by Isime Esene and Edwin Okolo
The business of prediction is tricky, even often foolish. But the business of paying close attention to reality – what is happening today – and what that means for the present is almost indispensable. Too many people don’t spend enough time listening and watching – but today often tell us all that we need.
by Ifedayo Adeleye and Nelson CJ
As we find ourselves saying often, there is no need for predictions. Only interpretations. Our investigations into the trends and lifestyles that will drive Nigerian cultural and consumer behaviour in the immediate term have yielded the top 15 trends that will translate into economic, political and social outcomes over the next year.
Tech companies aren’t achieving the scale their slides promised, investors are allegedly disappointed by performance vis a vis expectation, and even players in the system are bearish about what is possible. But money will continue to pour in. We don’t have any insight as to why the investors continue to come in here (there are enough reports interrogating that), but I can tell you that the money will continue to find ready businesses here. Because entrepreneurs continue to innovate, the tech community continues to tell a darn good story about itself, and the market here is ripe for someone to crack it open truly. Something is bound to pop out of all that startup activity across the nation. We don’t when. But until it does, we’re determined to die trying.
Build, and they will come
What’s driving the real estate boom in Lagos and Abuja especially? No one has any answer that makes sense. Or, at least, you won’t find that answer in the formal investment reports and market outlooks coming out of investment companies, banks, regulators and anybody else that’s supposed to be giving you data that makes sense. But when you sit down with them, they begin to whisper things like the proceeds of corruption – money that can’t be taken out of the country, and shell companies. We can neither confirm nor deny. However, there continues to be a real estate and construction boom across the Lagos skyline and gardens that doesn’t at all mesh with the macro-economic numbers. More houses, more offices, more payment plans that fit into several kinds of pockets. That’s a boom that we should be grateful for – wherever it is coming from.
Events are yet another part of the Nigerian economy that defies The Efficient Market Hypothesis. If GDP is down, and incomes are low, and the economy is tightening, how come events are multiplying? Not just the big-ticket concerts, festivals, weekends but the continued unending explosion of the events industry – including events managers, ancillary service providers, events centres and an entire ecosystem of people ready to spend your money. This doesn’t seem like a bubble, especially since it is driven by consumer behaviour both as end-users and content owners (to the extent that weddings are now full content productions complete with Instagram booths). This organic expansion is only set to continue – deeper, wider, faster.
Is the present excitement in Nigeria’s entertainment industry going to stand the test of time? Many people would consider that question foolish based on all the goodness we are witnessing. Those people might not be aware that this is not the first time Nigeria has culturally been the toast of the world. The cinemas have been here before, Sony and Universal have been here before, we’ve been nominated for the Grammys before. All of it has happened before. But yes, something seems different this time – you can feel it in the blur of rapidly growing cinema halls, movie premieres, streaming studio interest, big-ticket productions, big-budget musicals, comedy concerts, and music everything. If this is going to change sometime soon, it is definitely not going to be 2020. This high is going to outlast this year. There is enough local and foreign money ready to satisfy a ravenous local and international consuming audience. (Pay attention to the South East, by the way. Between more reality shows, event experiences, and corporate cultural-product investments, it is looking to become the next big thing.)
The real deal
It is very easy to point to where this one is coming from: The Big Brother Naija (#BBNaija) colossus. But now every TV station, corporate spenders, and their mothers are set to experiment with or launch a new reality show this year. Some of them already shipped the shows in the last quarter of last year. In addition to that, there is a groundswell of bottom-up activity, with producers and directors selling, or creating the new reality TV content that they can absolutely show they can get the same cultural impact as #BBNaija. They are likely to fail: there is no evidence after all that the audience wants more reality TV offerings. But first, they will try, and try hard.
Food experiences are spreading across the country and will continue to – Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt are the moment’s centrepieces for these. We have food fairs and festivals, food sections at major events, an explosion of experimental restaurants (as opposed to clubs, and perhaps even hotels, Lagos and Abuja restaurants have incredible staying power, no matter how dramatic the expression as the former’s Danfo Bistro and the latter’s Nkoyo show today). Corporate investment is also very pronounced in this space. There is also an increased pop-culture appreciation for local food in popular media, typified by the internet’s obsession with amala, jollof everything (pasta, for instance), nkwobi and a slew of other well-referenced traditional Nigerian meals. Something is about to take off with Nigerian foods. This may not be the year of liftoff, but the engines will continue to rev.
