"I would say gifted; I could draw very well from a very young age. I recall my nursery teacher at Toyibat making a fuss over a chicken I drew in art class, I just knew where to put all the shapes and colours. This gift was further honed by my love for comic books. This was the entry medium for me before any other art form." - ABOLAJI ALAUSA
My name is Bolaji Alausa, the Executive Creative Director of Noah’s Ark. I draw, design, paint, write, curate, create. Fun fact: I used to rap too, but after the second album with the Kaliphate and I was still broke, I had to redirect my focus fully towards fine art. It didn’t work as well as I was still quite broke, I found a shamefully lucrative haven in advertising.
I bring out the rapper only on special occasions,
I was born and grew up in Lagos. Early influences were my elder siblings who were voracious readers. I read everything they read. Later on, my big brother would make us all contribute a few of our allowances for books and magazines weekly. I held the sacred responsibility of trekking to the bus stop to purchase, Hints, Hearts, Benbella, Lulu, Fun Times, Superb Romance, Ikebe Super, Pacesetters, etc. Then cash couldn’t be used for Green Lantern or Blue Beetle and by the way, I had to save up to buy comic books myself.
I would say gifted; I could draw very well from a very young age. I recall my nursery teacher at Toyibat making a fuss over a chicken I drew in art class, I just knew where to put all the shapes and colours. This gift was further honed by my love for comic books. This was the entry medium for me before any other art form. John Byrne was on Superman then, I would marvel over his mastery of anatomy, then replicate his work panel by panel. It didn’t take long before I started creating my own characters. Later influences were Jim Lee and Simon Bisley.
During secondary school, I joined Imperial Creations, a group of guys who could draw and write really well and ended up pioneering the comic industry in Nigeria, I learnt a lot from my years with them.
Yes. My father is the first artist I know. Although his art form is now mainstream, back then carpentry wasn’t considered art. But I learnt from how he developed his designs, built the templates and translated it into functional pieces. I later worked with him. My mum was quite concerned early on though, she would watch me make imaginary inscriptions into thin air and worry if I was losing my mind. Not knowing that I was just cataloguing an idea or a posture to draw later. If you see my fingers darting around in a meeting, I’m not going into a fit, that’s me doing my weird stuff.
I majored in Painting in Yabatech, studied campaigns at Miami Ad School, studied Digital Media at Pan Atlantic University, and earned an MBA at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership. As much as I would like to say this is all innate, it really isn’t. It took a lot of class hours.
A bit. Because I could draw so well, my parents felt I should dabble into something else early on. But I was so bent on attending Yabatech they let me have my way eventually. It got easier from there as I left school with a first class. Got posted to the academic press of the American University in Yola and continued doing creative stuff all through my service year. I never felt pressed to do anything different. The challenges were mostly on the job and they weren’t anything ideas couldn’t solve.
Quite fulfilling, can’t complain out loud. After freelancing for a while, I settled down and did a year at Rosabel Leo Burnett, five years at DDB Lagos. Seven years at Noah’s Ark now and our growth amazes me still. We will be 10 this February and we have broken down a lot of boundaries. Our work has taken Nigerian advertising to platforms we’ve never been before.
Oh, a lot of great talent locally. Jideobi and Martin Okonkwo, Shedrach Ayalume, Solomon Osafile, Ibrahim Ganiyu, Ifesinachi Adrian, Mohammed Agbadi, Samuel Achema, Kimson Osaghae to name a few. Extremely talented guys doing amazing things.
Ideas are not the problem, execution is. Although great ideas are not easy to come by, with the right planning, we do quite well. Selling those brave ideas to a client and seeing them come to fruition, on the other hand, is another task entirely.
Definitely, some ideas demand you ride the current wave, some don’t. What we try to do however is work more with local insights and human truths, so we don’t get stuck on fads.
That would be our latest Airtel 10x campaign.
The telecommunication space had recently experienced a saturation of promotions skewed at luring subscribers to switch network providers or spend more to get a lot more on the network.
