How To Transform Lagos Into Attractive Brand Destination –By Lolu Akinwunmi

Lolu Akinwunmi, frpa, fnimn, is the Group CEO of Prima Garnet Africa, a leading advertising, marketing communication and experiential marketing network, managing some of the most ambitious brands in and out of Nigeria. In the group are Prima Garnet Africa, 141 Worldwide, Mediashare, Cutlercomms PR, Lampost Experientials, Cat2lyst Media etc.

Last Friday, Akinwunmi, a former APCON Chairman, was the Lead Speaker at the Brand Journalists Association of Nigeria’s 6th Annual Brands and Marketing Conference held at the Lagos Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI) Building, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos, where he delivered a lecture on Brand Lagos: Challenges, Opportunities and Lessons.

As expected, being an expert in the area of branding, and one of the most respected and renowned names in Nigeria and Africa’s advertising sector, the paper delivered by the former APCON chairman was very thought-provoking and readers keep.

Below is the excerpt from the paper presentation:





‘LOLU AKINWUNMI, frpa, fnimn


I will like to thank the President and Executives of the Brand Journalists’ Association of Nigeria for giving me the honour of being the Guest Speaker at your 2018 Conference lecture. I also want to thank you for the prestigious award that is being conferred on me today. I have been closely associated with the Association and your members for many years and appreciate the major work you are doing in supporting the marketing profession and practice in Nigeria.

I also want to congratulate the President-in-Council for this year’s Conference and especially the theme: Brand Lagos: Challenges, Opportunities and Lessons. I align with your objective on the need to brainstorm on the imperatives of evolving a brand proposition for the City of Lagos towards the much desired drive for investments, especially the foreign variety, tourism, economic growth and development. From the theme, I have created the topic, “CAN WE MAKE LAGOS AN ATTRACTIVE BRAND DESTINATION?”, which I believe is relevant to the theme and should provoke an interesting discussion, debate and conversations.

I am especially pleased, even if a little overwhelmed by the quality of the panelists and the members of the audience, many of who are my dear friends and professional colleagues. Indeed, maybe today it would have better served me if I was discreetly seated within the audience, happily listening to, and learning from these distinguished practitioners and professionals. My hope is that at the end of the session, we will have done justice to the subject matter and exceeded the expectations of the Conference.


I believe the best place to start is to get properly introduced to our subject of discussion: LAGOS…the city and the state. Even though the invitation to me cited Lagos the city, I have taken the liberty of widening the scope to Lagos the State, fully aware that our subject matter will transcend the capital city, given recent activities and future expectations. For sure, Lagos cannot be a viable destination brand if activities were limited to the city, especially because of the emerging opportunities within its other towns like Epe, Badagry, etc.

Lagos is a thriving port city and the most populous in Nigeria. The metropolitan area originated on islands, including the Lagos Island, that were protected from the Atlantic Ocean by sand spits. The city has expanded onto the mainland west of the lagoon, with Ikeja, the capital of Lagos, and Agege over 25 miles northwest of Lagos Island. Lagos has a population estimated at 22 million, which also makes it the largest city in Africa and one of the largest in the world.

With its population, which is expected to double in the next 50 years, Lagos State has a land size of 3, 577 square kilometres, stretching to the border of Benin Republic. It has a rich history which is linked to the Aworis of the Yoruba people, although the dust has not settled on occasional, curious claims to this title by the Binis. Today, Lagos has a very diverse population due to heavy migration from other parts of Nigeria and surrounding countries. The Yoruba are the dominant ethnic group. There are more than 250 ethnic groups represented in Lagos, including the Hausa, Igbo, Tiv, etc. We also have small minorities of foreigners made up of Indians, Syrians, Lebanese etc. In the mid-19th century, many ex-slaves of Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Cuban descent, and emigrants from Sierra Leone created communities in Lagos, along with ex-slaves from the Americas. They became missionaries and merchants in the city.