A trend of socially-conscious branding has replaced conventional corporate-speak and communication. There is an increasingly positive attitude towards brands perceived to be aligned with human-interest social movements. The gains for this shift, though unmeasured has mostly been consumer-facing, as more and more brands now strategically align themselves with globally-fronted social causes and initiatives like feminism, financial inclusion and sustainability. Brands like Access Bank, Union Bank, Total Oil and more all have internal departments dedicated to sustainability campaigns, managed through CSR activations.
Take a bet
This one doesn’t need any expertise; no spectacular insight. Just look. A mix of an economy on the downturn, a culture high on hope, and business savvy that is lightly regulated, means that recreational gambling will continue to soar. For the mass population, that caveat is necessary. Poverty is driving this, not recreation. This all speaks to something underneath that should scare those who pay attention. Gambling platforms like Bet9ja, NairaBet and more have gained popularity by strategically seeding agents and localised betting shops in nearly every neighbourhood across the country. This is a movement.
It’s one of the big paradoxes. That the most popular government officials in Nigeria have been some of the most anti-poor – if not in intent, then in policy. There is a living, breathing government tone especially in the South West, North West and North Central parts of the country) that defines the words and actions of many of the more impressive public administrators, turning up their noses at those who ‘deface’ the images of urban cities that they imagine. The poor often seem inconvenience in the face of large scale ambition. This is strange because the votes of the poor determine election outcomes just as much as the tastes of the poor determine everything from the betting economy, to the rise of Techno phones up to the popularity of Big Brother Naija. Somehow the poor don’t punish the policymakers that make their lives worse – so look forward to more bans, proscriptions, demolitions, and gentrification as governments make life even more difficult for an already beleaguered mass population.
Thanks to a blueprint set by big tech companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, WeChat and more in other climes, the future of technology is now leaning towards integrated platforms with a multiplex of features and functions. Platforms like Opera, Transsion (parent company for Infinix, Tecno and Boomplay), are actively playing in this space with diverse products including payment solutions, ride-sharing and music streaming and more. Huawei is on its way. Smaller players like Farm Crowdy and Bamboo are paying attention, and dipping in their toes, limited not by ambition but by resources. Brands are also not left out of this platforming shift. Companies like GTBank, MTN are also evolving full-stack ecosystems that provide consumers with a range of services. For many actors in this space, the main goal is to keep consumers on a single multipurpose platform that can do more than one thing.
Tie & Dye (Fashion I)
Nigerian fashion is at the start of a 30-year nostalgia cycle that will see trends from the 80s and 90s revisited. Vintage fittings are becoming attractive and in-style again, as evidenced by the Alte subculture and the proliferation of vintage-inspired brands with loose-fitting wears, Hawaiian prints and Nigeria’s own Oleku fashion for Owambe. Another major evolving trend is the bridal subset of Nigerian fashion witnessing continued growth at sustained levels over the last half-decade. This interest has brought, a focus on international fabric and indigenous designers who offer an authentic traditional Nigerian wedding experience. We expect to see in the next 12 years more adoption of contemporary technology to hybridise Nigerian weddings with innovations in fabric creation, constriction and experimental designs. Do not be surprised to see an Iris Van Herpen iteration of a traditional Nigerian wedding dress.
The Runway (Fashion II)
Did you see Chimamanda Adichie host Dior’s Maria Chiuri in Lagos last year? As fashion evolves in Nigeria, the demand for fashion experiences are also increasing, and that demand is being met by fashion organisations who offer curated showcases. Organisations like Lagos Fashion Week, who operate as non-profit but command significant influence and revenue are competing with Nigerian corporations like Guaranty Trust Bank, who see the value in offering fashion lifestyle experiences to its customer base. Individual designers are also taking their slices of the pie with ticketed fashion showcases. Imran Amed was able to leverage interest in the often ignored business of fashion, to build a highly-influential and financially successful business with a distinct client niche. Nigerian fashion insiders have taken notice and are seeking to replicate the model in Nigeria with platforms like Lagos fashion business series, the Lagos Art Summit and the GTBank Fashion Masterclasses. Smaller brands like Rhonkefella Creations are also offering micro-focused alternatives to more established fashion platforms. Providing logistical and talent support will be big businesses in the coming years.
