MTN’s ManInTheBox Campaign: The Untold Story



By Tunji Faleye

The recent MTN Man-in-The-Box billboard was an innovative out-of-home campaign many Nigerians will never forget in a hurry. This inventive advertising billboard was stationed along Lekki Expressway Lagos, causing a lot of inquisitive staring and stopovers at the site by bystanders and motorists.

The moment the campaign commenced, it went viral across different social media platforms, became the topic of discussions, memes and news-worthy content for bloggers all over the country.

It brought curiosity. Many wondered and wanted to know what a man would be doing in a box, all alone carrying on with his daily activities? Could it be that he preferred solitary confinement to limitless freedom? Was he tired of happenings in his environment that required him to hide in a box, albeit by the roadside? All these were questions on the lips of many who saw the billboard. Indeed, it was a unique campaign that deserves a lot of accolades as it took outdoor advertising to a whole new level.


Why Man-in-The-Box Campaign

MTN’s Man-in-The-Boxcampaign is a novel idea, restating the telecom operator’s commitment to helping Nigerian businesses operate optimally and achieve growth. It signified the formal relaunch of MTN’s Enterprise Business Solutions arm, otherwise known as MTN Business.

Through this campaign, MTN is raising public awareness about its ability to cater to the communication, collaboration and connectivity needs of all businesses – start-ups, small medium and large-scale enterprises, and public sector organisations.

Justifying the campaign, Lynda Saint-Nwafor, MTN’s Chief Enterprise Business Officer explained that the Man-in-The-Box campaign symbolises MTN’s unwavering dedication and desire to help support business growth and transformation – no matter the time of day – using a wide range of world-class business solutions, backed by cutting-edge technology.

According to her, “Our ambition is your success. We understand that business owners see technology as a distraction, many times with good reason. But we know that the right connectivity solution is a game changer and the foundation for future success, and so we would like to change that mindset, by making technology and digital transformation decisions easier and more personal.

“Our aim is to be a true partner for success, delivering high impact right-sized connectivity solutions. Helping you become more agile and efficient, expanding market access and making them more competitive. We do this by listening and consulting to gain a clear understanding of what keeps you up, your circumstances, pain-points, ambitions and priorities.”

Among other benefits, companies that get in touch with the organisation will enjoy some visibility, as their products and services will be displayed on MTN LED boards free of charge.”


The Issue

It is interesting to know that the Man-in-The-Box campaign was developed from an insightful business solution statement – “We know what keeps you up, let’s talk”, which is meant to address MSMEs.

Over the years, MTN needed to firmly establish its enterprise business solutions arm as a key support service provider for businesses in the country. In this regard, MTN engaged the services of its creative marketing communications partner for about 12 years, DDB Lagos, who have developed and executed manyeffective and award winning works for the telecommunication giant in the past. The creative team comprising Tunde Dosekun, Director of Business Development; Yomi Amoussa, Account Planning Manager; Ayo Moore, Copy Writer; Nancy Aizojie, Copy Writer and Obiora Ohazurike, Art Director all of DDB swung into action, ruminating on how to crack the nut for MTN in its drive to capture the Small and Medium Scale Enterprise sector.

The initial response was communication materials developed with a lot emphasis placed on SMEs. However, due to some re-alignment internally at MTN, it required that the team bring a bit of enterprise thinking mostly into communicating with small businesses and being mindful of the nature of small businesses in this part and focus more on speaking to them in everyday language.

Despite the fact that DDB had previously executed a number of B2B campaigns for MTN Business, the Man-in-The-Box campaign had a unique challenge which required intrinsic understanding of the media technology solutionsneeded to deliver the novel idea.

According to Tunde Dosekun, Business Development Director, DDB, in developing Man-in-The-Box billboard campaign, “the focus was to make the communication simple, basic, easy to understand and access. I think access is the key word; making communication as accessible as possible. A lot of what we did was a confirmation that we really understand where things work for small businesses and that was the focus in terms of how we wanted to push the communication”.

