In an interesting turn of events, Jagi is caught in a fate worse than death with minimal chances to a fair crack of the whip. Between his heavily pulsating heart and a room full of Army Generals the odds couldn’t be further against his favor. Will he swim or sink.
At the height of all this jubilation and excitement, the AAR office located at George Williamson House on 4th Ngong Avenue was visited by three Army Intelligence Officers. They appeared to have done their homework for they knew the person behind the TV ad. The men in full military uniform were looking for Jagi Gakunju. What happened next brought shock, panic and confusion to everybody.
“Jagi, you have committed a crime against the Armed Forces Act and we have come here to put you under arrest,” said one officer.
“We are taking you to the Army Headquarters,” said another.
Former CEO AAR Group Jagi Gakunju narrates his experience with the Army Generals almost 2 decades ago that shook the core of his career as the then Commercial Director of Africa Air Rescue (AAR) in Nairobi. The make or break story comes to life as he shares his encounter with the MBA students through an integrated guest lecture session of the case study that provides the application of practical skills to concepts taught in class.
In 1997, many world-class rally competitors from Europe and Scandinavian countries, including Kenya’s famous rally driver Patrick Njiru registered to bring home the most coveted Car Rally Champion trophy. At this particular time, Jagi sold AAR’s products to insure all local and some international competitors so that in the event of any accident, they were covered. AAR provided the most needed backup rescue, although at that time, they still leased out planes to provide the service. The Kenya Army was also deployed by the government to provide security. At the height of the competition, the most revered Kenyan competitor Njiru had an accident and was rescued by an Army helicopter even before Jagi and his team could reach him. Njiru suffered major injuries and had to be flown back to Nairobi immediately. An AAR ambulance was waiting at the airport that took him to Nairobi Hospital where he was treated.
A free-lance journalist was at the scene of the accident and managed to capture the events with his video camera. A day later, the accident was on television news. The journalist saw an AAR sticker on Njiru’s car so he contacted Jagi to make an offer. They agreed to meet and watch the video. Ideas came to Jagi’s mind. Since Patrick Njiru was an AAR member and the company was committed to pay his bills, Jagi thought to exploit the incident for publicity. “I thought that if I could come up with an advertisement that would show the benefits of having an AAR cover, people will be sensitized,” Jagi said in an interview. “I agreed to pay the journalist the amount of Ksh 50,0000 to own and use the video clip,” Jagi added.
The next two weeks saw the TV advertisement on air. The rescue event, including Njiru’s testimonial were extremely powerful. The AAR brand gained a lot of mileage as evidenced by the public’s positive reaction even on the army. Moreover, membership reached an all-time high of 25,000. “We became a formidable force in the industry,” Jagi exclaimed. “Our competitors are so scared,” he concluded.
Struggling with nose-diving sales and a bad financial situation, a vigorous and highly motivated sales and marketing strategy was not only necessary but inevitable.
“As a marketer, I identified an opportunity that would be of benefit to my organization. AAR had a track record of upholding integrity and a business subscription model that would cater for various groups of the social strata. All we had to do was to materialize on the factual data at our pre-disposal,” he narrates. “I had explained that I had no idea that what we did as a company had in anyway violated anybody’s right and I am not aware about that particular provision of that Act, but ignorance has no grounding for defense.”
Jagi asked to be given 5 minutes to respond. He took a deep breath and began to speak.
“I looked at them in the eyes and questioned their validation for reprimanding my efforts that had put the National Army in such good light as a heroic body. I explained that several citizens had raised notice of the good works of the Army that they had no preview before the advert.”
Destabilized on their wits, the Army representatives set Jagi free on condition that he would pull down the commercial advert in a week’s time. He later sold 8 AAR packages to the generals. “My allegations had been cleared and I had left quite an impression. How would I have walked out of that opportunity window?”
Despite the narrow escape of Jagi’s encounter, marketing executives are constantly faced with the ethical and moral dilemmas – often torn between the thin line of what is socially acceptable and attracting client’s attention.
Is advertising morally justifiable? What are the best practices in advertising? If you were in Jagi’s shoes would you do? Would you have taken a different approach?
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The discussions of the above scenario are presented through a case study. Spouses Dr. Freddie Acosta and Dr. Arlene Acosta wrote this case together with Research Assistant Angelo Acosta. SBS cases were prepared solely to provide material for class discussion and not intended to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a managerial situation.
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