Perception and Reception of Public Relations Versus Advertising in Nigeria

A 2015 research by BHM Media & Intelligence Unit

  1. The Difference Between Public Relations and Advertising

Public Relations, on the one hand, helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and cooperation between an organization (or brand) and its publics. It involves the management of problems or issues; helps management to keep informed on and responsive to public opinion; defines and emphasizes the responsibility of management to serve the public interest, and helps management to keep abreast of, and effectively utilize change.

Advertising, on the other hand, is a paid, mediated form of communication from an identifiable source, designed to persuade the receiver to take some action, now or in the future

The table below sums up the differences between PR and advertising:

Prior to the advent of integrated marketing communications, the Nigerian marketing communications industry exhibited a disposition more towards PR, with town-crying and hawking being the earliest forms of advertising. These have survived in many of Nigeria’s rural communities till date.

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  1. History and Challenges of Public Relations and Advertising

The development of modern public relations in Nigeria began around 1948 when the pre-colonial administration set up a public relations department with offices in Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna and Enugu. In charge of the department was PR expert Mr. Harold Cooper. The activities of Cooper, his team including expatriates and Nigerians initially concentrated on publicity work that dealt with problems arising from World War II, such as shortages of goods and the imposition of an austerity regime by the colonial government.

One interesting novelty was to address a letter of welcome to all Nigerians returning from overseas, offering them assistance towards the finding jobs or resettlement in other ways.


Similar publicity activities were simultaneously taking place in large organizations such as UAC, and the Nigerian Railway Corporation, which for example used the services of Ernest Ikoli, a veteran journalist.

Harold Cooper was succeeded by his deputy, Mr. John Stocker, who was assisted by Nigerians such as Ayo Lijadu, and Mobolaji Odunewu in consolidating and expanding government information and PR activities in the country.

With the economic and political growth of Nigeria came unique challenges of public communication. As the country moved towards the emergence of political parties and the fight for independence, campaigns for the ‘Nigerianization’ of both the public and private sectors resulted in a PR revival. Foreign firms, which dominated the economy of the country, saw the need for some form of PR activities for dealing with press criticisms and the people’s misconception of their roles in Nigeria.

1950s to 1960s:

The next significant changes in the development of PR in Nigeria began with the attainment of independence, the discovery of oil and the shift of emphasis from general trading to industrialization. Companies like UAC and Shell were compelled to launch planned programmes covering government, press and community relations. The creation of PR departments in companies increased, alongside the development of Nigerians to manage such offices.


Nigeria’s first set of PR consultants set up shop in the late 50s and focused on press agentry. They existed until two decades after. Founding consultancies include OAB Press, Publicity Services Nigeria Limited, Gab Fagbure & Associates, Gab Idigo & Associates, Uloma Nwachukwu & Associates, Bob Ogbuagu & Associates (Bob Ogbuagu) and Praction Partners Limited.

PR gained significant professional identity in 1962, with the establishment of the Public Relations Association of Nigeria (PRAN) under the leadership of late Dr. Sam Epelle, a former director of the Federal Ministry of Information. The association helped to draw together an increasing number of practitioners who over the years had become members and associates of the British Institute of Public Relations.

Mid-60s to 80s:

From the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties, the Public Relations Association of Nigeria (PRAN) subsequently adopted the more professional name of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) in 1972.


Mass Communication, crucial to effective marketing communications practice, was first introduced as a course in Nigeria at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the University of Lagos and the Institute of Management Technology, Enugu. The evolution PR in Nigeria in the private and public sectors resulted in the establishment of more PR firms, in turn causing the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN) to be founded in 1984.  Six years later, the long-standing Nigerian Institute of Public Relations was chartered in 1990.


With respect to media advertising, print media made inroads into Nigeria in 1859, with Iwe Iroyin, a Yoruba language newspaper published by Reverend Henry Townsend at Abeokuta. Within was an advert – an announcement for the Anglican Church.2

The main challenge to media advertising remained low literacy rates, but the need to capture the Nigerian public necessitated some formal research into advertising because by the 1960s, more than 300 firms were registered to do business in Nigeria, and the country’s population was already formidable, standing at 55 million. At the time, one in four people living in Africa were a Nigerian.

