Lanre started his career in 1990 as a Trainee Copywriter at MC&A: Saatchi & Saatchi, Lagos, Nigeria. He established the creative powerhouse Noah’s Ark in 2008. He has been involved in initiatives to promote Nigerian advertising internationally. Lanre was part of the team that started the Lagos Advertising & Ideas Festival (LAIF). He served for over a decade on the Management Board of LAIF Awards. He was also on the jury of the African Cristals Festival in 2016. In 2018, he became the first West African to serve on the Cannes Lions jury. In 2019, he was on the jury of the Loeries in South Africa. He served as the president of the Heritage jury of the debut Pitcher Awards. Lanre has founded other successful agencies rendering marketing communications-related services to clients such as Integrated Indigo Limited, a public relations agency, The Red Wolf Company, a digital-first agency and Underdog Productions, a content/audio-visual production company. In a career spanning 30 years, he has created outstanding work for some of the most notable brands in Nigeria such as Indomie Noodles, MTN, Peak Milk, Three Crowns, Virgin Atlantic and Airtel among others. In 2014, he and his wife launched Labule, a Quick Service Restaurant chain that serves Nigerian delicacies.
Please, explain what advertising agencies do to a 75-year-old woman who left school at 13.
It’s a very simple thing, actually. We help people to make choices. There is a whole lot of products and services out there. We help people choose from the different options there are. We tell you about a brand and benefits to be gained from using the brand. If we are able to entertain you in the process of informing you about the brand, it sticks in your memory so that when you go to the store you are better informed on what the products are for.
When and how did you come into the business?
My journey into advertising was not planned. When I was in the university I was interested in creative writing. I was into creative writing, acting, campus journalism and things to do with the arts generally. I envisaged myself doing something that involved writing. When I was serving, I ran into somebody who was in advertising. He told me about agencies, what it means to be a copywriter and stuff like that. I got to meet the Creative Director of MC&A: Saatchi and Saatchi and we got talking. He said he would like to offer me a job. He asked when I would like to start. This was in 1990. I had my last month of service left. I told him I was serving in Ibadan. He said he might not be able to wait that long. So I transferred to Lagos in my last month of service. That was how I got into advertising.
Is it true what they say, LA is the most creative man in Nigerian advertising?
It is the first time I am hearing someone say that. I am not so sure if I can boldly claim that. In all sense of honesty, I cannot. I think that is assuming a whole lot of stuff. I can tell you that I am very passionate about advertising and that will never change. I am not interested in the titles. That is not what matters to me. I would rather be seen as one of those at the forefront of pushing the envelope and making advertising in Nigeria more meaningful to brands and have more purpose and take the industry to the pinnacle.
What did you do before establishing Noah’s Ark?
Prior to Noah’s Ark, I had done 18 years in the industry working in different agencies. I started with MC&A: Saatchi & Saatchi. Then, I did one year of freelancing in 1994/95. In 1995, I got into Rosabel Advertising. I was there for six months. In 1996, I moved to Franchise Communications. The founders of Franchise used to be in MC&A and one of the founders was my Creative Director back then. I left Franchise in 1997. I joined Insight Communications that year. I was there from 1997 to 2003. I moved to TBWA\Concept. I was there from 2003 to 2008. I left there as an Executive Creative Director to start Noah’s Ark. Noah’s Ark came about as a result of my inner reflection. I thought our industry could do with a lot more competition in terms of the creative output.
Did you produce your best work for MTN?
It’s difficult for me to say, This is my best work. I think of the impact of the work. It would be tough for me to pick my best because they all mean different things to me. But there is one work we did for MTN called Mama Na Boy. I am very proud of that work. It was very entertaining, controversial, and impactful. I wouldn’t say it was my best work. For Peak Milk, for instance, I worked on Generation to Generation while at Insight, which was very impactful. The client did a sequel of it 20 years later. That’s how I like to see my work. How much impact in terms of how well it moved the needle for the brand. It is difficult for me to say what my best work is.
What’s your typical workday like?
I wake early for obvious reasons. I am a Muslim so I have to pray in the morning. I am up by 5:15 a.m. I aim to be in the office between 8:30 and 9:00 am. Between home and office, I will always have a book to read. I am always reading something. When I get to the office, I mainly do review sessions with the team. I also do some management stuff as well. My core area is managing creative output and charting the direction for the agency. Of course, I also do client meetings. It depends on what that particular day requires. I usually end my day between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Then, I am out of the office.
What was your schedule like before you became your own boss?
My schedule was crazier than this. I remember my days at Insight. I was the Associate Creative Director. I was responsible for the Creative Department. I remember the Executive Creative Director, who was an expatriate, gave me control of the department because he was often outside shooting commercials. I also had my own things to work on. It was hectic for me back then. I was bad at eating then. I would often skip lunch. I worked on Sundays and public holidays. I worked later than I do now. It was really grueling but it was good. At the beginning of Noah’s Ark, my schedule was just as bad. It was a very young agency and I was doing a lot of things myself then. As the agency evolved, we had people picking up those roles from me. So now I have a bit more time to do strategic work for our Group.