Social media provides a significant level of anonymity that encourages users to share their private affairs with virtually anyone in the world. While Nigeria is still largely conservative, gender fluid personalities like Bobrisky and James have publicly explored their sexuality in ways that cause them to be celebrated for breaking social precepts. Younger millennials are, however, more receptive to the notion that sexuality is a spectrum and cross-dressing artists like Wavy the Creator and Odunsi have built their personas to reflect the times. In a similar vein, conventional masculine stereotypes are being deconstructed through online and offline conversations around topics like male mental health, emotional deficiency, and self-expression. However, the biggest revelation in gender and sexuality has been the increased push for gender equality. It can be noticed in small and big ways from online conversations breaking down conservative stereotypes on the role of women in society to organised protests in response to long-held beliefs, inter-generational changes and social expectations to issues like rape, marriage, abuse, wage gap, etc.
Not safe, yet
Unlike many aspects of urban life, mental health is one of the few areas where very little progress has been made over the decade. While conventional wisdom around issues like depression and anxiety have gained more spotlight within the context of interpersonal relationships, those at the extreme tail of mental disorders still suffer through stereotypes that consciously or subconsciously, stigmatises their illness. The attitude towards mental health is still widely plagued by stereotypes and misinformation. Therapy has remained criminally expensive, and the government isn’t helping with the outdated Lunacy Act still hides in the national constitution, despite its inhumane flaws. Even worse, there is a minimal concerted effort towards curbing the long-lasting adverse effects of common mental health deprecators like stress, poor work-life balance, emotional abuse, poor dieting, low self-esteem and more.
On the positive side, non-profit and private organisations are now taking the initiative to enter this space with the trade-off of behavioural data that can be farmed for multinational corporations which have been evidenced by the significant rise in “data leaks” of many social and payment and service platforms. That conversation won’t translate into real action or change in Nigeria this year, but it will intensify. It’s not going anywhere.
The good life
Landmark Lagos is perhaps the most prominent symbol of this trend – beach, hotel, club, complex, shopping mall, event centre – but it is far from an island. This is an entire network of recreational spaces in and beyond hotel form that are defining the major cities. It can be a mind-bender to figure out what is driving this trend – it’s not FDI, it’s not government policy, it’s not a concerted private sector intervention – but it is precisely the kind of thing data points like that can’t figure out. Lagos is now sexy. People with differentiated tastes are now paying attention, with their ATM cards, and the cultural palate is now expanding. Savvy entrepreneurs who also understand lifestyle marketing are responding to this with products that engage the senses – everything from (finally!) De Bull Restaurant overlooking the airport hangar to Jara Beach Resorts. And yes it is mostly centred in Lagos – but the quiet re-awakenings everywhere from Yankari to Enugu’s Nike Lake over the last few years will indicate to you that it’s not for lack of national interest. It’s just where the money flows now.
Despite the developments in urbanisation, many urban centres in Nigeria are still plagued by economic inequality, poor planning and low-infrastructural development. Businesses are learning that the economic scarcity within this specific social class is largely artificial and if they can offer social currency, in exchange for monetary value, they can extract sufficient revenue to catering to specifically to this class. Businesses like speciality beverage (Cafe Neo, Vestar Coffee, XII Glover), branded merchandise (NATIVE x NIKE, Wizkid x Nike, Bearded Genius), and curated experiences (Danfo Bistro, Z-Kitchen, Backyard, Mykonos on the Roof offer no tangible value outside of the urban poor social class. Businesses who specialise in servicing this social class (the young person who works in a tech company, lives on the edges of the city centre, can’t afford a car, but spends on expensive coffee) have developed a synergic relationship with micro and nano influencers who help to raise the profile of the businesses in exchange for social currency or monetary value where possible. Helping these businesses expand beyond their initial target audience will become a primary concern as these businesses peak and start to think of longevity and long-term sustainability.
*This report is curated with support from the Culture Intelligence (Ci) team at RED. Ci’s methodology is based on five key elements: random sampling surveys, meta-analysis of existing quantitative data, our proprietary focus group model, data points from the backends of our media products (TV, web and social) and The Resonance Test, filtered via our curated panel of producers and editors at Y!.
Intelligence customised for clients includes access to raw data.