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March 28

March 28 BACKPAGE COLUMN PAGE 48 Peak, Coke, Omo and Robb The special Mother’s Day jingle posted by Peak milk, which honoured Mother “for helping…

March 28


Peak, Coke, Omo and Robb

The special Mother’s Day jingle posted by Peak milk, which honoured Mother “for helping me to reach my peak,” rekindled my memories of some of the most popular brand promotion jingles, billboards and newspaper adverts that flooded this country in the last four decades. The cleverest of these jingles succeeded in planting their brands’ names firmly in the psyche of Nigerians over several decades.

Peak itself is the most popular adult milk formula in Nigeria. Its symbol of two palm trees is ubiquitous; it’s advertised “rich and creamy” taste is for real. Peak milk comes in different forms, the most ubiquitous being the 170g tin of evaporated milk. Peak milk powder comes in large and medium sized tins as well as in sachets. There is also Peak condensed milk in 78g tins, which as kids we loved so much. Competing milk brands such as Dano, Three Crowns and Cowbell are still playing catch up.

Peak’s Mother’s Day jingle could become the most popular product jingle since 1981 when a new toothpaste, Daily Need, landed in Nigeria. Daily Need’s jingle featured a young man bending over to kiss his girlfriend but at the last minute the girl pulled away, saying “I won’t do it till you darling, use Daily Need.” The jingle was so controversial that a motion was sponsored on the floor of the House of Representatives calling for its ban but the motion was defeated. Despite its popular jingle, Daily Need never caught up with the dominant toothpaste brands namely Macleans, Pepsodent and Close Up. Macleans was once so dominant that the Hausa name for tooth brushing is makilin. Since then, Close Up has become the most common toothpaste in Nigeria.

Even fiercer was the battle between the detergent brands Omo and Elephant. Forty years ago Omo was so ubiquitous that its name became synonymous with detergent. Even today a Nigerian man will say, “Go and get me Omo” but will not complain if the boy brings back Elephant, Ariel or Sunrise. Omo’s top brand advert was a three-part giant billboard on the highways. It showed a housewife displaying her son’s dirty football jersey, immersing it inside a foaming pail, and then bringing it out very clean. There is however a funny story about this ad. It was said that when Omo’s sellers went to advertise in Arabia, they did not know that Arabs read from right to left. They placed the same three-part billboard on the road and what an Arab saw was a clean shirt, immersed in detergent and coming out very dirty!

While the detergents were battling it out, bathing soaps also fought a fierce brand war. The contest between Premier, Joy, Lux and Imperial Leather soaps has been going on for many decades. Sometimes one brand will get the upper hand, only to be eclipsed later by another brand. Giv, Cussons and Dettol soaps later joined the mix. In the 1970s Imperial Leather saturated TV screens with a jingle about a beautiful model taking her bath in a tub filled with foam, allegedly from an Imperial Leather tablet. Joy responded with a jingle featuring “Suzie Martins, arriving from Paris. International television star who has made her name in London, Paris and New York…”

Hot on their heels were the pomades. Pears petroleum jelly had the most memorable TV jingle, of a mother dragged before a judge for “stealing” her baby’s Pears Vaseline. The mother pleaded that she could not help it because the pomade is so good and the judge, himself a toddler, dismissed the case saying, “I understand. I use it myself!” There was the famous ad of Bagco super sack. Labourers carrying cement were covered in cement powder due to the bag’s poor quality, so they accosted their boss and said he must henceforth use Bagco sacks. Bagco sack was so strong, according to the ad, that the labourers carelessly threw it to the ground because it would never burst.

The ointments were not left behind. The two most enduring ointments are Robb and Mentholatum [which Hausas call man tileta]. In the 1960s there were more powerful ointments than these two, namely Hacogen, Zorro and the one called Kafi Allura [you are sharper than needle]. Hacogen’s symbol was a powerful man wielding a huge club. Its Hausa slogan was mai gudumar dukan sanyi, i.e. the one who beats cold with a club. In the North, Robb became dominant partly because it was tied to a request program featuring Alhaji Mamman Shata’s songs on Radio Kaduna, which had millions of listeners.

Youngsters growing up in Nigeria these days seem to know little about cigarettes, thanks to government efforts dating back to the IBB era to curb smoking. Cigarette adverts were the commonest of all product adverts up until the 1980s. Many brands of cigarette engaged in a fierce contest to get the most smokers. The most popular brands in Nigeria were Mars, Target, Three Rings, Link, Gold Leaf, Benson and Hedges and Rothmans. Worldwide the most famous cigarette ad was the Marlboro man riding on a horse. The day the US Government won a landmark suit against the tobacco industry in 1992, one US attorney famously said “the Marlboro man is riding into the sunset.” In Northern Nigeria the best known face in cigarette ads was Abba Musa Rimi, who later became the governor of old Kaduna State.

The mother of all brand contests was fought between soft drinks. Up until the 1970s Coca Cola, Fanta, Sprite, Mirinda and Tango were the most popular drinks, together with Tree Top. Tango then disappeared. The African face of Coca Cola was the legendary Kenyan runner Kipchoge Keino. There were large billboards of a profusely sweating Keino sitting on a race track, drinking a chilled bottle of Coke. Written underneath was the legend, “Running is his sport. Coca Cola is his refreshment.” In the 1970s Pepsi splashed in together with Mirinda and Teem. According to Kano people, Teem arrived in Kano soon after the 1983 elections and at its launching, Governor Sabo Bakin Zuwo raised a bottle and said, “Tim! That sounds like Rimi’s fall at the polls!”

Seven Up arrived later. Many soft drink brands came to Nigeria due to FESTAC ’77. They include Sinalco and many locally bottled ones such as Stim, Brahma Guarana, Danta Cola and my all-time favourite, Crush. In the 1970s we had many locally made sweets including Nico, Minta, Tom Tom and Miki Miki; many chocolates including Goody Goody; many biscuits including Kaura and the very creamy Nasco biscuit made in Jos, with the picture of a cow engraved on it. There was the great Trebor pepper mint. Many chocolate brands flooded in during FESTAC including Bounty, Twix, Mars, Kit Kat and Snickers.

There was also the battle of the beers. Breweries were major advertisers up until the 1990s. The most popular beer brands [not that I ever drank any] were Star Lager, Rock, Guinness, Gulder, Heineken, Stout and Harp. While the local brews ogogoro and burkutu were not advertised on billboards, more people drank them because they were cheaper. The analgesics also had a good brand fight. The hottest contest on the airwaves was fought between APC with bell [mai karaurawa] and APC with elephant [mai giwa]. Later on came Phensic, Codeine, Panadol, Paracetamol and Novalgin. The food seasonings Maggi, Royco and Knorr cubes fought fiercely, as did the quick-dissolving Family Cubes and St Louis sugars. The hot drinks Bournvita, Ovaltine and Milo also had great jingles, as had Blue Band margarine.

We were standing at Kaduna Airport one day in 1992 when a man brought Trebor pepper mints out of his pocket. Several people around asked to have one. He then said, “Nothing is more popular than Trebor, Tom Tom, Robb and kola nut! Whenever you bring them out, everyone will ask for a piece!”

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