Lagos is a very dynamic business and enterprise centre and is home to many serious Nigerian and foreign-owned businesses; indeed, it is usually the first destination point for most serious businesses, even if they operate offices in other parts of Nigeria. In the last couple of years, major infrastructural investments have taken place, all within the plan of making Lagos a modern mega city.

The Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, has described the state as the fastest growing mega city in the world, just as he revealed that its Gross Domestic Product GDP has hit $136 billion. He also said the state accounts for over 90% of Nigeria’s foreign trade flow, which invariably contributes 30% to the country’s GDP and also accounts for 65% of its manufacturing activities. The governor who spoke through his Special Adviser on Overseas Affairs and Investment, Professor Ademola Abass, in Alausa, Ikeja, added that the state attracted over 290 investors in a year. Even with economic recession, he said government had attracted more foreign direct investments in the first two years of the Ambode administration than it did in the past 15 years. Since inception, the Office of Overseas, Affairs and Investment has encouraged investors’ confidence in Lagos, as a place to conduct business and live in.

With all these and much more, Lagos has made good progress in the last couple of years and is very much on its way towards becoming a mega city. It is within this contest that we will look at the need to position it as a major brand and mine the advantages not just as a business destination, but as a major tourist and leisure port of call.


In line with the theme of discussing the emergence of Lagos as a major branding destination, we need to first understand some basics. Too frequently, many people mix up DESTINATION BRANDING and DESTINATION MARKETING. And the truth is, there is a significant difference. Tom Buncle, a long-time marketing chief of Destination Scotland, and Managing Director of Yellow Railroad Consulting in his famous essay on the subject explained the two terms and concepts; hear him:

“It would be arrogant to assume we create destination brands. We don’t. Apart from few places such as Las Vegas and Dubai, we cannot manufacture a destination. Generally, the place has been around for generations and is defined by its history, culture, topography, way of life, built and natural environment, and people. Destination Branding is about identifying the destination’s strongest and most competitively appealing assets in the eyes of its prospective visitors, building a story from these that makes the destination stand out above its competitors, and running this narrative consistently through all marketing communications”.

Ideally, it also means people in the destination behaving in a way that reflects the destination’s brand values (either friendly, unorthodox, creative etc.), and particularly the destination’s ‘frontline ambassadors’: those with whom visitors come into contact – from airport personnel to taxi-drivers, shop assistants, police men, guides, and staff in hotels and resorts. Running this ‘destination DNA’ through every act of communication helps reinforce the destination’s competitive identity over time.

The brand forms the basis of a destination’s marketing communications. Marketing tends to have become synonymous in the destination world with promotion. In other words: Destination Branding is about who you are, while Destination Marketing is about how you communicate who you are.

Most major destination branding campaigns have two goals in mind;

  1. either to be a tourist destination, or
  2. an investment destination, or in many cases, both, as one can drive the other.

If you come in for business, you will need some form of entertainment; and if your focus is tourism, there are business opportunities. Many countries have run and are running major campaigns on these platforms. For us in Nigeria and especially in Lagos, there are many opportunities and advantages and we will soon look at some of them.

Having set this parameter, let us consider the challenges and opportunities that are open to brand Lagos is metamorphosing into a major global destination brand. We will be considering the inherent and external challenges, how they have and are being managed by the state and central governments, the measures of successes and failures, opportunities and tips on what the state can do to enhance the progress made so far.


Literally speaking, they are legion mitigating against advancing the cause of Lagos as a major branding destination. Which is why it is heartwarming that especially under the governor Ambode, much has been done in mitigating some of these challenges. Some of the challenges are:

  1. The Location of Lagos and its Position

For many years, Lagos was the federal capital, until Abuja assumed this status, and under extant laws, many parts of Lagos are still regarded as federal territory. For example, over 65% of Lagos roads, including the 3rd Mainland Bridge are federal roads. This of course has its implications. Depending on which party is in power at the centre, Lagos is vulnerable and can suffer major neglect and even victimization. You will all recall that under President Obasanjo, who managed a PDP government, Lagos under governor Tinubu, who was in an opposition party, many entitlements due Lagos were withheld, depriving the state of much needed revenue. The government’s attitude to Abuja is different, as it technically belongs to any government in power at the centre. Lagos needs massive funding because it is still the major city in Nigeria which houses a lot of businesses and foreign embassies etc., and yet, it is not allotted any special status or grant for this. Often, the governors of Lagos need to make special cases to the federal government for reimbursement after they have spent huge sums to build or repair infrastructure.

