Some days ago, I made a Facebook post titled “Unwittingly Marketing the Obi Brand” in which I admonished those opposed to the Peter Obi candidature of the unintended consequences of making Obi the epi centre of their campaign instead of concentrating on marketing their candidate.
Today, I am compelled to expand that admonition, make it universal, to cover all those who support particular candidates but devote more time and efforts advertising the “fault lines” of the opposition candidate than they advertise the strong points of their candidates.
When you devote so much time and cyber ink to highlight the shortfalls of candidate, you unwittingly market and give free media visibility to that candidate. In modern media terms, you help that candidate to “trend”. By doing so, you help to create multiple links and every click on those links drive traffic to the name and brand of the candidate. Media users often tend to dig down beyond the topic to read more about the candidate and to hear what he/she has to say. Chances are that they may actually find more positive attributes that would have been unavailable to them were they not so directed.
This an existential and historical fact but the biggest tragedy of history is that men often fail to learn from the lesson of history. No wonder Winston Churchill admonished that “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
In the present digital world, the permissiveness and pervasive influence of social media can not be overemphasised. It is to the internet and social media that most people first go to for information. Most public relations activities, including political campaigns and marketing of manifestos, are conducted more today on social media because of its immediacy and wide reach. Social media is constantly in your face.
The propagation of negative information about political opponents on social media is a double edge sword that can cut both ways depending on intensity and frequency. The more times a subject is mentioned on social media, the more media mileage and popularity it gains. In product marketing, the popular product is always the product to beat. The more cartoons, caricature or memes you make, the more you help to etched the subject in the consciousness of the reader. So when you ceaselessly fixate on the defeciencies of a candidate’s certificates, age or frailty, to the detriment of marketing your candidate, you unwittingly make the opposition candidate the option and present him/her as a threat to your own candidate.
In the Nigerian experience, heckling of candidates over issues of age, certificates and health status has never won elections for the opposition. As a matter of fact, ceaseless battering of a candidate can make him an underdog and people are naturally more sympathetic towards the underdog.
Perhaps, recent history may help to convince us. In the run up to the 2019 general elections, a host of negative controversies, from certificate to health and personality issues trailed the Buhari candidature, that the opponents thought would drown him. He was dead one day, sick another, clone or a double the next day, adfinitum. At the end, Buhari “trended” with the help of his traducers and won the election convincingly.
Another point to take into consideration is the malleability and weaknesses of our institutions. Those who drive their campaigns on the basis of their opponent’s faults, such as certificates, age, and like, do so with the hope of getting the candidates disqualified by the appropriate institutions of state saddled with unraveling such discrepancies and or perjuries. In saner climes such techniques might work but not in Nigeria where the institutions are amenable to all manner of influences.
Glaring cases of such discrepancies have been known to find their ways through our courts with the candidates unscathed. The Nigerian Justice is, in most cases, not blind. Money talks and bullshit walk. And each time an accused candidate scale through such adjudications, through hook or crook, he/she comes out stronger. The outcome reinforces for him/her the perception of an underdog, wherein he ganners the sympathy of more supporters and undecided voters who now consider him persecuted. More damaging is the fact that, he acquires, in the eyes of the fickle minded and guilible, the toga of invincibility. We all know how Nigerians love “strong” men.
Politics ought to be issues based, where candidates are tasked on their programs and manifestos, but where it descends from this high pedestal to the cesspit of mudslinging, the consequences are not only often unintended but unpleasant and society is always the loser for it