The US Department of Commerce researched the existence of various media in Nigeria, naming these as crucial for firms hoping to reach the Nigerian consumer market for US goods, as reproduced below:


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The main modes of advertising in these early days were radio, considered particularly effective, as it bypassed literacy levels. Motion picture adverts were also popular, because many people visited theatres for recreational purposes. But perhaps the most widely used advertising formats were paper, cardboard, metal posters and signs near the point of sale. Personal selling was a hit; product sampling was widely practiced in market areas, as well as sales promoters with loudspeakers and moving vehicles, a technique, which is still in use today.  Experts quickly discovered that advertising was “generally more effective when direct, forceful and continuous.”

Examples of advertising lines in those early days are:

“The ubiquitous ‘Guinness gives you power,’ next to the bulging biceps of an African arm has made Guinness stout the biggest seller in Nigeria.”

“‘Buy Raleigh, the all steel bicycle’ on radio, billboard and poster has kept this manufacturer’s product tops for years.”


Other challenges were that at the time, an estimated 80% of the adult population had little or no formal education but they were still an important consumer base. Also, businesses quickly realized that Nigerian consumers were not a monolith to be communicated with in the same way. Raymond Baker, then president of Overseas Economic Development Incorporated of New York, summarized the advertising landscape of the times and advised thus:

“The Yoruba of the Western Region is a very outgoing and friendly individual, while the Hausa of the Northern Region is rather quiet and reserved. Colors may be important; for the Yoruba, blue is always favoured. Even the direction of hands and eyes is sometimes significant. Marketing in Nigeria must be considered with an appreciation for the tribal and cultural background, as well as the education and income of the people.”

He ended with:

“gradual changes can be expected to take place in techniques of advertising and promotion, and in the long run, improvement of the education and literacy of the people will bring further changes. Product advertising expenditures may require a large percentage for development of brand image, and introductions of new items may become possible through media campaigns,instead of more personal promotions.”

SOURCE: Baker, R.W. , Marketing in Nigeria Journal of Marketing,Vol. 29, No. 3 (Jul., 1965), pp. 40-48

  • Case Studies comparing successes and failures of Nigerian PR and Advertising

Advertising: Virgin in Port Harcourt vs Mama Na Boy

Relying on pun as its chief linguistic device, airline company Virgin Atlantic’s widely successful campaign tapped into the sociocultural belief that virgins are hard to find, through its use of taglines such as: “Who says there is no virgin in Port Harcourt?” and “the real Virgin has arrived”

In contrast, telecommunication provider MTN had an advert where a mother-in-law received a call, breaking into song and dance when told “Mama, na Boy,” meaning her son’s wife had just given birth to a son.


This cliché, despite being used in society daily, was deemed offensive by many Nigerians, as critics said the words “Mama, Na boy’’ reinforced the Nigerian mindset relating to the preference of boys over girls as children. MTN pulled the advert, and commenced PR measures to overcome the resultant bad press.

PR: Indomie vs My Pikin

In May 2004, rumours surfaced that the consumption of Indomie Noodles was causing illness and death. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) closed all factories and distribution facilities belonging to manufacturer De-United Foods Industries Limited (now known as Dufil Prima Foods ltd), while carrying out its investigations. As public outcry and fear increased, then CEO Roger Yeo refused to focus on the negatives by publicly declaring his companies’ losses. He instead appealed for the conclusion of all investigations, scoring points with some members of the press and public by saying, “our distributors are angry because they have been selling and eating this brand for 10 years.”

Perception and Reception of PR Versus Advertising in Nigeria pr-is-dead-indomie

When NAFDAC recalled a few batches of products but gave the company the go-ahead to resume operations, De-United Foods Limited kicked off with public adverts in newspapers and radio announcing the news, as well as a pledge to ensure the best quality. The company then embarked on an aggressive PR drive; road shows were organized, free noodles were given, with promos and education-focused CSR activities becoming a staple for De-United Foods till date.


