In six stimulating chapters regarding advertising in Africa, a continent of progress, problems, and promise, almost as large as the entire Western Hemisphere, with special focus on Nigeria, Emmanuel Alozie, an international persuasive communications educator with broad university and professional media expertise, provides keen insights into the theory and practice of the field with “‘Capitalist Realism’ in Africa: Realities and Myths in Advertising”, filling a gap in industry literature at a time when eyes of the world increasingly turn to a continent too long overlooked at a time of persistent and dramatic change.
My respect for Alozie derives from personal experience, having gained a lasting, life-altering appreciation for a global perspective like his with emphasis on unique cultural insights based on travel to more than 70 countries, including those in Africa, and after teaching on Fulbright grants in Bulgaria and Moldova and serving as a visiting professor in South Korea, directing award-winning international student marketing and advertising competition client projects at my home university and abroad.
Many lessons are apparent for marketers, advertisers, academicians, students, and even consumers, from economic, political, religious, and especially cultural points of view, always with divergent views outlined and explained. For instance, successes and failures of globalization and expectations of interdependence between capitalist Western and traditional African country cultures are shared throughout. Alozie’s central theme of “capitalist realism,” the ability of advertising to inform consumers and thus maintain economic viability, itself has supporters and detractors. Particularly with Nigeria in mind, dominant symbols are studied and explained, usually in terms of African (generally) and Nigerian (specifically) core values and socio-economic contexts.
With personal instructional and research expertise in Hofstede cultural dimensions, I especially appreciate Alozie’s handling of what he terms “the tenuous link” of advertising and culture, noting the continuing debate in international advertising of “standardization vs. specialization” with a “glocalization” alternative, thanks to numerous invaluable citations re: Murdock, Hall, Brislin, Zandpour, and others. In fact, more than 120 notable, respected, and African-specific sources are cited throughout the work.
Also of personal value, Alozie appropriately reviews semiotics and advertising fundamentals in an easy to understand fashion, providing definitions, descriptions, and examples as necessary, again addressing pro and con positions (e.g. collectivist vs. individualistic) reminding of African vs. Western tendencies. Further, he addresses connotation-denotation with a helpful Nigerian example: how citizens view what the national flag differently represents to them.
The key chapter concerns advertising symbols as “pictures in our heads,” a depth consideration of numerous ad analyses from Nigerian mass media regarding both domestic and multinational brands. From a detailed discussion of a Sharp Corp. ad, noting positive and negative findings based on dominant signs present or absent, to exemplary issues of symbols in photographs such as Nigerian banks, household products, and autos; names/logos, products/services, and Nature – respect vs. force to be conquered, Alozie shares real-life instances of ad successes and shortcomings. He adds reminders of unique Nigerian life with values signified in graphics/texts examples, religious/seasonal objects, landscapes, negative implications, and missing symbols. Interestingly, the reader learns for instance that two Nigerian rivers considered unifying national symbols could be utilized more in domestic campaigns if the goal is to promote national unity and identity.
Indeed, promises and challenges abound, as Alozie concludes, emphasizing that ads reference a culture’s prevailing value system and tend to connote products of a society’s popular culture. As such, despite the growing role of advertising in African economies, like Nigeria, few studies have examined such messages, thus the gap that this offering fills. He recognizes that change is happening, while recognizing the continual debate over advertising’s role as Western symbols compete with Nigerian/African symbols for domestic prominence with promise for “hybridization.” Alozie’s unique perspective on the role of advertising in Africa due largely to his heritage and experience helps to make this a very special and welcome addition to the international advertising literature.
For the advertising student, “‘Capitalist Realism’ in Africa” provides a unique and exciting mind-expander. For the advertising practitioner, Alozie’s practical and intelligent strategic insights should prove invaluable. For the marketing practitioner, it provides a fresh look at challenging opportunities in an exciting geographic region within the context of sound marketing theory and practice. Even for “armchair students” of advertising – those who use, rely on, or just plain have an interest in advertising – it gives them insights into similarities and differences inherent between “home” and “away.” Recalling that people cannot be exposed to thousands of advertising impressions weekly without forming opinions about what they see & hear, “‘Capitalist Realism’ in Africa” will provide all of them with fascinating insights. In short, readers will appreciate this springboard into the exciting newest world version of global advertising.
Michael H. McBride
Distinguished Professor Emeritus
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
Texas State University-San Marcos