MTN’s creative journey in Nigeria’s telecom market

By Ralph Tathagata

As a way of creating awareness and expressing their value propositions, businesses the world over rely on advertisements to promote their brands, products and services.

Since it began its commercial operations on August 8, 2001, MTN Nigeria’s creative journey has been a memorable one in the annals of the country’s advertising landscape.

In the streets, thoroughfares and highways of Lagos, Abuja, and Port-Harcourt, MTN advertising activities commenced even before the official launch of the corporate brand with Yellow, its brand colour, adorning below the line materials, billboards and tee-shirts.

What’s more, MTN Nigeria’s creative campaign programme captured the national mood in 2001, with its first television commercial “Rising Sun” by TBWA Concept. The advert shows a nation waking up to a new day with the sun rising brightly into a beautiful sky. The TVC connected Nigerians to themselves in a new day with the tagline, “Achieve What You Want To Achieve”.

MTN’s creative account, having been won by the Omnicom Group at the global level, was handed to its Nigerian affiliate TBWA Concept but shared with SO&U. In its trajectory, other creative agencies like DDB, Redbrick etc have played major roles.

So far, TVCs, radio jingles, press and outdoor materials, the themes of MTN’s creative campaigns have gone beyond influencing purchase or patronage decisions among subscribers. The telecom giant’s choices of visual and textual thematic campaigns have been topnotch in terms of connecting with the target audience and telling compelling stories that encourage Nigerians to do more in their various endeavours.

With a total active customer base of 76.7 million as of 2023, MTN’s influence in the Nigerian telecom space cannot be overstated.

In 2004, MTN unveiled an iconoclastic campaign tagged “Sunshine”, created by SO&U, Nigeria’s creative powerhouse. “Sunshine” was a sub-theme under “Life is Beautiful”, a teaser campaign.

MTN ‘Life is Beautiful’ commercial features a couple who are in different parts of the world and is able to reach out to one another because of MTN connection. The man takes advantage of a captivating, orange-glowing and window-piercing sunshine to remind his dialed up lover of her illuminating presence in his life. “Thanks for bringing sunshine into my life,” he says.

Also, MTN’s ‘Sharp Guy’ campaign, another creation of SO&U, features a man, obviously a student in a tertiary educational institution. The man, who makes advances to a young lady, requests for her phone number which she repeatedly turns down. The young man deliberately drops his cell phone beside the lady pretending to have left it behind.

However, his game pays off when hours later he used a borrowed phone to call his line and finally got a chance to speak with his dream girl, who was worriedly waiting for a call from the ‘forgetful owner’. Having picked up the ‘lost phone’, the young student takes a chance on his object of admiration.

In MTN’s ‘Dance with Me’ commercial, Enrique Iglesias’ 2001 pop hit, ‘Hero’, plays in the background. A smitten couple is having a long distance call. The lady and her ‘Hero’ stop talking and share an over-the-phone dance, de-emphasizing their distance barrier.

In MTN’s ‘Na Boy’ TVC, the ‘Joy of Grandmotherhood’ doesn’t need an explanation. The campaign opens with images of a fast-spread jubilation among the young, sleeping and market-trading populace in the community. They encircle the elated grandmother to celebrate the phone-transmitted good news from her son about the birth of her new grandson.

In 2018, MTN launched Maninthebox campaign. During the campaign teaser, a man was seen around Lekki, Lagos, working day-and-night, come rain or sunshine; in what appeared to be an office-in-a-billboard displaying the phrases – “We know what keeps you up, let’s talk’ and #Maninthebox.

The campaign symbolises MTN’s unwavering dedication and desire to help support business growth and transformation among Nigerians, despite the time of day, while using a wide range of world-class business solutions, backed by cutting-edge technology.

In 2021, MTN launched a two-minute thematic TVC, “We Move” by SPV Communication Solutions, which created a storyline resonating with the hopes and aspirations of Nigerians. The thrust of the campaign was hinged on the MTN Group’s brand strategy of progress and focused on urging Nigerians to look inwards for opportunities for progress that abound within their contemporary situations.

The TVC opens on a young man in a Nigerian University who evidently has a knack for cooking delicious meals. While in school, his roommates, friends, and even the security guards would smell the aroma coming from any dish he was making and find their way to his room to have a taste of whatever he has prepared.

A few years later, the young man graduates from the university and joins the pool of unemployed youth in Nigeria. Even while he was job hunting without any luck, he would return home and cook meals for his flatmates.

One day, after completing yet another fruitless employment exercise, he suddenly got inspired to cook meals and deliver to customers, and this became the turning point in his life and career.

By looking inwards, the Nigerian youth in the TVC was able to discover a skill he already had and instead of remaining downcast by his current situation, he decided to monetise his already existing skills.

Recently, M&C Saatchi Africa became the marketing communications partner across all MTN Group Operating Companies, and its Nigerian affiliate, SO&U Group is now responsible for MTN business in Nigeria.

For now, it is not certain what the size of MTN Nigeria’s media account is, but media monitoring agencies have maintained that MTN is one of the biggest spenders in the industry, and this new partnership effectively puts SO&U back in the elite club as one of the biggest creative agencies in Nigeria.

The return of the big brand to SO & U is quite a good one for both the brand and the agency as they are both in a familiar embrace and terrain. The agency, had once in the annals of the brand’s creative journey created award-wining campaigns for the telco in the past. These campaigns had resonated very well with the brand’s target audience through top-of-the-mind awareness among Nigerians. A new honey moon beckons even as the new marriage promises to be mutually beneficial.


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