passion and memory of shopping at Melcom?

I’m probably just hating, or just being cynical, or being a typical pull-her-down Ghanaian, or maybe I’m making perfect sense if I say that this is a parasitic endorsement; gooder for Victoria, badder for Melcom. If celebrity endorsement is about attention, then choosing a brand ambassador whom many Ghanaians, especially Melcom’s target market do not know, is like dancing with yourself: you prove nothing. Yes, Victoria is a pretty face, well spoken, but so are many other “ordinary” people who will be willing to accept a fraction of whatever Melcom is paying Victoria to do the job. Melcom is going to make Victoria more popular than she could have done without them, and to think that they are paying her for it. Sigh!

Do Melcom know their market? I have always maintained that Melcom are doing some great stuff with their brand, but I think they also need to remind themselves which segment of the market they are serving, and what the consumers in that segment desire and aspire to. Last time, Melcom was attempting to cry a big man’s cry, tickling themselves and laughing at the idea everyone would buy their gibberish of Asamoah Gyan shopping at Melcom. Thankfully, they came down to earth, but now they want to sink into expensively playing “look inside and find your lover” with a yet to be really popular pretty face. Ayoo.

I had a dream. In my dream, Kwame Sefa-Kayi and Kwame Djokoto were the faces of Melcom. The former spoke for Melcom Plus, and the latter spoke for regular Melcom. Occasionally, they would run into each other at various Melcom shops and make noise in some funny exchanges, using repeated catch phrases like “Eih Kwame Melcom, we meet again”. If it’s being positioned as the place where Ghana shops, then choosing such celebrities who are well associated with the people, who typify your aspirational segment may work better for Melcom. In any case, encouraging customization of the shop space using typical Ghanaian names like “Kwame Melcom”, “Adwoa Melcom,” assuming they use Adwoa Smart for instance would increase affinity and personalization, and that works magic. That’s the reason why even an undifferentiated brand like Coke put people’s names on their bottles. Just offering my two cents, but who am I? I’m only a dreamer!

If I am to sober up and be less tentative, then the prescient question is do Melcom really need a celebrity to front their brand? Not really! I think Melcom will do better investing more in improving their shop floor experience, broadening and deepening their loyalty and shopper rewards to induce a more bottom-up brand affinity. They stand to reap more if they invested in their customer service people to put on a smile and be nice, than to invest in the smile of a pretty face on a billboard whom consumers may never encounter in their lives. Melcom has enough brand awareness, what they need is brand love, and for that, superior customer service is the key, not fancy celebrity endorsements.

It is said that doing the right thing is not the same as doing the thing right. Melcom’s affair with celebrities is not being done right, and I have shared my dream on how to do it right. But the right thing for Melcom to do is to invest in customer service and shopper experience. If we enjoy a trip to Melcom, we’ll return, with or without some celebrity telling us we should. If we find Melcom no better than the lanes at Tudu, then even if Oprah told us to shop at Melcom, we will remain in dead goat mode. Melcom has only one celebrity they need to pay some serious attention to: the ordinary Ghanaian.

Kantamanto Society: Second-hand Morality for Sale in Ghana.

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Ghana’s award-winning investigative journalist has done it again! This time, Anas infiltrated Ghana’s courts and has reported serious evidence of corruption by judges, magistrates and other judicial service staff. Now [assuming that the allegations are true], then I am more deeply terrified that all the “corrupted” judgments that the implicated judges passed on the said cases, may have, or could hold to be judicial precedents, which may be cited by others in future cases. Even more alarming, there are those who escaped being caught on tape, and who may have provided similarly corrupted judgments, that are being today applied as valid judicial interpretations of the law. I am no legal expert, so my question is what happens to the tampered judgments by these unjust Justices?

My former boss, Gordon Biaku hated to see a mistake in any report I would write for him. He often said that finding one mistake is not troubling as the suggestion that there could be other mistakes that we have not found yet, hiding in the report, and making our insights faulty. It is a caution I have carried with me since, and one with which I now also hold others responsible. I am less alarmed by the iceberg this whole revelation smashes into the confidence in our judicial system. I am more terrified by the things we hold as truth, which were in fact birthed by corrupted hands, and is in deed no truer than this rude reminder that “a desperate society is a danger unto itself”. When those we hail, “my lord”—who are in deed no lords over us at all, but servants, who are entrusted with the sacred duty of mediating equity among us—lord their service to us over us and finger our communal trust in the shadows, then we know we are on a sinking ship.

