Digital Marketing profile is Rising – says Dayo Elegbe, CEO, Sponge

Dayo Elegbe is a new media specialist with over 15 years work experience delivering digital marketing strategies and solutions for some of the world’s leading brands. He has led, as well as been part of, a number of groundbreaking teams that have shaped digital marketing thinking both in Nigeria and in the UK. Dayo was one of the founding members of digital marketing group of, at one time the largest interactive marketing agency in the world, and ran one of the very first mobile marketing campaigns in the UK. Sponge, Dayo’s company developed and delivered the marketing platform that was the basis for the highly successful ‘Etisalat 9jillions’ campaign and several other ground breaking campaigns, one of which is the ongoing explosive Peak ‘Reach for millions’ campaign supported by Firstmonie. He is also the chairman of the Mobile Marketing Association Nigeria. In this chat with ANIETIE UDOH, he speaks on the evolution of digital marketing in Nigeria. Excerpts:

spongeWhat are your personal recollections on how digital marketing commenced in Nigeria?

digital marketing started when I relocated back to Nigeria in 2007 after many years outside the country. I was actually selling a content idea, which was basically done to put nollywood movies online.

That was why I came back to Nigeria and I remember having a meeting with the marketing director of a foremost brewing company in Nigeria and explaining the idea of putting nollywood movies online to him. It was one of the biggest of digital marketing opportunities to hit the continent and I remember him asking me what is digital marketing and at that point having spent over a decade already I had to take my time to explain to him how over sixty million mobile phones in Nigeria were potent channels for him to use to communicate and to convince a lot of his consumers. He was told about the idea of digital marketing and interestingly they became our first digital marketing client and we ran the very first real campaign for them in Nigeria and the results were outstanding.

That really was my first experience of digital marketing, here in Nigeria, because literally not many people understood the value but it wasn’t new to me. That kind of attitude wasn’t new to me because like I mentioned earlier I started working with digital marketing way back in 2000 when I was with a company called, and as at that time was the largest digital marketing agency in the world.

I was one of the founding members of the digital marketing group within back then. We saw the growth to an extent that we took over the entire company and so even back then I had companies like news international, Heineken and British Airways as clients. We were constantly being asked such questions about the meaning of e-mail marketing and what Search Engine Optimization means.

I had the big companies in the uk asking me to explain some of these concepts. So I saw the evolution of digital in the uk. When I came back to Nigeria, I found out that nobody knew anything about digital marketing; it was like starting that journey all over again. So I can say I have personally seen that evolution on both sides of the planet.

To what extent has the profession evolved as a business venture in Nigeria?

There are different eras that digital marketing has gone through, in my opinion, not just in Nigeria but also globally. I remember when we first started in the uk people were all about impressions and all of a sudden, Google came to our office trying to sell to us this idea of pay per click, the pay per click that has now transformed the entire digital marketing landscape to make it more response driven and that was a big shift; and we also saw the shift from that era to the social media. The introduction of social networking sites had effect on digital marketing and finally we are in the era of mobile programmatic hyper local kind of marketing and I think we are also following that same trend in Nigeria. We did that just very briefly; we are now in an era where we can do the very best of digital marketing.

How have the various eras reflected on technology and globalization?

Well, technology and globalization have completely changed the way digital marketing is provided. For example, when I started digital marketing although it was a lot technology driven, there was still a lot of human intervention. Then if I wanted to buy inventory on a website I would call the website publisher and negotiate the rate so it wasn’t too dissimilar to how traditional advertising works.

However, the advent of a lot of technologies has really made the buying process more efficient and also more effective. As such when you start talking about programmatic buying and real time bidding and all that, they have been helped a lot by technology. Right now, rather than just buy traffic we can really hold in online to go to the right kind of audience that our brand wants and ensure that we only pay the right premium for that audience using the right technologies.

A lot of ‘divine’ processes have been made through effective and efficient use of technology. This is not to say that human intervention is not important; it still is. And then the advent of globalization has meant that our competitors are now global; they are no longer local, so when I compete for business I’m not just competing against my competitors in GRA or on the island, I’m competing against digital marketing companies in Greece, America or the UK and really we have to beat all of them. What this means is that my team is not just good digital marketing professionals in Nigeria, they are good digital marketing professionals globally.

How is Nigeria responding to digital marketing?

In the very early days people were a bit suspicious of digital marketing mainly because there is a lot of misinformation out there and you know when something is new and people don’t know too much about it some people exploit that in the very dark early days of digital marketing. I think there might have been a couple of cowboys that really gave the industry a bad name; but right now a lot of brand manager we work with are much more educated and have seen the value and many of them have had the opportunity to go on courses or interact with some of their brand manager colleagues outside of the country. So the education level has increased and what we always maintain from day one is that if we have a more educated client base the better the business for us. This is because they know what the value is and you can sell the value better to the organization. For us that is the very solid platform of evolution in terms of people understanding more about digital marketing and therefore spending more money buying digital marketing services.

Can we categorically affirm that a generational shift has indeed occurred in the industry?

I agree one hundred per cent. In fact, anybody that does not believe that generational shift has occurred is just putting their head under the sands (playing the ostrich). A lot of the time the audience that we are speaking to right now is living in a full digital world. Their experience is fully digitalized. There are shifts even from our consumers stand point, from employee and professional stand point. On our part, we are inspired by applications from people trying to join our company; because these are brilliant people with fantastic CV’s who have shunned traditional professions to join digital internet companies. Certainly that shift has occurred and it is very exciting.

When should we expect the next generation in the industry?

I think we have already seen the next generation. The next generation occurred in terms of increased focus on less push, more pull marketing and you’ve seen most of the incredible content creatives out there. Digital really has more impact on brands than many TV commercials have; and we stand to see people develop new business models. For instance, there is a guy in the UK who is probably one of the top YouTube stars in the uk who earns millions of pounds in a year and he is only 21 years old! This guy has more of an impact on the marketing features of many brands. Some of the top local agencies you are seeing are getting young people on board and are creating new digital experiences. We as an agency always want to make sure that we are at the forefront of discovering this new innovative, connecting them with the right brands and ensuring that brands are not only aware of the shift in the mind set of the consumers but also know how to respond to it. but regarding when it’s going to be fully evolved I can’t really tell you or give you that answer.

How and where will you place your agency in this industry?

As I mentioned earlier, even before I came to Nigeria and since the inception of my company, sponge, my approach has always been that we are not just here to create a great business and make money which obviously is what we like to do; I’m not saying we are not agency in business, but we are actually here to contribute to the development of our industry.

We help in many ways and influence in educating the industry. From the very first mobile conferences back in 2009, all the way through to when we were doing social media seminars through my other company web liquid, we’ve always been here educating, pushing the boundaries and we have never settled for less hence all the solutions and all the ideas that we propose to our clients.

I humbly summit that ours are world class ideas, delivered to world class standards. we don’t want to short change anybody, we always wants to ensure that when we bring a solution to the front of you and it’s not just a solution that is okay for the people in Nigeria but solution that is okay for your business and that is relevant to you in Nigeria.


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