On November 19, 2008, NAFDAC was told children were dying, after baby teething syrup called “My Pikin.” By the next day, 11 cases were reported, with 8 children dead, but manufacturers Barewa Pharmaceuticals immediately released a statement, categorically denying being responsible (without carrying out checks), and instead reassured the public to keep buying. This contributed to a worsening of outcomes as by February 2009, at least 84 children were dead, and NAFDAC had discovered the company was indeed culpable and begun prosecution proceedings. In May 2013, a Lagos Court ruled that the company be wound up, its assets forfeited to the government. Two employees were also sentenced to 7 years’ imprisonment.

PR (Digital): #Surulere versus Sound Sultan

In January 2014, producer Don Jazzy and artiste Dr. Sid released ‘Surulere’, which means, “Patience is rewarding”. At the same time, they ran an online campaign on social media where they placed personal ‘throwback’ pictures with their then current pictures. This was done to encourage their followers and the public to stay focused on their goals.

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By the time the music video of ‘Surulere’ was uploaded on YouTube on 23 January 2014, fans and celebrities alike had also begun uploading pictures of them transitioning from grass to grace. Because they could relate to the artistes, the public bought into the concept and also tagged their own pictures with #Surulere. The song remains a hit and the term is still used on social media. #Surulere is now fully entrenched in local lingua, an enduring PR boost for the artistes and their company Mavin records in the eyes and hearts of the public.


A little over a year later, in May 2015, singer Sound Sultan intended to release a new song titled ‘Oba Lola’ but tweeted that he would only do so if he got 2000 retweets from the public. Instead, the artiste faced great ridicule, with people mainly mocking him and counting the slow pace of retweets. However, after 23 hours, the post finally got 2,100 retweets and Sound Sultan kept his side of the bargain.

  • Consumers’ Perception of PR and Advertising

The medium matters, e.g. food and drink adverts are better retained when presented with moving images – as seen on TV, but also achievable via web and mobile media. Sales promotions should be regular, while billboards must be designed with caution.

Case Study A: Bournvita food drink

A survey of 315 consumers examined “the influence of advertising on consumers’ purchase of Bournvita, manufactured by Cadbury Nigeria Plc.  Of more than 12 different food drink brands, which featured in this study, Bournvita topped the brand preference table – both in the food drink industry in general, and in Cadbury’s own food drink brands in particular. According to the respondents, advertising and quality are the major factors responsible for the success of Bournvita. Very few subjects cited other reasons such as price, packaging and availability for their choice of the brand.”


“A combination of electronic and print media is employed in advertising Bournvita but television is seen as the most potent and effective medium by 71.43% of consumers.This may be because Television combines motion, sound, and special visual effects. The product can be demonstrated and described on T.V, which also offers wide geographic coverage and flexibility as to when the message can be presented. The implication of this is that price and other variables seem not to count much to the consumers as long as the quality of a product is maintained and the brand is also supported by heavy advertising reminding and persuading consumers to continue to buy.”

Case study B: PR and Advertising among GSM networks

A random sample of 500 students of four Universities in the North–east were given detailed questionnaires. The authors report that: “advertisement and sales promotions influence initial purchase and additions; this was indicated by the respondents as 80% of them agreed that advertising and sales promotions played a role in their addition of (another telecoms) network. Sales promotions should be done at shorter intervals, since it was found to induce more purchase from customers.”They recommended: “service providers should use the television in advertising their services” and “the benefits of the service should be stressed in all advertisements, such as the bonuses and free gifts available, because what customers are actually looking for, are the benefits.”

Case study C: Amstel Malta billboards in Onitsha, Nigeria

A sample of 373 individuals, “drawn purposely from the population of Amstel Malt consumers in Onitsha” and surveyed via questionnaires “showed that models in billboard advertising attract more attention to themselves than to products advertised and that audience recall models in billboard advertising more than the product advertised. It was therefore concluded that audience attention was more on models used in billboard advertising.”


