STAR and GUINNESS were, for me, an unusual distinction – Ted Mukoro

Uncle Ted, as he is fondly called, is many things rolled up in one – a teacher, an internationally acclaimed, multi award winning sound, stage and screen artist; a playwright, a patriot and a true leader. Most important to us in the integrated marketing communications community, he is both a titanic icon and an iconic titan. Born in Warri, Delta State, in 1928, Ted Mukoro was a pioneer staff of the first television station in Africa, the WNTV/WNBS, having joined the station just a year after it was launched; he was part of the longest running serial on Nigerian television, The Village Headmaster, and even wrote the script for the first two episodes. His foray into advertising has availed the industry the highly impactful services and gargantuan contributions of a creative genius. Mr. Mukoro of the STAR Shine Shine Bobo and GUINNESS STOUT Black Thing Gooood o (rendered in native Calabar accent) fame among many others, has inspired and nurtured the careers of a vast majority of Nigeria’s leading advertising gurus. His career spans almost five decades with a huge body of work that remains a benchmark for industry and for the country. And at 88, he is still tirelessly contributing his brilliance to the industry and the larger society, consulting for different agencies and organizations with his contributions cutting across a wide range of disciplines and interests. MARKETING EDGE was privileged to have him in audience for a short interview recently. Below are excerpts:

You chose to switch to advertising from broadcasting, as a career, while your other colleagues went into other careers, what informed that choice?

It was purely by chance, I was in Ibadan as an external candidate at an examination for a London degree and I had reasons to believe I was not doing well. I was at Alfred Rewane’s Chalet at the GRA Ibadan where Julie Cooker from Warri met me at dinner.
The following morning she woke me up to say she had booked an appointment for me to meet the controller of programmes at WNTV-WNBS, an Australian, for a job interview. That was a surprise because I did not express a desire to go into broadcasting, but things turned out quite successful and in less than three weeks I had returned from Warri to join WNTV-WNBS on July 1, 1960, an adventure I had never thought about, but there I was beginning an exciting career in the media.

Were you to write a degree exam or an entrance exam to UI then?

No, I was an external candidate trying to obtain a London University degree, because though I had an offer of a private scholarship I had just been married and could not very well suspend the maintenance of my new wife and child as well as my mother and younger brother for the 3 or 4 years I would have had to be away studying at some campus, even including the only one University then available in Nigeria.
I managed to scale through English, Latin and French at A level but I had enormous problems coping with the orals (conversation and dictation) of French. So when I entered for the final degree I had to substitute French with classical GREEK, a dead language like Latin which did not impose an oral test.
Lintas was regarded as the University of advertising in Nigeria way back….
Perhaps one should rather say that WAP (West Africa Publicity) the forerunner of LINTAS was established in 1928. And until Harold McMillan’s proverbial Wind of Change began to intensify as a post-World War II phenomenon bringing about independence from the colonialists in the late fifties, African and Third World nations did not become attractive targets for trade, educational and other developmental projects; as soon as it became clear that third-world countries would become sovereign states in the 1960s the pace of economic development began to accelerate.
By 1960 Graham & Grillies, Auger & Turner and S. H. Benson, etc had become established as competitors to LINTAS advertising. Naturally enough, LINTAS maintained a distant lead in Nigeria’s advertising for well over 20 years.

Looking at the industry generally, how do you compare the creative industry presently to what it was in your days?

The heart of the creative industry is, of course, the language of communication, the very means of persuading of the target consumer. English, the principal language is, unlike in Britain, USA, etc where it is the mother tongue, needed the support of Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba, etc to be truly idiomatic and therefore more penetrative, more convincing and more persuasive communication (in our clime). So the function of creating a truly successful and persuasive communication in Nigeria has been a totally different kind of experience. Some of the so-called easy-as-ABC radio commercials written for Nigeria in England assumed that the use of only the primary colours of red, blue, green, yellow, brown, black, purple, etc would certainly be easy to communicate.
As I explained to LINTAS copywriters in London, most Nigerian languages had only 3three colours viz red, black and white. All the colours were grouped together as ododo (flowers), picturesquely a bunch of assorted colours.
Only Hausa, for example, had a name shudl (n) for blue, BLUE OMO is SHUDI ‘n’ OMO, SHUDI being a derivation from Arabic. How can English man understand that? We have learnt to communicate idiomatically to our Nigerian target audiences; by using idiom in the wider sense of the peculiarity of the culture, way of life, and of life’s experience to communicate with our primary target audience. You do not, for example, whet the appetite of Muslims with pork, however deliciously prepared.

Looking at Lintas over the years, we want you to reflect and educate us on the campaigns and the various brands that excited you the most over the years and those that were the most challenging to work on?

I am trying to make this interview impersonal in order to be fair. But I have an undoubted weak record, with STAR beer and GUINNESS, clear competitors. LINTAS at one time handled both GUINNESS advertising and Nigerian Breweries, not the ideal thing to do, but because LINTAS was the only advertising agency some time before independence. It was not good sportsmanship to have or handle two competitors under one roof. More agencies came on to the scene, as well as competing lager beers and stouts and the separation had to take place.

That was why I have had the unusual distinction of writing advertising both for STAR and for GUINNESS. I did a lot too for VONO in particular, and for VITAFOAM as well. There have been great, even gigantic pioneers, all of them in Nigerian advertising.
But there were great weaknesses too, the effect of which will become apparent too much later for me to comment upon. But the ONE man, still alive and active, who has excelled, and indeed become exceptional in running a consistently creative and ever-growing advertising business as well as being entrepreneurially successful outside advertising is Biodun Shobanjo, in my opinion a rave genius, but very, very humble.


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