So how do we connect to subscribers with our promotion in a quarter where consumers have offered larger than ours, and still keep the brand love for new and existing subscribers without losing the essence of the festive season?
We found out that people with more airtime tend to have more energy to express more forms of emotions for longer, like our mothers when they get a hold of abundant credit and want to show their gratitude. These insights became the TV spot: Prayer Warrior (Amin), featuring the legendary Iya Rainbow:
Quite. The business owners back then favoured hiring expatriates over grooming local talents. It took people like Lanre Adisa to break that cycle. I had to break a few taboos of my own. Traditional painters can’t make good graphic designers, I debunked. Artists can’t equally be good writers, debunked that also. Art directors do not make good creative directors, also debunked. I always wanted to create cool stuff, or do good advertising as it were, it only took a while to get a good partner.
I would do a vaccination campaign. GAVI, the vaccine alliance gave me a full scholarship for my EMBA at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership. It would be my way of saying thank you firstly, then giving back to my country as well. We were declared polio-free in 2015, but now its back with over 11 cases. There are several efforts by NGOs, but a far-reaching communications campaign can also support.
Currently, we have no proprietary tool like TBWA’s Disruption or DDB’s ROI Springboard etc. We just wing it. On a serious note though, our mantra is ‘we go wherever the idea takes us’, so we rely heavily on planning, on research, which then leads to insights and later ideas.
Extremely necessary for our market, we still have a lot to prove, a lot of milestones to cross too. There might come a time when we can be choosy about competing, but right now, we need to aspire to the best of standards and collectively hold ourselves by it. That’s what creative awards do to you. Say a client approves a script and on second thought you realize this won’t even be in consideration at LAIF, talk more of Cristal or Loeries, chances are you would revisit the script and deliver something both agency and client can be proud of. By competing with Madison Avenue and not Shomolu, you lift the industry up. That does not so say some designers in Shomolu aren’t churning out cool stuff too.
For Airtel’s Data is Life campaign, the client demanded work that would make a Cannes Lions shortlist. Although we didn’t make that, we won at Cristal, made the shortlist at Dubai Lynx and Loeries, and recently won gold at Epica, and a LAIF grand Prix: http://winners.epica-awards.com/2017/winner/13-01001-TVC/noahs-ark-communications-limited/lostgfdsa
It’s a setup. You’re only as good as your last campaign. It better not be a fluke too. But seriously, recognition opens doors, gets you free PR, which can also lead to new opportunities and businesses. We were on Adweek a few weeks back, as I speak with you, I’m keeping Adforum on hold. We are top in the country and rank very high in the continent according to Lurzer’s Archive. The experience has been good.
We are on top of the table no doubt, but it’s not about the awards, it’s about the work really. Anyone can do smart proactive work to gain recognition, but to do it for clients and have a successful campaign that resonates, that’s where the difference really is. Recent work for Three Crowns Milk, Peak Milk, Airtel, Hypo come to mind. Campaigns that met not only our creative standard but delivered on the client’s target. What sets us apart is the fact that we’re not mooning over the shiny metals on the shelf; we’re busy cooking mould-breaking stuff that would deliver results for our clients’ businesses.
I see multinationals recognizing us as a creative force and cutting off that age-old tether to parent offices in New York or London. I see an end to the adoption of global campaigns with little care for local nuance and imposition of expatriates as the sole source of know-how etc. I see local brands gaining as much recognition as global ones. I see us exporting expertise to other regions on the continent and the rest of the world. I see more respect and recognition.
Stick to your convictions. Assert yourself. Improve yourself.
Oh yes. We’ve grown from a single agency to an emerging full-service group. And I’m thinking of shipping in a Mustang as soon and the Naira and Dollar exchange at the same rate.
Music, cinema, family.
Best my last campaign.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE
Anything well made.
Courtesy: The Fruit Tree Magazine & King Solomon’s Mine 2018
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