The study recommended “billboard advertising should use models sparingly and concentrate on making the product or service advertised more conspicuous on billboard to ensure easy (brand) recall.”

5a. When PR proves more valuable than advertising

Case Study: The Planned Parenthood Foundation strategy

As the world began understanding AIDS in the 80s, a need also arose for the promotion of healthier sexual reproductive practices and family planning in Nigeria. The Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN) decided to lead with a PR campaign, by using music to propagate the need for a wider use of family planning and condoms.PPFN’s Adebola Adejo, said the method was used because at the time, “there was more of a listening audience than a reading audience.”The campaign kicked off with renowned artistes Onyeka Onwenu and King Sunny Ade producing and singing two songs ‘Choices’ and ‘Wait For Me’ (sponsored by America’s John Hopkins University), with the latter track sung in Pidgin. A national launch came by late 1989 and both songs were immediate hits, rising to the charts and remaining there for weeks on end.  Over 30 newspaper and magazine articles were written about the release of the album, “Wait for me.”In addition to performing to large crowds and publicizing child survival and family planning through live performances, King Sunny Ade and Onyeka Onwenu also visited maternal/child health and family planning clinics and gave talks on family planning to the public, all of which garnered added press coverage.The deliberate concentration on PR rather than advertising was revealed when Adejo, said:  “Sunny Ade is a well known polygamist who now tells his audience he knows the evil of polygamy, given how much it costs him to take care of his large family. This in a way helps others who plan large families to think before jumping into it.”About two years later, the songs were then linked to public service announcements from June till November 1992. Impact assessments later revealed that family planning awareness which stood at 45% in 1990 when the Ade-Onwenu album was released, climbed to 75% awareness by 1993. Contraception prevalence in Nigeria also increased from 3.5% in 1990 to 10%in 1993.

5b. Using advertising where PR would have been more effective

Case Study: Gala Sausage Roll vs Indomie Noodles

At the end of January 2012, UAC Foods Limited utilized bulk SMS to send text messages to customers informing them of a price increase from N50 to N70 thus:Some customers were vocal in their denouncement of this technique:This would not be the first time.The company had also used radio adverts to announce a price increase from N40 to N50, which had rubbed some customers the wrong way. Five years before the SMS message from UAC Foods, a customer complained in 2007.Altogether, this trend of events meant that the customers expressed that the company was not listening, as shown in this excerpt culled from the comment thread: “…stupidly they tried using adverts to improve sales.”



Perception and Reception of PR Versus Advertising in Nigeria pr-is-dead-indomie

By contrast, that same year, Dufil Prima Foods Plc, makers of Indomie Noodles focused on relating with the public, when they increased product prices.It started in early September 2012, when customers began to grumble that there seemed to be a change in the price of Indomie noodles.Just three days later, the company kicked off its Super Millionaire Promo, which encouraged people to buy more of the higher-priced 120g Indomie noodles, to stand a chance to win millions of Naira weekly.The promo was not given a time limit, initially tagged as “for a limited period.” It therefore continued, even as more people realized there was a price increase. The image below is from November 2012.Newspapers were awash with interviews of winners, while the company continued to engage with the public, notably on social media. Here is an exchange on Dufil Prima Foods Plc’s Facebook Fanpage between a consumer and the company:Dufil Prima Foods Plc also went ahead to carry out a different promo with a longer duration called Indomie Flash Contest, which gave consumers the chance to win a months’ supply of Indomie. By the time this promo ended, around mid-2013, its customers were fully eased into, and therefore firmly settled into the new price regime.

6. Practitioners’ perception of PR and Advertising


Audience segmentation and the deployment of digital channels is crucial – NwakanmaPerception and Reception of PR Versus Advertising in Nigeria pr-is-dead-chido-nwakanma

“Modern communication management requires more listening than speaking. This concept finds support in the public relations planning model that positions research and action before communication and evaluation. (We have to) segment audiences effectively…(it is) time to draw up a Nigerian communication demographic map.A significant portion of youths is now to be found only in that (digital) space. This is moreso as the 87 million persons on the Internet in Nigeria actively engage social media. The 2015 elections mobilized them for participation, at least online. Public communication managers must engage and define. Otherwise, citizens – informed, uninformed or plain obnoxious – would define at will.”