The brief was specific in terms of what DDB was expected to do. There is the fact that SMEs space in Nigeria is almost like a contracted territory where many businesses claim to be creating solutions for that segment of the society or that segment of industry and commerce. But, in actual fact, very few have been able to hit it at the very heart of its core.

Corroborating this, Yomi Amoussa says. “In this particular instance, the mandate given to us was to reappraise and create communication from a solution provider point of view. We had to differentiate and position MTN as an innovative organization which wanted to play hero in building up the SME space in Nigeria.

“Secondly, the question, how would it in itself really deliver actual value to SMEs came to bear. You know there are loads of things people portray as SME-centric solutions or communication but, they don’t really hit it accurately. So, we showed that MTN as a business unit understood the intricate details and problems of the Nigerian SME. This extends to positioning and addressing those needs in the right way.

“The final thing that MTN also wanted us to capture in respect to the brief was the fact that whatever solution that was going to be proffered had to be practical. MTN Business has suffered much from the success of the overarching MTN brand in the sense that a lot of people were aware of the more consumer-focused arm of MTN and what the organisation offered in the retail space.”

Yomi adds, “beyond that, there was so much that MTN, through its MTN Business arm was able to offer the Nigerian public and the Nigerian SME that the sector was not aware of in the first place. The greater force of the brief was addressing it from a communication point of view; letting people know that MTN has a suite of business solutions that are targeted at SMEs and addresses the very basic and core issues that SMEs face on a daily basis.”


General Manager, Enterprise Marketing, MTN Nigeria, Onyinye Ikenna-Emeka, Sales And Distribution Executive, Adekunle Adebiyi, the Man in the Box, Ibrahim Sulaiman, CEO, MTN Nigeria_ Ferdinand Moolman and Lynda Saint-Nwafor,  Chief Enterprise Business Officer, MTN, at the unveiling of MaanInTheBox Campaign.
General Manager, Enterprise Marketing, MTN Nigeria, Onyinye Ikenna-Emeka, Sales And Distribution Executive, Adekunle Adebiyi, the Man in the Box, Ibrahim Sulaiman, CEO, MTN Nigeria_ Ferdinand Moolman and Lynda Saint-Nwafor, Chief Enterprise Business Officer, MTN, at the unveiling of ManInTheBox Campaign.


Brainstorming on the brief was quite taxing for the team as members deliberated on how to communicate with the SMEs. According to Lynda Saint-Nwafor, “Our appreciation goes to DDB Lagos team who conceptualised the campaign and the OMNICOM SPV team that executed it. Coming out with such novel campaign which symbolises MTN’s dedication and desire to help support business growth and transformation was quite taxing.” For Nancy Aizojie, the copywriter, the inspiration came from a sister who is often worried about trying to get her business running. “I sleep pretty early but my sister is always awake trying to figure out what will make her business thrive. She is a small business owner who is always up at night trying to ensure that her business gets the necessary push. That scenario of “we know what keeps you up at night,” was influenced by this thinking.

“It was something that I was familiar with. It was something that I saw my sister doing; something that I live with daily. Most Nigerians are up at night because they have to push, keep their businesses going, get profits or break even and go beyond competition.

“The conversation also captures making people see your brand and bringing MTN to actually fit into helping those things that you fear more; those things that keep you up at night vis-à-vis providing solutions to them.

“From there we decided on ensuring that it wouldn’t just be the regular message that people just saw and skipped. Rather, we were quite clear at that point by placing a premium on grabbing people’s attention. This brought us to the point where we deliberated on getting people to see the message and persuading them to act. We made them see that MTN has a wide range of solutions for some of these problems.”

Through the team thought process, we were able to depict MTN Business as resilient in understanding problems of businesses and responding with creative solutions. This was exactly what they had at the back of their minds before progressing to execute.

According to Obiora Ohazurike, “At the point of conceiving the Man-in-The-Box Idea, we had to figure out the best way to situate it in order to disrupt everybody’s daily lives. Imagine that early in the morning, during rush hour going to work, the first thing you see is a man living inside a box. Visually, that was just a good way to express the idea.

Conceptualizing Man-in-The-Box campaign was an exercise Ayo Moore will never forget, according to him, “When we got the brief, we had a direction which was not like the usual thing. We had our tails between our legs and our heads down, then, we arrived at this idea.