What do you spend more of your time doing?
In my role as the Chief Creative Officer, I don’t normally have to do the writing. It does not mean I do not have ideas. But I have to develop my team. So the team is encouraged to develop ideas. In the course of reviewing ideas, I can share mine. My job is more about developing people to build ideas.
What do you delegate most among your duties?
When it comes to advertising, the issue of delegation is a different thing entirely. Yes, I am the Chief Creative Officer but we also have a Creative Director and an Executive Creative Director. So we have a lot of creative leaders in the system. The nitty-gritty of day-to-day management is not left to me. That is somebody else’s duty. My job is to be as dispassionate as possible as regards my point of view on the work. I can give an opinion and give you different takes on it. I will try to see it the way a client or consumers will see it and tell you how to do a better job. If that is what we call delegation, then that’s how I do it.
Can you talk us through the process of getting a big account?
I don’t think there is a difference between getting a big account and a small one. But the most important thing about getting an account is your reputation as an agency. Talking about Noah’s Ark, most of our clientele are people who came to us based on what they know about us. For instance, when Airtel wrote us a mail, I did not even know the business was going to be out for a pitch. They invited us for a pitch. This was about five years ago. When we got there, we did a credentials presentation and the guys told us they had been watching the LAIF (Lagos Advertising & Ideas Festival) Awards table for the past few years, and they had been taking note of the agencies on top of the table. That was why they invited us to be part of the pitch. Reputation is very important. Goodwill is also very important. When I started Noah’s Ark, the businesses that we started with were mostly businesses I had worked on previously. Most of them came looking for me because of the past experiences they had had with my work. Also, your capacity will determine how well you can respond to new business opportunities and how well you can retain them going forward. It is also about having a team that will have the right chemistry with the client. It is all down to your network; your business/creative clout, so to speak.
What is your “best ever” campaign?
It is a difficult thing again because each campaign comes with its own memories. I use this allusion: I used to be in theatre back in school. The beautiful production is what people come to watch and admire. But what I treasured the most was the rehearsals: getting your lines, your blocking, internalizing the character. It is the same in advertising for me. I treasure the journey: the idea, cracking it and executing it; those things go a long way for me. For each of the campaigns that have stood out for me, I appreciate them for different reasons. I have never sat down to decide which I love the most.
If I tell you about Generation to Generation, for instance, I don’t remember what inspired it but I know that after writing the music, I had to go to the agency audio studio where I had to sing out the lyrics. The way I sang the lyrics, I was able to sell the idea and everybody loved it. That will always have a special place in my heart. Mama Do Good, for instance, is special too. We did a campaign for Indomie. The idea was very simple. We sold it to the client. We believe that Nigeria is two countries when it comes to marketing: the North and the South. We did something for the South. Then, we went to Kano and sat down with a couple of creatives over there. We workshopped the idea. We then took it to the client and they said, Wow this is good, we can adapt it for other parts of the country too. In Hausa, it’s called Mama Yara. We wrote a pidgin version of it, Mama Do Good. We also wrote a Yoruba version called Mama Ewe.
The Airtel gele music thing, for instance, got so popular that it became part of the lingo and it was able to impact society. That is the kind of thing that we do. It is like having a fleet of luxury cars and having to choose the best of them.
What’s the most critical thing to success in your industry?
Passion is very important. And passion not just for passion’s sake but because you are genuinely interested in making a difference. We are not just doing this to show that we are creative. We are doing this to show that the brand that is investing millions can justify that investment. When we did Airtel’s Lost commercial featuring Gabriel Afolayan, Airtel was able to add as many as 800,000 new subscribers for Data and over a million for Voice within 3 months of the commercial. Also, you must have thick skin because this is a very demanding industry. You are as good as your last successful campaign. The same brand you have been working with for a long time might decide to part ways with you under a different circumstance.
How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting your Office Life?
We have been working from home since late March. We tried going back after the partial lifting but decided that it was safer to work from home for now. The office is open. We go once in a while when absolutely necessary. Initially, it took a while to get used to this new way of life. We always had the facility for remote work but we never had to all work online. After about two weeks of doing it, everybody got used to it. And it is fine. Even when we go back to how things used to be, I think we will still retain elements of how we are operating now.
When do you plan to quit the Office Life?
I am in my early fifties right now. By the time I am 55, I should have some clarity in terms of who will take over from me. I don’t want to wait till when I am 60. I want to do something else. It might still be related to creativity in one form or the other but I would like to ease myself out of the 9-to-5, day-to-day thing. I don’t want to be so tired by the time I get out of this.