Political Marketing Lessons Learnt from Muhammadu Buhari

Political Marketing Lessons Learnt from Muhammadu Buhari

Love him or hate him, one thing no one can deny from the 2015 election victory is that you can write a thesis on the Marketing lessons or develop a marketing strategy from Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign. Millions and millions of people loved this new candidate who had contested and lost three times previously and they could not just explain why 2015 was different. Though at the moment, opinions differ on how well he is doing in office, in 2015, he created a campaign that has never been seen in Nigeria before, leveraging on every misstep by his opponent and making sure his message was heard loud and clear.


Here are some of the marketing lessons leant from Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign in 2015:

  1. Keep it Simple: Most people fear what they do not understand. As a campaign strategist, you need to realize that the people in your target market have lives! They do not have the time to deconstruct all the complex reasons why they should vote for your candidate. Muhammadu Buhari kept his message simple; “Change.” Everyone heard it; millions bought into it and ran with it. No one bothered to ask, “What exactly are we changing from and to what?” It’s a wonder no one thought about that, which brings me to my next point.
  2. Most Decisions are Emotional, not Logical: There is a reason you keep going back to your toxic ex to get your heart broken over and over again. There is a reason you can’t just stop eating sugar despite knowing deep down it is bad for your health, and there is a reason many people ran with the Buhari message even though they did not understand it very well. All this is because most decisions are emotional and not logical. Yes! We love to think we are a logical people and that we think things through before making any decision. But is that really the case? Men do not use their barbers because he is the best on the streets, men go to their barbers because they have developed a relationship with them and going to someone else does not just feel right. The Buhari campaign knew this and they looked for what people disliked about the then administration, magnified it and posed as the solution. How would they solve it? That was the logical thing to ask, but no one cared. The decision was emotional.
  3. Give people something to be angry about: The best emotion to weaponize is anger and weaponizing anger can be dangerous and can lead to chaos or even war. This is the classic Marxist divide-and-conquer style of getting into leadership. It is still working now and an example can be found in American Politics. Many young people in the United States are saddled with student loan debt and no health care insurance. What has presidential candidate Bernie Sanders done? Pointed the fingers at Billionaires, Oligarchs, Wall Street and Insurance companies. Whether he is right or wrong, he has successfully given young voters something to be angry about and a group to blame and that is why he has a huge following among young people though he is one of the oldest candidates. The Buhari campaign pulled this off very well, highlighting corruption in the Jonathan administration and telling everyone corruption was the reason the condition of their lives was so terrible. This made us angry! Anger does not allow anyone think rationally and most importantly, it keeps people focused on their perceived problems while they ignore the flaws of the supposed solution. This leads us to the next point!
  4. Branding: Muhammadu Buhari was a former military dictator who had led Nigeria into recession and played a key role under Nigeria’s Bogeyman, Sani Abacha. How in the world did people buy into the belief that Buhari was a reformed democrat and an Economic genius? Many young people did not even know about the history of this presidential candidate nor did they care. Why? Everyone was angry! Those who even brought up his history were countered by spins from his campaign team. It is amazing how a man with such a sketchy past could be bandied as a messiah and millions bought into it. Even if his past was not as bad as was bandied around by the then administration, it was at least controversial enough to raise questions. No one asked questions or even cared. Take a look at Bernie Sanders, a man who has been in politics all his life, has never held a real job or created one, yet he has somehow convinced people that he can make their lives better. Incredible!
  5. Be Relatable: We don’t hear our president talk a lot these days. We hardly even see him on Television. It was not so during the campaign; we could not make him stop talking! He was relatable! He brought his beautiful family to the forefront (There was a period the pictures of his daughter Zahra trended on Social Media for days). Nigeria, being a very conservative, family-oriented people could relate with that. He was also seen as a friend of the poor because he too claimed he was not rich and somehow poverty became a virtue and a good thing while wealth was vilified. There was the ridiculous story of him taking a loan to buy the presidential form because he could not afford it. Poor people could relate to this. “This is a man just like me,” you could hear them scream. Truly Incredible.
  6. Be the underdog: Anytime there is a football game, a neutral will subconsciously root for the smaller team. The underdog. In the United States while the large democratic field is paying attention to Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, all accomplished politicians, there is a mayor of a small town called Southbend who is gaining ground. Why? No one took him seriously when his campaign started. He played the underdog and now he looks like one of the favourites. Even Donald Trump played the Underdog game! He was the newbie in the race and he defeated accomplished politicians in the Republican Primary and finally shocked the world by winning against every pundit’s anointed candidate, Hilary Clinton.
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Muhammadu Buhari before his 2015 election had run for president 3 times and lost. He went to court every time he lost, claiming the system had cheated him and prevented him from winning. He came into the 2015 race as the clear underdog and he played the role well. He was the helpless candidate fighting against a powerful incumbent party that had been in power for 16 years and could cheat him out of a victory for the fourth time. He was the poor man who only needed the support of ordinary Nigerians like him to win. His fight was their fight! They needed to band together and fight against this corrupt incumbent and get this underdog into Aso Rock. That worked out well for him.


Finally, there are not a lot of things I praise our president for these days, but for his brilliant 2015 campaign, he earned my respect. This does not just work well for politics; you can apply some of these brilliant techniques in marketing your product as well. You can also contact us at TRW Consult and we will give your campaign life because we know the tricks to the trade.


Samuel Ejedegba

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