  1. Lagos is Overpopulated
    Let’s admit it, with 22 million people, too many people live in Lagos. This of course has implications when we consider the management of expectations for a brand that expects to become a brand destination and wants to compete with other cities with smaller populations. The infrastructures in Lagos are overstretched. Indeed, the UN reported that about 65% of Lagos population are poor people who live in slum conditions. And this is without prejudice to the efforts the government has been making to change things and improve the lot of the people.

  2. The Absence of a Brand Destination/Tourism Policy
    For a long time, and until recently when the government of Akinwunmi Ambode launched the very ambitious Tourism Masterplan to serve the state for the next 15 years, no such plan existed. The Masterplan was launched as part of an ambitious project to project Lagos as a serious destination brand, and will showcase the culture, heritage, arts and entertainment of the centre of excellence to the world. Part of the plan is to release an all year round calendar of tourism and festivals in the state. The government explained that Lagos was aware of her strength as a cosmopolitan city and was already taking advantage of that position.

The government believes that this move, and others being planned would enhance initiatives to attract more visitors, businesses and tourists to Lagos.
Since Tourism is the next expected big income generator for the country, everyone must promote, accept, believe and have regard for Nigeria’s indigenous cultures, languages and heritage. And to bequeath a befitting tourism sector to Nigeria it behoves on individuals not to leave everything solely in the hands of the government.

  1. Financing
    Expectedly, Lagos state cannot finance this ambitious plan easily and has had to borrow. If the information available is accurate, 30% of Nigeria’s debt is held by Lagos state. The money has largely gone into the financing of infrastructure, some of which ideally should have been financed by the federal government. Ironically, some recent plans by the state to increase its IGR for the further financing of such capital projects were resisted.

  2. Civic Attitude
    As part of a national malaise, the people have not keyed into the government’s plan to develop Lagos into a strong destination brand. Unfortunately, many Lagosians still have unsavory habits like throwing refuse on the road, defecating in public places, damaging infrastructures like wire road barriers etc. Buses bought by government at huge costs are badly maintained and “Marwa” and “Okada” still remain a menace. Inevitably Lagos has remained dirty and an eyesore, and is unattractive to many tourists.

  3. Infrastructure Deficiency
    The Murtala Muhammed International Airport is not a good advertisement for Nigeria and visitors to the city. Sadly, while it is a federal property, it is located within Lagos. The airport often suffers power failure, conveyor belt problems, harassment by uniformed staff, leaking ceilings, etc. This is a disincentive to tourists and business visitors. Sadly, it does not end in Lagos; it’s the same with many of our airports around the country.

Some other brand eroders are:

  1. Rabid and endemic corruption.

  2. Insufficient and ineffective service delivery.

  3. Gross indiscipline by some citizens, and citizens’ tendency to run down Nigeria at every turn.

  4. Insensitivity to the welfare of citizens by government officials and also fellow citizens

  5. Problems with law and order, security of lives and property

  6. Lack of adherence to the rule of law.

  7. Government being perceived as alien oppressor by the people.

In spite of these, there are many opportunities that Lagos can take advantage of, in the quest to become a mega city and an attractive destination brand. Let us look at, and discuss some of them.


We have to look at opportunities within the context of the importance of Nigeria as a nation. While Lagos boasts of its own potentials, they are relevant only within the context of what Nigeria is and offers. But first we must accept that there is no perfect Place Brand. Every brand has its weaknesses: Johannesburg and New York have higher crime rates than Lagos, yet no one has typified them as crime capitals of the world. More drugs are consumed in the Bronx than in Lagos, yet the US is never classified a drug country. Italy and some east European countries have a history of organized crime, fraud and corruption, and yet none of them is dubbed a corrupt or “419” nation. And evidenced by comments of expatriates who visit Lagos for one reason or the other, it is said to be the world’s best kept secret; yet, the same expatriates are the first to spread negative tales about Lagos and Nigeria!

