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Yellow Brick Road: A Journey Of Creative Excellence With A Mega Brand

Kaliko Olowole, MD,YBR and Nnenna Onyewuchi, Director of Strategy, YBR.

By Jeremiah Agada

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Barack Obama, former American President once noted that if you are walking down the right path and you are willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress. The road to progress may not be smooth, it may be like the Yellow Brick Road that Dorothy Gale-protagonist of the 1900 children’s novel ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ by American author L. Frank Baum, must find before embarking on her journey to the imperial capital of Oz called Emerald City that is located in the exact centre of the entire continent.

The Yellow Brick Road functions as a guideline that leads all who follow it, to the road’s ultimate destination-success. As in the book, the road symbolizes the path that must be followed in order for Dorothy to fulfil her quest. Like Dorothy, brands, organisations and agencies require The Yellow Brick Road to guide them on their way to achieving as well as managing their success.

This insight perhaps, led the duo of Kaliko Olowole and Nnenna Onyewuchi to set up one of Nigeria’s most vibrant IMC powerhouses, Yellow Brick Road — YBR for short. The agency began life as ZK advertising in 2006, but evolved to YBR in 2011 when Olowole and Onyewuchi took over.

Over the course of 13 years, the agency has been helping its clients navigate the turbulent Nigerian market, guided by the core values of adventure, courage, passion and intelligence -the same qualities the four main characters in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ were searching for. Qualities they found on their journey along the Yellow Brick Road.

One of such brands is FirstBank of Nigeria, a multinational financial services giant and one of Nigeria’s oldest brands, that has just celebrated its quasquicentennial anniversary having bestrided the tough Nigerian landscape like a colossus since 1894.

Over the course of their 8 year relationship with FirstBank, YBR has worked on a slew of interesting initiatives for the Bank. Perhaps the most notable recently, would be FirstGem, the First Women’s Network, PRIMUS and FirstLounge.

FirstGem, an offering designed specifically for women, encompasses products, advisory services and other value-adds that cater to the unique financial and lifestyle needs of the Bank’s female customers. The First Women’s Network, another female centric initiative, is borne out of the Bank’s commitment to increase female participation at senior and executive levels, empowering women to contribute even more to the nation’s development. PRIMUS is a wide-ranging, internal transformation program that is revamping everything in the Bank from technology infrastructure to corporate culture. FirstLounge is a premium, landside pre-flight haven where travellers at Murtala Mohammed International Airport can take care of last-minute banking tasks, catch up on work or just unwind before they head through customs and immigration. At launch, it was the only landside lounge at the airport.

Reacting to the FirstBank’s 125-year feat in Nigeria, Kaliko Olowole, Managing Director, said, “the Bank has joined a very small, global community of brands that have been in continuous business for 125 years. In Africa, only a handful of other brands have reached this milestone. For a brand to not only survive, but to have remained relevant and at the top of their category after all that time is an astonishing accomplishment. At YBR, we are very proud to have played a small part in the legacy of this storied brand.”   

On the lessons other brands can learn from FirstBank, Nnenna Onyewuchi, Director of Strategy, said,“The major lesson for other brands is the importance of competence, resilience and adaptability. To succeed for this long, quite simply, you have to be really good at what you do. You must have the expertise, but beyond the knowledge, you need the wisdom to apply it properly. Doing business in this part of the world has never been easy. Truthfully, doing business anywhere in the world, for this long, is hard. When the tough times come, a brand needs deep reserves of strength and a fighting spirit in order to endure.”

“Most importantly, a brand must be dynamic; not just to move with the times, but to anticipate customers’ needs as the world changes. The world we live in today would have been unimaginable to most people in 1894; it would have been tough for someone to imagine in 1994. To achieve the same longevity as FirstBank, brands must constantly innovate to meet the evolving challenges and aspirations of their customers,” she added.

Speaking on the Bank’s communication over the years, she said, “In the period we’ve worked with FirstBank, we’ve seen the brand evolve; moving towards a much more customer-centric positioning and more people-focused communications. We’ve witnessed the shift to digital channels, as their customers moved to online platforms. They’ve used their sponsorship and experiential platforms to further their support of key sectors, including agribusiness, the performing arts, sports and education.”

“As importantly, we’ve seen their commitment to move beyond ‘just communications’. They’ve created initiatives that provide relevant, useful solutions for targeted segments. Their various SME programs, FirstGem and their youth products (XploreFirst, MeFirst and KidsFirst) are just some examples. It has been exciting for us to work with FirstBank as they re-engineer their business to build an even more dynamic and customer-centric organization. This is a prime example of the innovation and adaptability that has allowed the Bank to flourish for more than a century.”

On the agency’s relationship with the Bank, she noted:“FirstBank is our longest client relationship. We have been working with them since we became Yellow Brick Road. Over the years, they’ve become much more than a client. They have been a partner in our growth and we in their business. The work we do together goes beyond just creating campaigns; they involve us in elements of their strategy and we proactively contribute to moving their business forward. The relationship is based on mutual respect and shared values; their commitment to customer-driven innovation, the highest business ethics and a performance driven culture inspire us every day. From their end, they know that we are absolutely committed to their success. We look after their business with the same care that we do our own.”

On what drives the agency and has made it the toast of such clients as Firstbank, Kaliko, noted: “What we offer is strategy driven, energetic creativity and passion mixed with the utmost professionalism. At YBR, we don’t aim to be the agency with the most awards. We don’t aspire to be the most creative agency, if that creativity doesn’t add to the client’s bottomline. Our goal is simply to be the agency with the happiest clients,” he explained.

In having the happiest clients, Nnenna buttressed: “That means we do work that works; achieving the client’s objectives is our paramount priority. It also means that we do work that gets the right sort of attention; there is a strong correlation between creativity and effectiveness. We value our relationships with our clients, beyond the transaction of their paying fees, so we do everything reasonably possible to deliver for them. We adapt to their working style and speed without compromising our own processes. Most importantly, we believe their success is our success, so we are passionate in our approach and meticulous in our execution.”

“For FirstBank, I think our commitment to the success of their business, as well as their brand, is a key reason they continue to choose us. We think of ourselves as a strategic partner and as such ensure that we are thoroughly grounded in the realities of their business, keep up-to-date on competitive activity (in terms of campaigns and product/service offerings) and have a finger on the customer’s pulse to ensure our communications are relevant and motivating. We combine creativity and strategy to create campaigns that will move both mind and wallet.”

The agency has been through on series of rebranding efforts, evolving from ZK Advertising to Yellow Brick Road and now YBR. Explaining the reason for the name changes, Kaliko said, “the change of name reflects the transformation of the agency and represents the evolution of our internal philosophy.”

Speaking on its key offerings, which now go beyond conventional advertising, he emphasized: “We are playing to our strengths. One of our strengths, aside from creative development and that is the bedrock of what we do, is strategy.  We are applying the same level of thinking that has made us successful in creative communications to other disciplines, and indeed businesses, to increase the value of our offering to clients.

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