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Alabukun, the 100-year-old Indigenous Nigerian Brand; How Did They Do It?

Alabukun, the 100-year-old Indigenous Nigerian Brand; How Did They Do It?

In 1918, pharmacy apprentice and entrepreneur, Jacob Sogboyega Odulate created an analgesic to cure all sorts of ailments from common colds to major illnesses. Over 100 years later, Alabukun is the longest-running indigenous medical / pharmaceutical brand in Africa.
Alabukun, which means “The Blessed One ” in the Yoruba language grew without significant marketing or advertising and can still be found in pharmaceutical stores in Nigeria. It is widely available in neighbouring West African countries, and all across the world; even as far off as China.
How did an uneducated young man build a brand that has outlived him and is still being used today by millions across the world?

1. He understood and took advantage of the market

He started his business at a period when Aspirin-caffeine powder brands were just starting to spring up in the United States. In Nigeria, there was no modern pharmaceutical industry and only a few western drugs were imported and distributed in the country by European companies. Jacob took advantage of both an emerging market and his customer needs by starting his product during this period.

2. He knew his customers’ needs and sought to satisfy them

By mixing European and traditional medicine, Jacob created a product that had European credibility and local reliability. At that time, Nigerians barely had access to western drugs, all they used was herbal medication which had no recommended dosage and therefore caused more harm than good. Alabukun, produced from both local materials and imported patent drugs was perfect for his customers’ medical needs.

3. He created a product that worked

Alabukun being in powder form means, when compared to tablets, it dissolves faster and therefore works faster. People called it “gbogbonise” a drug that cures all ailments as they did not have to buy a different drug for colds and then for fevers. They just got one Alabukun and mixed it with water to cure pain, fatigue, migraine, prevention of blood clots, back pain, rheumatic pain, toothache and other conditions. This versatility helped with its marketing as it was spread by word of mouth by consumers who attested to its effectiveness and affordability.

4. He took branding seriously

It is amazing to know that in 1918 Jacob knew to create a unique identity for his product so it will be distinguished from its foreign counterparts. He did this by naming it his already popular Yoruba nickname; Alabukun. Then he made up an identity with a red and black background with the name fully spelt out and warped to fit into an oval shape and plastered it on his product packets. That logo has hardly changed and is still being used today, even on signages, promotional materials and vehicle branding. This shows that a simple mark and identity can be unique, functional and recognisable 104 years later.

5. He made his product accessible

Jacob did not play hard-to-get with his product. His product was available, accessible and affordable. From the very beginning, his first drug stall was close to a street market and could be found everywhere as opposed to the white man’s stuff that was difficult to find and afford. He also made it fast-moving by packaging it in smaller, conveniently-priced packs. Presently, a sachet is 200 naira (45 cents).

6. He used his reputation to promote his product

As he was already known and trusted as a respected medicine man, putting his picture on the packs added a layer of authenticity. He also made a manual in which he identified numerous medications for diverse ailments. By doing this, he solidified his position as an expert in the medical field. 

And this my friends is how to build a 100-year brand.
Got any questions? Drop them in the comments.

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