  1. Lagos Offers Colour and Variety and it Bubbles
    It is unlikely if any city in Africa has the energy that Lagos radiates. Ask the expatriates; they come into Lagos cynical, but after a while don’t want to leave, with many marrying Nigerian wives just to be able to raise a family and remain in the country.

  2. A Governnment Focused on Making Lagos a Mega City
    The government has invested in major infrastructure and keeps doing so. Roads, bridges etc., are under construction. Hospitals, bus shelters, schools etc., are being built all over the state.

  3. Investment in Tourism
    The other day I had reasons to visit Epe and I was shocked; pleasantly shocked. Very good roads, and the opening up of the normally sleepy riverine town. With the location of key industries like a refinery and the possible building of an airport to service the area, Epe in a few years will offer both tourist and business attractions. The state also plans to take advantage of the water transportation that the area offers. It’s really exciting.

  4. Sports And Recreation
    The Lagos State/Access Bank annnual marathon will soon be upgraded into a premium world class event, attracting the creme-de-la-creme of global sportsmen and women. This is so brilliant and will no doubt enhance the visibility of Lagos.

  5. Cultural Events
    Lagos has many of such events. Along with the Adamu Orisa, which is also known as the Eyo, there is the colourful boat regatta, many festivals and cultural shows. Religions also provide spiritual entertainment. The annual House-On-The-Rock “Experience” musical event attracts internationnal gospel artistes and is attended by a minimum of 600, 000 people, making it one of the largest in the world. It is a tourist event. When well organised and packaged and made part of a global entertainment calendar, all these will draw attention and attract visitors to Lagos.

  6. Transportation

Lagos has phased out the ugly and reckless “Molue” buses and has had them replaced with new buses, many of which are air conditioned. Plans are in place to bring in over 600 more to meet transportation demands. This is what obtains in other parts of the civilised world. Hopefully soon, the Lagos rail project will be completed annd offer additional transport convenience for the people. There should now be fewer vehicles on the road, with traffic moving better.

  1. Security

Lagos used to be so unsafe. Over the last few years and as part of the plan to reposition the city, the government has spent hundreds of millions of naira to beef up security. The result is clear. Fewer violent crimes and now many people go out to cinemas etc., unlike in the past when the fear of robbers didn’t make these happen.

  1. Entertainment

Tourists and even business visitors love entertainment. Lagos now boasts of high class hotels and restaurants; bars, clean beaches and many decent places that tourists can safely visit. This has placed the city on global maps and when you Google, many of these places come up with great reviews.

All these represent opportunities that the private sector can and has also been taking advantage of.

MOVING AHEAD…Suggestions on Planned Approach

Given the scope of expectations matched against available and potential resources, it is clear the Lagos state will not be able to fund this branding project alone. It is therefore my proposal that the state government sets up the following structure as part of a PPP administration of the branding project:

Ad Hoc Committee

An ad hoc committee made up of seasoned professionals and experienced civil servants to determine the strategy and scope of the branding project should be set up. On approval of its recommendation, the committee will hand over to a special purpose vehicle set up by the government to be known as the Lagos Branding Project Business Support Group (LBPBSG). The following will be the mandate of the group:

  1. Implement the agreed strategy of the Ad hoc Branding Committee by putting a structure and strategy in place to run the project.

  2. Generate the funds and goodwill needed for the implementation through the agreed PPP process, but especially from the private sector, showing them opportunities and benefits for involvement.