  • Chido Nwakanma, MD/CEO of Blueflower Communications Limited


Digital will be huge – OgunmefunPerception and Reception of PR Versus Advertising in Nigeria pr-is-dead-Kunle-Ogunmefun

“Digital marketing is going to be huge and there are a lot of things that would happen in the digital market space only if the environment is conducive for it to thrive. Things have started happening but it is not at the scale that it is meant to be. The truth about it is that traditional advertising can never go away.The two main problems we have in the advertising industry is data collection; we lack a lot of data in this industry. The second one is building professional capacity in terms of the staff members. Perhaps if we had adequate training institutions that would prepare people for this sector, the industry would grow.”

  • Kunle Ogunmefun, Vice Charman, Bluebird Communication Limited


Digital media presents both challenge and opportunity – EhiguesePerception and Reception of PR Versus Advertising in Nigeria pr-is-dead-john-ehiguese

“The ascendancy of digital media is a challenge to the extent that it is one of the manifestations of how media forms are evolving, affecting consumer information consumption habits, and ultimately impacting the way we communicate with the consumer. But then it also presents many opportunities. With online media, speed is of essence because of its real-time nature. Adverse news or information online can go viral within minutes and cause severe damage to a brand or company’s reputation. That is why one of the most important elements of Online Reputation Management is “listening.” You must be listening to the online conversation as it affects your brand, so that you can respond promptly to address any negative or inaccurate piece of information before it goes viral and causes reputational damage.”

  •  John Ehiguese, President, Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN) and Group Managing Director of Mediacraft Associates Ltd.


We must master our fears – OfiliPerception and Reception of PR Versus Advertising in Nigeria pr-is-dead-Chike-Ofili

“The Internet and mobile technologies are not a threat; they are only additional new dimensions to the broader parts of communication – the other half of our marketing communication practices. All we need to do is master our fears of its over-advertised powers and threats to our profession, and go ahead to own it by domesticating it within the creative department, or locate it as an independent department within the reach and practices of the creative department for their mutually close operations. This is how we should respond, rather than allow newcomers threaten us with their young language and practice as to make us change ours so readily, like one suffering from inferiority complex.”

  •  Chike Ofili, CEO Reputations Consulting


7. The Future 

New niches, M&A likely in the industry – Ehiguese

Perception and Reception of PR Versus Advertising in Nigeria pr-is-dead-john-ehiguese“We need to be more creative in our business development drive, to identify new market niches and opportunities. And they are there, waiting to be harnessed. [As for] mergers and acquisitions in the industry, essentially in order to build scale, to be able to gain more clout, and to service big clients effectively…we haven’t seen much of that happening yet in Nigeria, but it will come with time. The merger and acquisition fever appears to have caught on globally, and I believe that it’s just a matter of time before we begin to see it in Nigeria.”

  • John Ehiguese, President, Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria and Group Managing Director of Mediacraft


People no longer just consumers – ShobanjoPerception and Reception of PR Versus Advertising in Nigeria pr-is-dead-biodun-shobanjo

Marketing communications is about connecting people and brands, is about doing something educative, entertaining and useful for people and also about tapping into the human element; it is not just about making 30-second commercials. The digital revolution has ensured that people are no longer just consumers, but participate in the creation of ideas and products, production and distribution, as much as any marketing communications agency.”

  • Biodun Shobanjo, Chairman, Troyka Group

The roles can be swapped at any time – OluwasonaPerception and Reception of PR Versus Advertising in Nigeria pr-is-dead-kayode-oluwasona

“We need to address our collective psyche. The ‘client’ of today needs to realize that he is the ‘agency’ of tomorrow… I have seen some of my former clients become outright agency staff. The reality I am trying to draw out here is that roles can be swapped at any time. There is no inferior partner in a brand building relationship. There therefore should not be a superior partner.”

  • Kayode Oluwasona, Managing Director, Rosabel Leo Burnett
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