The mystery of Baba Ijebu

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One of the strongest homegrown brand is Premier Lotto otherwise called Baba Ijebu in  local parlance. But this brand, as strong and popular as it is, has defied all the conventional rules of marketing and communications, which modern brands adopt to attain prominence.

In this report, Goddie Ofose writes on the brand’s growing popularity among Nigerians as against Lagos Lottery and National Sports Lottery that experienced stillbirth despite fanfare and huge marketing outlay.

For 22-year-old Moses Omu, who owns a barbing salon in Meiran, a suburb in Lagos, his day is not complete if he does not patronise the Premier Lotto, popularly called Baba Ijebu in the Southwest region of Nigeria. Omu is not alone in this daily business. Several other Nigerians, young and old, boys and girls, men and women, mainly in the C, D and E segments of the market, engage in this activity daily.

Interestingly, this activity is going on without any form of conventional communications strategy by the brand (Baba Ijebu) to persuade its target audience to patronise the business. Unofficial statistics have shown that, of over 20 million Nigerians in Lagos, approximately five million people patronise Baba Ijebu daily.

This, to any business, is a huge success. Even the company with the heaviest of marketing budget in the country cannot achieve such a margin in one day let alone Lagos market.

According to Miss Busayo Olanipekun, a representative of the business in Lagos, who spoke with Saturday Independent, “Baba Ijebu is the stock exchange of the poor and that is the mindset of those playing it. They are poor and are hoping for jackpot. In the UK you don’t play lottery because you are poor, you play for the fun of it and with the understanding that your money is going into a good work for the society.”

Globally, most businesses thrive on advertising and marketing. In the case of the lotto brand, the reverse is the case. Just like Alabukun and Indian hemp that get little or no communication support but realise a higher margin than those involved in massive above-the-line and below-the-line communication approaches.

Over the years, “Baba Ijebu” in the West and Pool in the East have grown to gain the trust of those who patronise it, hence every attempt and effort take its market share always results in great marketing miscalculation and loss to firms which believe that deploying new marketing and communications support could influence choice.

For instance, it is no longer news that Lagos Lotto and National Sports Lottery have failed woefully despite all the conventional marketing tactics deployed to push the brands in the market against “Baba Ijebu” and later Ghana Lotto, which many said is an extension of “Baba Ijebu” brand.

In 2005, it was reported that over N500million was wasted on a failed National Sports Lottery project. When it was launched in July 2004, no expense was spared in informing Nigerians that something rewarding was in town. On radio, television and newspapers and through ubiquitous billboards and posters distributed all over the country, the message was so promising: the possibility of a big payday through the National Sports Lottery (NSL) was always in our faces. But all of those big promises could not influence the target choice hence the money went down the drain.

While unveiling the game in Lagos at that time, the Chief Executive Officer of the company, Mr. Rick Wagner, said that with the technical support of Tattersalls of Australia, a leading international lottery operator, and EssNet of Sweden, one of the world’s leading supplier of Lottery Systems and equipment, NSL LMC will operate the national lottery with integrity throughout Nigeria. He said then that the game would provide affordable entertainment as well as generate wealth for its citizens while also raising funds for the development of national sports and other good causes throughout the nation.

With this development, he said, Nigeria would become one of over 100 on-line global lottery operations in the world, adding that over 1,200 retail terminals in eight cities of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Aba, Benin, Enugu, Ibadan and Onitsha would be launched. The retailers, it was proposed then, were to undergo an Intensive Lottery Best Practice training programme to enable them grow the Lotto Nigeria business. Aside the provision of indirect employment for thousands of retailers nationwide, it was also proposed that the company would also employ over 160 Nigerians. However, these promises never swayed Nigerians to National Sports Lottery.

Having discovered the goldmine in lottery business, Lagos State, in 2004 launched the Lagos Lottery and the campaign was also massive. From road show to core advertising, Lagos was painted with pink. Expatriates were employed to manage the process but yet, “Baba Ijebu” stood its ground and never invested in any conventional communication support services. Today, Lagos Lottery only exists on paper and when corporate organisations wish to launch a sales promotion.

But just like Indian hemp, which lacks advertisement credentials yet attracts several consumers “Baba Ijebu” has continued to lure customers to itself without any persuasive communications. Highlighting reasons behind this, Miss Olanipekun, the company’s representative, said: “Beyond the strategically positioned kiosks at every nook and cranny of major cities in Nigeria, their steadfastness in delivering on their promise of prompt payment of winnings is also responsible for the faith customers have shown to the brand.”

Nnadike Onyema, a graduate who has been jobless for five years but had resorted to “Baba Ijebu” for daily bread, said the magic behind the huge traffic at each game centre is that the brand delivers on its promise and people take it upon themselves to advertise it without knowing they are doing so.

“If you win you like to tell others and people in this community trust such information than the one put in the papers and TVs,” Onyema added.