Mobilization of the private sector to generate the required funding for the mandate should begin with identifying sectoral communities and mobilizing them in clusters through Direct Marketing. And to a large extent, this will have been factored into the constitution of the Lagos Branding Project Business Support Group (LBPBSG) Board of Advisers; efforts will be made to ensure that this board is as representative as possible of the key players within the private sector and some key, influential and well respected opinion molders. It should be part of the plan to directly market companies within the following categories:

  1. Financial Services (banks, insurance companies etc.)

  2. Telecoms

  3. Oil and Gas

  4. Manufacturing

  5. The Organized Private Sector (OPS)

  6. Others

In prosecuting this effectively it is advised that some existing groups be involved:

  1. The Chambers of Commerce

  2. The Nigerian Stock Exchange/SEC

  3. Institute of Directors

  4. APCON and its component associations

  5. Various Business Clubs

  6. Ministries, Departments and Other Agencies

  7. Local Governments

  8. Nigeria Investment Promotion Council (NIPC)

  9. Others

It is expected that with a very wide spread, the government will be able to touch base with a large number of corporate citizens within the business community.

For reasons of probity and accountability, and to assure prospective sponsors and the Nigerian public, we propose the setting up of the Lagos State Branding Project Fund (LBPF) which will be managed under the supervision of whoever the governor designates, the CEO and the Lagos Branding Project Business Support Group (LBPBSG) Advisory Board. The LBPF will be independent of direct government control and be open to regular audit from a properly appointed independent audit firm. The board and management will also ensure that quarterly reports are generated which will be made available to all sponsors and donors and all stake holders to the Fund. We expect this to further engender believability and trust from stake holders. The state government should be prepared to add its own couterpart fund for every Naira generated through this source.

The Lagos Branding Project Business Support Group (LBPBSG) will have the task of managing the branding project by primarily implementing the strategies of the Ad Hoc Committee, generating other fresh ideas and actively collaborating with others in project implementation. The group will be the think-tank for the entire campaign, outlining its broad strategy and developing the operating guidelines for effective execution.

I also envisage and indeed propose a strong relationship between the LBPBSG and other relevant government agencies and departments, especially the government and private media organs. These will play the role of advocacy and the effective dissemination of information.

To effectively prepare the populace and also make them effective advocates, I propose a SOCIAL MOBILIZATION AND CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY campaign, especially for the first phase, which is expected to achieve the following:

  1. Value re-orientation

  2. Civic/Political Education

  3. Government responsibities to citizens and vice versa

  4. Re-awakening a deep sense of patriotism

For the second phase, I propose the following:

  1. Image projection to attract global attention, trial and loyalty

  2. Stimulating a deep sense of pride in being a Lagosian and a Nigerian

It is clear from the foregoing that what we need is a strategic brand management plan which goes beyond the traditional approach of brand promotion. This way, the start up point is a holistic audit of Brand Lagos through the eyes of all its stakeholders. Managing the brand strategically will therefore involve:

Understanding Stakeholders Values and Needs

Town Hall meetings, Village Square meetings, Professional/Civil Society/Students/Interest Groups engagement etc., will provide the platform for a thorough brand audit to distil stakeholders’ expectations of Brand Lagos. This exercise will also engender a sense of participation and involvement.

Brand Assets

What assets does Brand Lagos have that can effectively address stakeholders’ concerns? The foundational pillars of what makes for strong brand (assets) when overlaid with stakeholders values tend to achieve equilibrum and synergy between a brand and its stakeholder.

Brand Lagos therefore needs to:

  1. Be relevant to its strategic target audience

  2. Become competitive and attractive to this target, a solution to meeting the need as alternative option

  3. Still be authentic and unique while delivering expectation set

In a media saturated world, image matters, and people won’t listen to your sales pitch if your policies send conflicting signals. In other words, the government especially needs to “live the brand”. What you are saying must not be any different from what you are projecting.

And this is possibly the greatest challenge that the entire Lagos Destination Branding project will face. Will leadership be able to deliver on the promises of the campaign? Leadership spreads to include political, religious, business etc. Will Lagosians look at their leaders and see a positive change and adoption of the values of the branding campaign?

I thank you for listening.

‘Lolu Akinwunmi
November, 2018

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