Nigerian advertising: An industry at a crossroad

The recently held 45 Annual General Meeting of the Associating of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) was another important opportunity for the creative industry in Nigeria to reflect and X-Ray its performance. At the end of the day, it seem like the event focused more on the problems and less on the actionable solutions. By Joseph Ekeng

For many households in Abeokuta, the thriving capital of Ogun State, the last couple of weeks have brought nothing but tears and sorrows. The heavens have been less merciful as the city has witnesses furious that left no less than five people dead and properties destroyed. This catastrophe provided the emotional backdrop for Associating of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN)’s 45th Annual General Meeting (AGM) held recently in Abeokuta.
But despite their genuine concerns for the plight of their host, AAAN also had its own difficulties, which threatens to overwhelm the industry. The segment has been undermined by a myriad of problems including proliferation of agencies, overregulation, lack of support and recognition by successive governments, weak regulatory framework, drastic budget cut by clients, weak competition, changing advertising landscape, economic uncertainties, and the list goes on.
The theme for the AGM was “Growing the Economic Pot: The Role of Advertising.” All 55 admen and women at the AGM agreed that the advertising’s economic pot has shrunk significantly over the years and there isn’t enough goodies to go round anymore. It is a fact that out of the over 100 agencies registered with AAAN, only less than 20 of them can be said to be profitable.
The recent demise of Rosabel Advertising is perhaps a fitting example of how bad the industry has fared in recent times. Rosabel is the latest casualties in a long list of fallen giants that include Lintas, Promoserve, CT&A, Hunter Publicity etc. Even some of the ones still standing are labouring for survival; many can’t pay salaries and therefore cannot compete. These and many more are some of the issues that dominated the AAAN 45th AGM held inside the cozy ambience of Park Inn by Radisson in Abeokuta.
If there is one person that understands these issues better, it is Mr. Lolu Akinwunmi, an advertising veteran of over 30 years plus, and Group CEO of Prima Garnet. He didn’t mince words when he stated that the industry was hurting. “We are weak. We are not investing people. We are losing more people than are coming in. Many have not paid salaries in months, how are you going to motivate those people to do all the great things that we talk about here? A few of us are doing well and shining, but the rest of the industry is hurting,” Mr. Akinwunmi said, during the interactive session on the first day of the AGM.
There was a lot of passion and energy in the room as everyone sought to pour out their hearts and get to the root of issues that threatens to take away their livelihood. Like Mr. Akinwunmi, Kolawole Ayanwale, founder of CentreSpread is a bridge between the old and new. His agency used to be one of the shining lights of those days. But now he is outraged at how margins have become elusive and how advertising has become the playground for consulting firms.
Anyanwale’s CentreSpread used to be one of the giants of the industry, boasting of some of the big accounts, but the agency has dropped in the pecking order, having lost its competitive edge. Like many others, CentreSpread is one of the agencies still struggling for growth.
Kelechi Nwosu, Managing Director of TBWA\Concept, attributes the declining fortunes of agencies to narrowmindedness of practitioners. He noted that many agencies lack consumer insights and are therefore no longer on the same wavelength with their clients. “What clients want from us is marketing solution that will deliver growth for their brands. So we should stop calling ourselves advertisers. We are into marketing communications,” He said, adding that if the industry does not properly define its role in the face of present realities, it will be boxed into a little corner.
Mr. Nwosu’s TBWA\Concepts is one of the agencies affected by the downturn. The once vibrant creative shop, was a ghost of its former self until recently when it to gain steam. During those bad moments, TBWA\Concept resorted to laying-off staff and cutting down on non-essential expenditure in order to stay afloat. But thanks to a couple of new businesses like Made in Aba and MTN, life is gradually surging back to TBWA\Concept. But it is far from the shape it once was.
Nwosu’s point resonated with Lanre Adisa’s thoughts. “Three things are important; we need to reappraise our role, we need to reappraise our opportunities. In reappraising ourselves we need to look at how do we earn respect for what we do. And reappraise our role to say how do we participate. After reappraising we need to prepare, in terms of having the required skills or right people.”
Another reasons why majority of the advertising agencies are grounded is the lack of inter-agency cooperation. The desire to outshine others at pitches is sometimes taken too far, thus makes collaboration an uphill task. Lanre Adisa was if the industry must command global respect there must be alliance among agencies. “Almost all the piece of works that won at Cannes were not attributed to one agency, they were done by two to three agencies. That’s where the world is,” he said.
Mr. Akinwunmi stretched the narrative on collaboration a bit further when he touched on the issues of merger and acquisitions. He noted that many of the AAAN agencies were weak and therefore lacked the stamina to compete; therefore they need to combine strength with others. “Many of our agencies are not properly capitalized. We tried to fix them with APCON by amending the law; unfortunately we have a minister who is not advertising friendly,” he said referring to the present Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
Akinwunmi regretted that the absence of the APCON Council was the reason for a lot of the problems that have bedeviled the industry, adding if the APCON was allowed to conclude the reform it started, more than half of the problems would have been solved.
At this point, the room was nearing boiling point as everyone was yearning to be a part of the debate. One issue they kept recurring however was creatives needs to be entrepreneurs. Adisa stressed that the time to wait for clients’ brief was over, adding that agencies need to also start developing product for the consumers also. “We have always been the cook helping brands to grow and they will always need us to grow. We don’t just need to help other grow but how to start our own restaurant.
As the meeting came to a close, it was evident Mr. Akinwunmi wasn’t pleased. His worry was based on the fact, that the complaints have been a recurring decimal in all AAAN AGM in the last 15 years. “We come here every year talk and do nothing. I feel distressed because we are carrying over the same problems unto a new generation,” he said.
That is a challenge the new executives led by Ikechi Odigbo have to face, If the industry must move from the realm of talking to actually execution.


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