Mass Comm students will tell you that the media defines mainstream.
“In choosing and displaying news, editors, newsroom staff, and broadcasters play an important part in shaping political reality. Readers learn not only about a given issue, but also how much importance to attach to that issue from the amount of information in a news story and its position.”– McCombs and Shaw, 1972.
In simpler terms, the media may not be successful in telling you what to think, but they are successful in telling you what to think about.
That’s what defines mainstream. It’s easy to know what’s mainstream in Nigeria. Just check the front page of any national newspaper. In Nigeria, it ranges from politics, to sports, to the occasional celebrity news.
Not tech. Tech is still a niche industry.
So how does the tech scene jump this hurdle? How do you take a promising, yet niche, unpopular industry/sector, choked with potential, and make it mainstream? Maybe even a national obsession.
The answer is as simple as it gets – celebrity involvement.
Let’s take a journey down memory lane. March 1985, Madison Square Garden. History was made as entertainment wrestling became mainstream. Prior to this, entertainment wrestling was a niche within a niche industry. Wrestling had loyal, but limited followers, as even regular sports fans turned their noses up at the scripted nature of the sport. Several independent promoters were in the scene, fighting for the already limited followership.
Vince McMahon, present CEO of WWE, (then WWF) decided that the only way to differentiate his wrestling promotion was to make wrestling a national obsession. So he decided to go big. How big? Well, he did exactly what I’m proposing now – he got the biggest celebrities in sports and entertainment to participate in a event called Wrestlemania. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.
Mohammed Ali was the referee for the first ever Wrestlemania and Mr T was actually a contestant in the main event, wrestling beside the now legendary Hulk Hogan. Needless to say, it was a smash hit. Entertainment wrestling never remained the same.
If the tech scene is going to get more support and coverage, it will need to draw the eye of more than just tech insiders. Celebrities command attention. Their presence makes people listen. Those people may not agree with you, but they’ll listen nonetheless. If the tech scene is going to be drawing more eyes, and ultimately more money and support, there are several celebrity collaborations, promotions and partnerships that need to have happened yesterday.
I’m not talking of celebrity endorsements, which has its place. I mean active involvement and participation of celebs in the ecosystem. Consider the AkonLightingAfrica project which has been hitting all its milestones since February 2014. You can be sure that a lot of that progress can be credited to Akon’s celebrity.
Of course for this kind of relationship, there has to be a match in values. The celeb has to buy into the idea/startup, and the startup itself has to show enough integrity and promise for the celeb to stake his name and reputation. If handled right, this is a win-win situation for both parties – the tech scene gets some much needed attention, and the celebs, well, the celebs become tech superstars.