Beside the apparent lack of conventional marketing support, customers are also attracted to the stake when they see inscriptions such as “National is Buried, Come for Your 3 Direct”, “Jackpot in trouble 2 Sure”.

“Sometimes, one gets a breakdown of what he or she could get through the advertisements but these days it is no longer so. For example, if you play ‘3 Direct’ with a meager N500, you could win N1.05 million and if you play ‘2 Sure’ with N500, you will win N120,000. With this, I don’t see why people won’t start staking,” Olanipekun said.

This is unlike the NSL and Lagos Lottery that take the form of a casino, which apply to the A and B segments of the market.

Explaining the success of “Baba Ijebu” in spite of obvious lack of marketing support, a communication specialist and journalist, Akpadem James said: “People neglect the culture variable in a lot of things and it works against their success. People easily relate with what they are familiar with, those things that agree with their norms and values. The frame of reference of people who play lottery will flow with the ‘Baba Ijebu’ orientation more than the Lagos lottery. They understand the ‘Baba Ijebu’ business language better because it relates closely with their orientation and environment.”

“The fact that there are no above-the-line marketing campaigns does not suggest something is not happening below the line. World over, lotteries are for the poor. Rich men go to casinos while the poor looking for a break play lotteries,” said Ikem Okuhu, CEO Reliks Communications.

“So the owners of the so-called “Baba Ijebu” have long created a viral communication channel via word of mouth and local community networking that have been effective. It has been so pervasive that “Baba Ijebu” has become a culture and people do not easily depart from their culture. Even the name, “Baba Ijebu” speaks to the ordinary people. It speaks to them in their language and everyone has keyed into it. But other lotteries seem to be elitist and targeting people who, by their income levels, do not need a lottery windfall for a break.

“Viral marketing might take a bit longer to take a brand to high levels but if that works, it stays there because, in as much as we have several modes of mass communication these days, word of mouth still remains more effective, carrying more trust, more proximity,” Okuhu said.

The Managing Director of Mediacraft Associates, a communications firm, John Ehiguese, feels it is essentially a matter of strategic market segmentation. “Baba Ijebu” is clearly targeted at the low end of the market, and this positioning is already established even from the name itself.

And then consider the locations of their shops/kiosks — high density, low-income locations. The cost of betting is far lower. So they already have a potential mass market. Finally, he said “Baba Ijebu” is promoted by someone who is already a veteran in the pools betting business. So he has enough experience and already understands the gambling business.

“Baba Ijebu” deals in lotto, a fixed odds game in which players contest against the House (the operator), and not against each other unlike other lotteries. The amount won is independent of other winners. The operator bears the total risk and literarily can win or lose.

There are five different ways to play; from a single number bet to five numbers. There are no prize categories. A player either wins the full amount or loses the bet totally. A player can stake any amount he wishes (between a minimum stake and usually a maximum stake). The amount he is paid is directly proportional to the amount that he staked.

Since there is no pool and the prize is independent of other players, there can be as many draws a day as is technically possible. One form of fixed odds game (Keno) is drawn several times a day. The payout is about 62/63 per cent, but unlike the lottery, the turnover is big. Commission payable to agents is 25per cent.

Also speaking on the thriving “Baba Ijebu” business, the CEO of Scanad Nigeria, Rufai Ladipo, said the success of “Baba Ijebu” hinges on local intelligence. Besides, the brand has heritage from days of old and he the lottery has gained followership and trust. In addition to its track record and meeting its commitment at the moment of truth is also the visibility the brand has created in the minds of its patrons.”

“It’s product relevance, said Demola Adedoyin, CEO, iTROOPS, a Media Activation Agency. “A good fit between the package and the lifestyle of the target audience. Advertising is not mandatory in all cases. Once you get a good fit, all that is needed to win or fail is product delivery which amplifies the brand throughWOM,” he said.

Several reasons have been given as to why “Baba Ijebu” has continued to grow while others have exited the scene. For Chief Executive Officer of Absolute PR, Akonte Ekine, the target audience differs, so while “Baba Ijebu” was talking to the people in the DE socio-economic language they understand, National lottery and Lagos lottery were talking to C1.

He said that culturally, the people that play lottery are seen to be no good “fellas.” In the country unlike the UK and USA, playing lottery is an acceptable standard in view of the understanding of what lottery has done to the development of the society such as building of universities like Harvard and a host of other projects.

All lotteries communicate; it is just that the channels differ and the quality associated with it also differs in terms of communication.

Fundamentally, the failure ascribed to the national and Lagos lotteries can be seen from two perspectives: they want to be both regulators and players in a sector that is new. They did not take time to understand the dynamics of lottery at the level they want to participate. Lottery is a social responsibility project in the developed world and people play with the consciousness that the money will be used for the good of the community. What you have with these government lotteries is that they are structured for quick gains and the audience they are speaking to are not those that will play lottery in the open due to our pretending nature.

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