But, why do I sound so exasperated, painting an opera so bleak. I would be expecting too much of people, wouldn’t I, even of myself, for I am no saint. I have no right to postulate any moral highhandedness, a sinner like me! So this is not a critique of me and my countrymen, rather an appreciation, a reflective sigh, not a condemnation.

Somehow we all know that from the Machiavellian common man who is skilled in paying every man his price to the policeman on the street who unabashedly extorts his meal plan from drivers to the “honorable” judge in the courtroom to the voyeurs in the corridors of our Ministries who charge a fortune per signature, to the pickpocketing pastors who render God in more ridicule than an irritated atheist, to the pilferers in Customs uniforms on our borders and back to the household with illegal electricity and cable television connections, we have enough anecdotal evidence to prove that we are a corrupt nation. Remember the judges did not bribe themselves; someone offered, and they accepted. Even Anas’ intricate understanding of how to successfully bribe a judge smacks of the charming society we live in. We are fools if we trust ourselves; we are fools if we don’t! These Justices are our men of honour; it speaks volumes about our sense of honour.

I am not excited by the proof that we are a corrupt society; I know this, and so do you! I am more enticed by the painful evidence that we are all corruptible. I need to find my price, because that day is coming when someone will make me an offer that I would find worthier than my moral hold. I should know my price then, otherwise I may fall for any offer, and it might not be worth the trouble, and I will hate to know that they will know my price before I do. So should you! Find your price, for the man of bribery is coming, and you shall not escape him. Make sure you are worth your fall.

The Medicine Man, The Dead Goat and The Nobodies of Dumsorkrom

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The medicine man of Dumsorkrom was a powerful man. Needless to say he alone possessed the magic from the gods that could restore life into the dying breath. When the little flying ants, whom it was said came from the dirty trenches of the Wastelands attacked the people of Dumsorkrom and infected them with some strange fever, the medicine man always knew how to cure them. He was a man skilled in the art of mending broken bones and reviving thawed flesh. Indeed, his work was tedious, and its life and death matter meant that people called on him all the time. For the same reason, he was a very respected man.

Dumsorkrom was a very egalitarian society, and despite the importance of the Medicine man, he did not charge any fee from the people. If any man or woman whose life was saved wanted to show him kindness, he accepted, and this was often, otherwise he contended himself with the nobility of his work.

Now, a deadly famine hit Dumsorkrom, many starved and died. The medicine man had no magic to cure the hunger; even he starved. The people had an assembly and decided that if anybody should survive the famine, they would still need the medicine man, and so it was important that as the rest of the people toiled for their own food, some portion be given to the medicine man so he lasted as long as the last man. It was a sensible proposition, but a solution was still hard to come by. Even if they decided that everyone gave a share of their food to the medicine man, it would be hard to regulate such a system. There was no way of telling who would get food one day or the other. Besides, there was no guarantee that anyone would always defy the hunger of their own stomach and that of their family and give a portion to the medicine man. Who will enforce it, and who will determine even what portion to give the medicine man?

It was not clear who came up with the idea, but as the sun departed the gathering, someone came up with the idea to give every dead goat to the medicine man as his food. Goats were only kept as pets in Dumsorkrom, and as the famine came many of them died for obvious reasons. Though they were edible, no one really ate them, so it seemed a clever idea to give them as food to someone, since no one wanted to eat their pet just as they would not eat a member of their family. If anyone could eat that, it was the medicine man, since he was a man of magic, but also a stranger to the household of the goat. In any case, these were desperate times, and even the medicine man found this to be a sensible solution, and so it came it to be.

Time passed, and so did the famine, and Dumsorkrom was back to life again, having put behind the pain and losses of the famine. As if the gods had not done enough cruelty to Dumsorkrom, no longer had the famine passed than the little flying ants again attacked the land in droves, worse than when they had come on the land the first time. Many people caught the deadly fever, and who else but to their medicine man they turned for salvation. It appeared that their decision to keep their medicine man alive during the famine had proved to be prudent. Yet the changing times had changed their medicine man too.

It so happened that the dead goat portion that the people had in desperate times offered as food to the medicine man had become accustomed to his taste. So he demanded that in exchange for curing anyone who had caught the deadly fever, he wanted a dead goat. This was scandalous, and the people felt they were being blackmailed with the content of their own kindness. It appeared nothing short of wickedness, a heartless hostage in which their very lives were being held at ransom. There was a mass uproar against the medicine man, there was anger in the land, and as you would imagine, there were many who died, either as a refusal on their lives to bend to the medicine man’s extortions, or because they did not have any goats to offer in exchange to save their lives.

