Everywhere he went, he was doing good. So is the story of Chuka Obi, with over eleven years in the industry, Chuka, a graduate of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, has moved and achieved from firm to firm. He is currently the creative director of Insight Publisis. Today, we do a brief on his story, lighting up his journey from comic artiste to corporate heavyweight.
…how it all began
My father was into advertising, he ran and still runs his own advertising outfit, Old Visuals Campaigns. As my father’s son, once in a while, he will take me to his office, so I knew about advertising but I didn’t really want to go into it.
Growing up, my one true dream was to be a comic book artist for either Marvel or DC. I was actually a very good artist but I didn’t want to end up in comics only, I considered being a football analyst too. Advertising was never part of the plan.
Then I went to university, I had a group of friends who I created comic books and music with. My first thought into advertising was when GLO launched in 2003.
I didn’t own a phone but I just had this affinity towards Glo; they were bringing per second billing into Nigeria.
So, I wrote an ad to herald their coming. Even at that time, I didn’t think I could do this.
Just after that, I and my friends were contracted to work on Indomie’s Indomitables in 2005/2006. Interestingly, before then, in 1996, we had come up with an idea for a brand I work for now- Pepsi.
At that time, Pepsi was pushing the Generation Next and we had come up with an entire comic book series with characters all based on Pepsi.
Our ideas didn’t see the light of day, we were just secondary school kids and had no idea how things worked. So, when Indomitables happened, I felt like this was more like what I think advertisement should be.
From then, I had more advertising gigs as far as drawing comics were concerned. And that was how I gradually got into the space.
This is where God comes into the picture; I was working as a contract artist drawing Bible stories for kid. I was doing that for a company called, Literamed, the owners of Lantern books, which is the biggest publishing house in West Africa.
So, I was running a story on Absalom, David’s son– a four-part series– and as I was rounding up part four, the Holy Spirit said to me clearly, “this is the last book you would do here.”
I had no interview, plans or money saved up but it was God’s voice, so I knew it was my last book there. It is an interesting story because the President and VP of the company at that time had taken an interest in what I was doing and felt I had a future there but when God says you are done, you are done.
So, I left without an idea where I was going.
But God interestingly orchestrated a set of meetings culminated in me receiving a call from a man called, Anthony Eko. He is the creative director of SO and U now; he called me and said he heard I want to write and I said yes.
He invited me to the office and I went there with the last book of Absalom. I met him, he was so impressed and hired me on the spot.
I insisted I was coming in as a writer but agreed to do art at the side. You might wonder what this has to do with Sociology; I decided not to study art in school because I felt I was already good at it and it was something I could learn without having to go to school for.
I, instead, wanted to learn stuffs that were completely new to me; I didn’t want my life to be monotonous.
…the driving force
Everything and anything inspires me. There are so many things that inspire me; it could be strategy, my experience or someone else’s.
Inspiration is just in the air sometimes and you cannot say exactly how it comes. It is sometimes as a result of tasking and methodical thinking. It could be anything but the key thing is to know when you have hit it.
Then you open a mind map to lead you, following from one theory to the other; something that will show you steps, cause and effect.
If you are looking for a big idea, sometimes the best question to ask is what if? Asking this question gives you a sense of reality and this opens up a portal for possibilities.
…strategy and triumphs
This is why the strategy department is such a key part of advertising; strategy is where the spark of creativity comes from.
For instance, in 2013, NCC introduced mobile number portability and one of our major clients at that time was MTN and they were one of the biggest service providers, which meant that if anybody was going to take a hard hit by the ability to take your number and go to any network, it will be the biggest subscriber.
So, at first, all the suggestions were to make people realise that MTN is the best place to be but there is only so much you can say because it is not based on what you say, it is based on people’s experiences.
Therefore, saying MTN was the best network was not going to work out. What we came up with was instead of being put in the defensive, why not welcome it and open the door for people to come in?
So, we decided to go the opposite, we decided to welcome everybody to MTN instead of bothering about people leaving MTN.
Then, we welcomed Saka, who at the time was very much associated with Etisalat. Everything from then was how to do it creatively, but that was the strategy that we led with and we saw the effect of what happened.
I think any client I am working with at a given moment is my biggest client. One of the biggest mistakes I think anybody can make is to have a small client and a big client.
You will not have big clients all the time and your small clients might not be giving you a lot money-wise, but they could be the best creative outlet to amazing work, so they are all big clients.
As far as measuring productivity and effectiveness, there are always tools for that and there is a team that their job is to measure effectiveness.
Plus, if you are good with your clients, you will know how things are working because whatever you are communicating is going to impact positively or negatively on sales, brand affinity and equity amongst others and you will be given reports as you go.
It is a balance of what we are doing differently and what we keep doing the same. At Insight Publisis, our values stay the same; when you have the right values and you stick to them, you will be steady.
For instance, if innovation and unconventional thought is your value, it means you will constantly reinvent and as we speak, we are in the process of doing that.
Yes, we are one of the biggest, but we have witnessed repeatedly how the mighty fall. Some companies that were some of the biggest in the world 15 years ago are now non-existent.
Companies like Blackberry were practically running the whole Smartphone industry at a time.
The absence of innovation puts an expiry date on your company and all things concerning it. Things will continuously change because we are always evolving.
So, the ability to evolve faster, ability to evolve even beyond the times, so others are trying to catch up with us, that’s where the work is.
There is a lot of work going on internally to make sure we are not just doing well but we are also leading the future.
…on reaching the target audience
There are a series of answers but one word that captures everything is insight. When you have insight, you can touch somebody at the core and reach them where nobody else can.
So, we need to always pay close attention to what the people are going through and what they want.
The way you can do that is to have insight into the customer’s life; his fears, hopes and what makes him tick.
…on the times ahead
I have learnt to not predict trends; I remember when it was predicted about 8 years ago that books will go extinct and it spelt doom for anything that was not e-reading.
If anything, things have gone back to physical books becoming more in vogue again and there is no guarantee it will stay.
The only trend that is guaranteed is change and not change because things change but because it is a consistent and continuous system of evolution and devolution sometimes, as things could go back too because it is a preferred method.
This will keep happening, what will remain is that people desire emotional, mental and physical contact, satisfaction and stimulation.
The era where you will shoot a great ad and think you are done for the year is gone; you are consistently in a relationship.
It is not enough to get the girlfriend a car, it is the consistent discussion and understanding that makes her feel understood. It is similar to the relationship you have with your clients and the consumers.
…on advertising in Nigeria
I think something amazing is waiting to happen. So many talented creatives in Nigeria are shipping out; they go to ads schools abroad and don’t come back because they know there is nothing to come back to. But the presence of problems is also the presence of greater solutions.
Nigeria is where solutions matter; what do you want to go and do in those countries in the West that they have not already done for themselves? But here, there is so much we can do; we just need to take off the shackles.
We just need to get the regulatory bodies to let us do amazing work, we need to let bravery be heard, we need to understand that people will actually love and cling to your brand if you will do things differently and that is what I want to see here.
…on work-life balance
When I am not working at the office, I’m working at home. And that is the work-life dilemma for a creative mind. A creative mind doesn’t really shut down because you could get an idea in the middle of the night.
The most important thing is to make creativity the ecosystem of your life so every other thing lives into it. That same creativity you are bringing into a client’s work, bring it back home.
For clients, I would say they should give us better deadlines so we can breathe and ultimately do greater work.
Editorial Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.