“The idea was inspired by something we saw. An illusionist, David Blaine famous for magical feats around town once built a glass chamber. He erected it up in the air and spent about 30 days residing in the chamber doing amazing things. From there, the idea what keeps you up at night came up. We thought it could actually be a good idea to put a man in a box that stays there day and night to mirror the lives of business people.

“From the brand side, we also took it further to say that the MTN brand is always up round the clock trying to give solutions that will move businesses forward. When we shared it, everybody was excited and aligned with it.”

Ikechi Odigb, MD, DDB Lagos
Ikechi Odigb, MD, DDB Lagos
Tunde Dosekun
Tunde Dosekun, Director of Business Development, DDB Lagos















Execution of ManInTheBox Campaign

While the conceptualisation of the ManInTheBox was done by DDB Lagos, the execution of the thematic campaign was carried out by OMNICOM’s Special Purpose Vehicle, (SPV Communications) which involved PHD, TBWA and Playhouse. Why such arrangement? Prior to now, DDB was the sole agency working for MTN, and after a global review by the MTN brand between 2016 and 2017, the arrangement changed. MTN GROUP found confidence in OMNICOM following a global integrated pitch that involved about seven other mega integrated agency networks across the globe.

In Nigeria, DDB Lagos works  with other OMNICOM agencies such as TBWA (creative services), YELLOW BRICK ROAD (creative services),  PHD (media), and PLAYHOUSE (digital) under SPV Communications to service the integrated marketing communication requirements of MTN Nigeria.

According to our sources, DDB had received client’s approval of Maninthebox concept, media execution was being discussed before the OMNICOM arrangement kicked in.

The subsequent involvement of PHD, PLAYHOUSE and TBWA was consistent with the multidisciplinary approach required to execute the innovativeManInTheBox campaign as well as the unique integrated model under which OMNICOM Agencies service MTN through a consortium company, SPV Communications.

From all indications, one thing is obvious in ManInTheBox campaign. It shows that there is no good idea without good execution and there will certainly not be a good execution without a good idea. According to Dosekun, “All the agencies that we partnered with on ManInTheBox thematic campaign did an amazing job. The idea would have been nothing without their contributions.

“Kudos must also be given to our client partners at MTN for having the courage and foresight to go with the idea and make the necessary investment to bring such a novel project to life. The MTN Chief Enterprise Solution Officer, Linda Saint-Nwafor must be commended for driving adoption in-house, selling the concept across to other stakeholders within MTN.”

No doubt, ManInTheBox campaign further affirms DDB Lagos’credo as enemies of the ordinary. Over the years, DDB Lagos has remained prominent in the highly competitive advertising business in Nigeria and West Africa as a whole. From being the most awarded agency in the history of LAIF, its footprint has also extended to the international stage, where it recently became the first Nigerian agency to pick up prestigious awards at the EPICA and the African Cristal Award Festivals. It also picked up a couple of awards at the 2018 edition of African Cristal Festival.

Speaking about the future, the Managing Director of DDB, Ikechi Odigbo said, “The fact of the matter is that ManInTheBox represents a strategic shift in focus for DDB to move beyond Creativity into the Innovation space. ManInTheBox is not just a creative OOH aperture, it provides an innovative platform for MTN to reach, showcase and empower SMEs. For us this is a new territory of value creation. This is consistent with our brand compass of INNOVATION, SPEED and VALUE delivery. On whether there are other big bangs to expect from the Agency. We are not about big bangs for ourselves. We are about helping our clients to achieve big bangs. Whether it’s the visibly iconic Saka I don Port Campaign or the proactive work on MTN Bizlift  It is not about  us, it is about the brands we works for. There is an OMNICOM Mantra I love to quote again and again. It says if you make the brand look good, then the client looks good; when the client looks good then the Agency looks good; when the agency looks good then our people look good. That is exactly the positive spiral we hope has been achieved with maninthebox; MTN looking good, DDB looking good; SPV agencies such as PHD, PLAYHOUSE, TBWA looking good and our people feeling proud to do more great work”







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