The noble medicine man, and he believed he was noble did not see that he was doing any wrong at all. If the land yielded food for the farmer who tended it, why should the people not provide food for the man who cures their diseases? Surely when the land failed to return to the farmer food for his labour, there was hunger, and people died. In the same way, if the cured man does not provide any returns for the labour of his curer, the curer would die, and soon then everyone will die. He was only asking that they keep him alive as they had done in desperate times. After all, the people had not kept him alive during the famine out of kindness; they had kept him alive to secure their own health in future. There is no evil, but only true nobility that a man demands to be given his food in return for his labour. So despite the misery around him, or the plea and malice visited on his person, the medicine man demanded his dead goat, and a dead goat he insisted on. He did not want a breathing goat, nor suggest that anyone killed his goat, as that would be akin to murdering a member of their family, he just demanded a dead goat, regardless.

Everyday if someone died from the fever, more curses were hurled the way of the medicine man. What kind of man allows another man to die because of a dead goat? But, what kind of people allows themselves to die because of a dead goat? Yet what kind of goat pushes a man to allow other people to die because the goat will not die? Was it the medicine man’s selfishness, the people’s unreasonableness or the goat’s existence? There seemed to be every reason to regret keeping the medicine man alive, and even more for providing him with what has now become his weapon of trade. Deep down, the people believed they had by their own hands and supposed kindness created a monster, and by what, a dead goat! How could a dead goat transform their noble and kindhearted medicine man into this heartless creature whose heart was set on their goats at the cost of their lives?

The medicine man was deeply heart broken. How is it that people seek return from their labour but he is refused his? He could not imagine that anyone would choose their property over their own life. What would be the use of the goat to you when you die? Should everyone die eventually from the deadly fever, their goats will also die and then what? Why should an animal, which he saw now more as food than anything else, be given such a place in society and kept alive while the people who gave it such a status in the first place should die? Perhaps people did not value their lives as much, or people had now become slaves of their own creations. Indeed, that must be it, what else can it be. Nothing masked all this more badly than the thought that not only were the people by their refusal committing a pointless suicide, they were also unwittingly starving him to death. This angered the medicine man so much he came up with a desperate ploy.

So when the people woke up daily to find that their goats were dying, they suspected with reason that the medicine man was the culprit. Now the dilemma was whether to give the goat to the medicine man as payment in return for cure for the sick, or bury the goat as they have buried those who had died from the fever. To think that the medicine man would have succeeded in actually forcing their hand by his evil actions into his demands riled the people, and so they decided instead to bury their goats, as they have their dead. For they reasoned that by asking for their goats in exchange for their lives, the medicine man had equated their lives to the worth of a dead goat. They would rather die than be as such dishonored.

The medicine man was perplexed by this madness, but he could not at this point do any more, if the people were so bent on refusing him his due. Neither was he willing to rescind his stance. For he had reasoned that if the people had deemed their lives less worthy than the dead goat, then neither did they value his life any more than the dead goat. He was starving; the people were dying. None could see the other’s point of view; none could inhabit the other’s place. The medicine man could not empathize with the ailing people; they had chosen their own death by fetishizing their goat! The people could not see the medicine man’s reason; how could anyone demand a mere dead goat as the prize of another man’s life.

It was shocking to say the least that the once agreeable land of Dumsorkrom now stood at its brink, on the dispute of a goat, and a dead goat as such. How is it that a dead goat whose place in the land, and which use as the medicine man’s food, which had been set by the people themselves, now become the subject that has turned affection of a medicine man and his people into a sour transaction. A transaction of impersonality, where the sick are seen not to die from their illness, but from selfish non-payment, and the medicine man starves, not from lack of food, but from his selfish demands. It was no longer a relation of dying mothers, brothers, wives and nephews and a starving medicine man, but a transaction of the man demanding to be paid and those refusing to pay. When all that remains of a people is not their relations, but of who owes whom what and who should pay whom what, there is nothing left of them but their own death, if not by violence of ailments, by the quieting hand of hunger.

When the travellers of the north reached Dumsorkrom, it was a wretched land scattered with many unburied dead men, women, children and goats.