As the World Celebrates the United Nations’ World Friendship Day, Raheem Akingbolu reviews the ‘City of Friends,’ an event which was recently unveiled to commemorate the 2018 edition of the day

Of all the special days recognised globally for celebration, the World Friendship Day, also known as International Day of Friendship could be said to be unique because of its tone of generality.

Unlike the Children’s Day or the Fathers’ Day, the International Day of Friendship is neither gender bias nor targets of a section of the society. That is why some analysts often describe it as the only day that unites all, regardless of sex, race, age or status.

Clearly, friendship today, is the greatest possession of life because it involves mutual affection between two or more persons. More than ever, the world today is in dire need of friendship to address challenges such as poverty, violence and human rights abuse.

Perhaps, Joyce Clyde Hall an American businessman, founder of Hallmark Cards, who started Friendship Day in 1930, did not know that his business strategy would create a marketing opportunity for so many brands. But today, right from FMCGs, to media houses an e-commerce players – everyone has turned to Friendship Day as a lucrative marketing opportunity.

As a result of its significance in bringing friends together, business owners with hindsight on how best to position their brands do leverage on the occasion to connect with consumers.
The connection between brand positioning and the International Day of Friendship could be linked to William Shakespeare’s definition of a friend.

According to the literary giant, “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still gently allows you to grow.”

However, marketing experts have since tweaked this to mean, “A brand is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still gently allows itself to grow over you.”
To this end, the World Friendship Day has thus become a marriage of convenience between brands and consumers.

At the beginning
The original idea for a day of friendship came from Hallmark cards in the 1930’s. Originally celebrated on 2nd August, the day was largely viewed cynically by the public as a money making exercise, sales of friendship day cards did not take off in Europe and by the mid-1940’s the day had faded into obscurity in the USA. The idea of a day to honour friendship was, however, adopted by a number of countries in Asia where it remained a popular custom to reserve a day for celebrating friendships and the exchange of gifts between friends

Today, with the way brand owners are falling over one another to use the event to deepen relationship with consumers, in no distant future, the International Day of Friendship, would become a convergence of all consumer engagement activities.

Setting the pace
Unlike other memorable days, the World Friendship Day is given but little prominence in Nigeria and it doesn’t get the kind of following the February 14th Saint Valentine’s Day enjoys in some countries.

However, this year’s edition will be different as promoters of the “33” brand from the stable of Nigerian Breweries, have thrown their weight behind an initiative that will help friends bond together for good.

The event which is titled, ‘City of Friends,’ was said to be in line with “33” Export’s brand positioning as Nigeria’s foremost friendship beer. Widely reputed for its strong friendship credentials, “33” Export was said to have consistently deepened friendship across the nation by organising several consumer activities that seek to promote the culture and spirit of friendship and conviviality.

According to its promoters, the premium beer brand has taken great pride in creating unique friendship experiences for consumers across the country.

Addressing journalists on the plans in place for the event, the Marketing Director of Nigerian Breweries, makers of “33” Export and other premium beer brands, Mr. Franco Maria Maggi, said: “The “33” Export brand is dedicated to building friendship moments. We believe that Friendship should be celebrated every day. Hence, all our brand activities are geared towards celebrating friendship. …To this end, the “33” Export brand, is poised to continually participate in activities that will unite us along these lines,”

Though this is not the first time the company would be rolling out the drum in celebration of the global event, this year’s edition appears different because of its extension to the grassroots.

Maggi captured it when it declared; “2017 was no different as we celebrated the event in a grand style with our friendship beer. Our plan is to surpass our own best efforts in 2018! Come July 30th,2018, we will join the World again to celebrate friendship in a grand style. I say grand because this time we are taking the celebration to the grassroots”, he said.

Reward for Journalists
For Nigerian journalists and bloggers, the organisers have also created a window of opportunity for them to share in this year’s edition of “City of Friends”.

As disclosed by the promoting company, among other notable events, the event would see the brand extends its value proposition and introduce a writing competition tagged, “PenDown For Friendship,” which will reward winners with training grants to study at a media and communications school in Nigeria.

It was indicated that entries must be published works on any media platform both online and print and are required to be in English with a minimum of 500 words and maximum of 1,000 words.

Explaining while the writing competition was incorporated into the event, Portfolio Manager, Mainstream Lager and Stout Brands, Nigerian Breweries, Mr. Emmanuel Agu, said much as the company was delighted in bringing the best in music and entertainment to Nigerians, it also recognised the need to celebrate creative writing amongst our media partners.

Agu also disclosed that the organisers have appointed three Nigerian top writers as jurors.
In addition to the writing competition, he also disclosed that there would also be the City of Friends party in Lagos and Calabar which would be an enclosed funfair, and pilgrimage of sorts for friends.
“At the party, great memories will be shared, friends will be entertained as the brand hopes to be a part of the beautiful friendship memories that will be created on that day,” he added.

Consumer engagement activities
As it happens globally for brands to ride on the World Friendship Day to connect with their patrons, this year’s City of Friend in Nigeria will also feature a consumer engagement activity tagged “That One Friend”.

It was designed to be a clarion call to all “33” Export consumers to also share their Friendship memories. To bring it close to all, the organisers have indicated that these can be in pictures, text or videos and that it will be published on their (consumers) social media page – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, tagging the “33”Export brand.

Again, it has been disclosed that Top 10 consumers with the most shared (and liked) posts will get high-end mobile phones at the venue in Lagos or Calabar.

Beyond Nigeria, brands are quick to use the day to reach their patrons through activation, sponsorship and campaigns. For instance, in keeping with the spirit of Friendship Day in 2016, Cadbury Dairy Milk, India’s favorite chocolate, spread the joy with new limited edition flavours – Cadbury Dairy Milk Honey Nut Crunch and Cadbury Dairy Milk Coffee Almond. The limited edition Cadbury Dairy Milk was supported by a 360-degree communication campaign that included a new TVC, as well as outdoor, print and digital campaigns targeting the brand’s core target audience – the youth.

On the social media front, the brand leveraged this occasion to bind friends through a Twitter #Madfie contest, which went viral and grabbed eyeballs. Through its Twitter handle and Facebook page, the brand asked friends to get their crazy bunch together, take a mad selfie and post it on their Twitter handle using #Madfie. The chosen best #Madfie was then featured on Cadbury hoardings or cover page. Besides, on-ground activations at point of sale in select modern trade and traditional trade outlets also formed part of the campaign to drive awareness for the product.

Brands like Caprese, high-fashion woman accessories brand from the house of V.I.P. Industries, had last year launched a heart-warming digital campaign that cherished the true spirit of friendship. Presenting the latest collection of Caprese crafted in chic designs, the campaign featured four friends who were in different countries and were planning their reunion for Friendship Day.