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Making it big through product endorsements

By | July 14th 2011

Previously frowned upon as populated by cons, music, modelling, and theatre arts, are slowly breaking into the big earners club, writes KENNETH KWAMA.

When David Mathenge aka Nameless burst onto the musical scene in 1999, music was just beginning to seep its way into the Kenyan psyche as a decent profession to earn a living.

Then, the second year university student was still too timid to show his face to the audience and would wear a facemask to hide his identity during performances.

With his trademark dreadlocks, penchant for designer sunglasses and celebrity lifestyle, the singer is one of the hottest commercial properties in showbiz.

Clockwise: David Mathenge aka Nameless. [PHOTO: FILE/Standard]

Last year (exactly one decade) after romping onto the showbiz scene, Nameless signed a contract with the region’s largest brewer, East African Breweries Ltd (EABL) to become the company’s ambassador for responsible drinking.

It is a full time job for which Nameless is generously remunerated.

Although neither party is willing to disclose the terms of the agreement, it signals that with the growth of celebrity culture and local music industry, the idea of performing artistes endorsing similar undertakings by companies or products, is taking a business turn.

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"I am an entertainer and the perception out there is that we live dangerously. I believe EABL picked me to be the face of the campaign because they want consumers of their products to enjoy and stay safe. Alcohol is not made to be abused and that is what we are telling consumers," says Nameless.

It might look like a simple gesture, but the deal with EABL signals that showbiz and other related industries like modelling, arts and theatre, which were previously frowned upon by society — are slowly breaking into the big earners club and becoming professions where parents will no longer prohibit their children from pursuing.

One of the most famous theatre artistes who have made it big with corporate endorsements is Anthony Kinuthia of Phoenix Players.

Kinuthia, better known as Peter Marangi, has become the face of paint maker, Basco Products’ Duracoat brand.

His namesake Joseph Kinuthia who plays the naughty ‘Omosh’ in local television series Tahidi High, and Inspekta Mwala (Davis Mwambili), have also had significant roles in corporate endorsements.

Although not much is known about how much these artistes earn from these roles, it is apparent that the payback is good enough to buy them top of the range vehicles and in some instances, buy or even rent them palatial homes in some of the country’s most exclusive estates.

While the types of events or products performing artistes have endorsed are still limited to accessories like mobile phones, health campaigns, bank products and mobile companies, the breadth of product endorsements is certainly growing and in the course, earning performing artistes some good bucks.

Besides Nameless, other artists who have wriggled their way into the A-list of Kenya’s endorsees are comedian Churchill Ndambuki (currently associated with OMO Ng’arisha Maisha campaign) and Paul Julius Nunda (Juakali) who has an endorsement deal with mobile company, Orange.

Without doubt, the current crop of Kenyan entertainers clearly have a good chance to live better lives from their proceeds as compared to the late Tony Msalame who together with Dennis Kasheru and Allan Konya played leading roles in past famous soaps like KBC’s Tushauriane.

So what do companies look for when selecting a brand ambassador?

The needs are varied, but according to Jean Kiarie-Ngumo, Manager EABL Foundation, the company chose Nameless as the responsible drinking ambassador because he embodied the qualities it was looking for.

Besides being an acclaimed musician, Nameless is also married to fellow showbiz artiste Wahu Kagwi. The duo is relatively controversy-free with a stable marriage. They have one child, a daughter who was born in 2006. He is also an architect and graduate from the University of Nairobi.

Given his carefully nurtured image as a family man, a member of the elite Association of Architects and model father, Nameless and his wife Wahu, have also nurtured an image as the perfect superstar couple. This has further been enhanced with Nameless being portrayed in the media as an ideal father.

Wahu too has had her fair share of product endorsements — currently selling Rexona.

"I believe EABL studied my lifestyle before picking on me to carry the mantle of responsible drinking ambassador," says Nameless.

"I drink, but I do so responsibly. They picked on me because they could use my example to tell consumers they could still enjoy their drinks within the limits and stay safe. That is what people should do. You don’t have to drink yourself senseless."

Amani too has had her stars shining brightly. Shortly after sharing a stage with R Kelly in Airtel’s charity song, Hands Across the World, Amani hit it big with Airtel endorsement.

There have been numerous situations where the behaviour of certain artistes has jeopardised or severely reduced their endorsement potential.

The EABL panel that vetted names presented as possible candidates for Nameless’ current duty knocked a number of prominent personalities out, including one big name in radio because of varied reasons before settling on Nameless.

Record has shown that some big names, including star golfer, Tiger Woods have exhibited behaviours which have damaged not only the reputation of the individual but of the companies for which they endorse products.

This explains why due diligence (although it sometimes doesn’t guarantee full compliance by selected persons) has to be carried out before a final selection is made.

Generally, product endorsements by celebrities is predicated on the fact that most people look to buy an ‘image’ that can better project their social status.

That is why advertising agencies are increasingly relying on renowned musicians, theatre personalities and past stars in reality shows like Big Brother and Tusker Project Fame to sell goods and services.

It also explains why adverts are increasingly featuring celebrity endorsements, compared to a decade ago.

Internationally, David Beckham, the former England captain, has been one of the most sought-after celebrities in recent years.

He has endorsed products by Gillette, Pepsi, Vodafone and Adidas, among others.

The current deal with EABL has solidified Nameless’ standing as a reputable entertainer whose fame far transcends music.

With his ever-evolving style, modest demeanour, and sharp business skills, Nameless has also been pulling some smart moves to beat the problem of local music piracy by growing his reputation outside Kenya’s borders.

"I have collaborated with musicians from countries like Uganda, Malawi and South Africa. The idea is to spread to other markets. This is working because I am getting known out there," says the entertainer who has also had a brief stint as Nokia brand ambassador.

While admitting that some musicians have no idea how and where to invest to grow their careers, he says the industry is just getting its groove and will be a force to reckon with in the near future.

"In the past, things were a bit haphazard, but now there are bodies like the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) which is doing a good job collecting royalties for local musicians. I believe things are getting better," Nameless says.

So where does he invest his money?

"I wouldn’t want to talk much about that, but I am just getting into real estate," says Nameless. I also have a recording studio, but I will talk about these endeavours later."

Nameless who was born David Mathenge in August 1976, didn’t have much musical training for success but relied on determination and the love for music to get where he is now.

His first shot at music was in 1999 while he was a second-year student of architecture at the University of Nairobi.

He participated in a musical contest at a local radio station and won earning himself a recording stint with one of Kenya’s then leading music producers, Tedd Josiah.

The responsible drinking ambassador recorded his debut single ‘Mega Rider’ — a song about discount tickets for Kenya Bus services, which became an instant hit.

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