Culture Shelf

Challenges and thrills of the advertising business

Dotun Adekanmbi(2019), The Will To Win: The Story of Biodun Shobanjo. Lagos: Havillah Books/Strategic PR Wox. 542pp
By Chido Nwakanma

Advertising is the basis of the renown of Biodun Shobanjo, co-founder and
boss of Insight Communications/Troyka Group and a larger-than-life
personality in Nigeria’s marketing communications industry. How do you
chronicle the life of Shobanjo without it being majorly about advertising?
The above question is at the heart of Dotun Adekanmbi’s brave effort in
The Will To Win: The Story of Biodun Shobanjo. He set out not to write a
book on advertising but “a career biography, one that attempts to capture
his perspective to explain his dream and its realisation”.
Adekanmbi states: “I prefer to describe this book as an extended
personality interview conducted in the best traditions of my journalism
background. At all times, I recognised the imperative of subjecting claims
and counterclaims to strict standards of proof. This book does not
pontificate on the practice of advertising; neither does it touch on his
privacy, except where necessary to illustrate a point or the other. But it
does attempt to dispassionately examine critical issues in the industry as
they affect the man and his widely acclaimed extraordinary career.”
Because Biodun Shobanjo played significant roles in Nigerian advertising
and marketing communication, ninety per cent of The Will To Win dwells on
advertising. It covers Shobanjo’s sojourn and exit from Grant Advertising,
Insight Communication’s birth, Insight’s business trajectory from start-up
through early years to growth and dominance.

You will read about Shobanjo’s background and early life, his early career
in broadcasting that exposed him to one strand of the disciplines that would
count in his career in advertising and his qualification as a UK-certified
public relations professional through correspondence. That alone debunks
the myth of a man with no formal education who then rose to the zenith of
his business.
You share Shobanjo’s battles and his experiences with AAPN and AAAN;
the media debt challenge; the fights over affiliation.
The journey to the book took 15 years and many exciting turns. Biodun
Shobanjo challenged Dotun Adekanmbi to show proof ab initio of the
necessity for a biography. The author then carried out a survey wherein
respondents listed Shobanjo in the Top 5 of persons whose biographies
they would love to read. There were other tests in this collaborative
endeavour between the biographer and his focal person. Their mutual
understanding produced a book chockful of information, anecdotes, and
The time and place dimensions enriched this biography. It is
comprehensive and provides rich insights into various aspects of Nigerian
advertising. Journalism posits that a rounded story covers the five Ws and
the H. The Ws are Who, What, Where, When and Why. The H is How.
Dotun Adekanmbi tackles the five Ws of Shobanjo’s involvement and
exploits in advertising.
Significance is at the heart of biographies. It is the litmus test. Good
biographies seek answers to these questions: What is the significance of
this person’s life? How did he or she change the world? What would
happen if this person never existed? What is unique about what they did or
What did Biodun Shobanjo contribute and change in Nigerian advertising?
The Will To Win does an excellent job of providing perspectives and
insights. Some of the contributions of Insight/Troyka Group that Shobanjo
led include

  1. Creativity and excitement.
  2. Mutual respect between an agency and its clients.
  3. Recognition of the limits of advertising. Shobanjo says, “Advertising
    helps a rolling ball roll faster, but it cannot get a ball to roll uphill”.
  4. Creativity in media buying.
  5. Explicit agreement on deliverables between agency and client.
  6. Flamboyance
  7. An orientation for high standards and quality: “Selling on Quality, Not
    on Price”.
  8. Demanding higher rewards for quality service or becoming a premium
    niche player.
  9. The art of presentation and the total business solutions concept, not
    merely creativity.
  10. Internationalisation in standards and affiliations that preceded
  11. Compliance, from regulatory to professional and social.
  12. Diversification; growing into an IMC octopus with legs in public
    relations, outdoor, experiential and events, and media buying. Then
    the non-communication support services grew into solid companies
    and brands.
  13. Human capital as a critical factor in the knowledge business of
    advertising and marketing communication.
  14. Many more.
    The Will To Win is a primer on management and entrepreneurship. There
    are lessons in management style, structures, HR, partnerships,
    competition, business, and personal relationships. Partnerships are
    common in the service industry. Shobanjo shares guidance on
    partnerships: spell out all the terms of engagement in writing; avoid mixing
    friendship and business; understand the attitude of all partners to money;
    recognise the God factor.
    Dotun Adekanmbi has written a success manual that walks the reader
    through the labyrinths of the advertising business.
    As indicated, Adekanmbi does not treat the How of Insight’s advertising by
    design. However, the book gives enough pointers for another book on How
    To Create Advertising The Insight Way. It does this by mentioning across
    the book the many successful campaigns of the multiple award-winning

Some of the campaigns include Sparkle Toothpaste, Exceedrin-When
you’ve tried Excedrin, you’ll know why it is more expensive; Vitalo; Nasco
Cornflakes; Gold Beer dancing bottle, Oh my Gold; and Dulux Paint-The
only way to paint a masterpiece. Others include Nicon Noga Hilton Hotel,
Chrislieb’s Trebor Luckies; Lever Brothers; Nigerian Breweries’ Gulder
Ultimate Search, Bagco Super Sack, Pepsi Big Blue, Indomie Noodles,
Mirinda Orange Men, Daewoo Espero and 7-Up Hi-Life Promo. They
deserve a nuts-and-bolts explication.
The Will To Win is an ambitious book. The author struggles in some areas
between writing a biography and a hagiography. It is a thin line that he
successfully skirts in the end. There are too many styles, from the New
Journalism of elaborate scene-setting to the narrative and analysis.
The Will To Win deserves a place on the shelf of professionals in marketing
communication, management and business studies. Following the
breakdown of mass communication into seven disciplines, including
advertising, books such as The Will To Win will provide case studies,
particularly for graduate students. It is serendipitous that another industry
veteran, Lolu Akinwunmi, also released a corporate history cum
autobiography (Lolu Akinwunmi (2020), Skin For Skin: The Prima
Garnet Story. Lagos: Heritek Support Services. The books enrich the
literature in the field.

Nwakanma is Nigerian president of the International Association of
Business Communicators and an Adjunct Faculty at the School of Media and Communication, Pan Atlantic University.

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