Noah’s Ark and Dentsu Aegis are combining forces in the best interest of our clients – Mr. Lanre Adisa

Congratulations on the conclusion of the partnership between your agency and a global agency network, the Dentsu Group. Can you tell us about the story?

Thank you very much for being a part of our story. It has been quite a while now. As you have rightly said, we announced our affiliation with the Dentsu Group as it were. Dentsu, you know, is one of the key holding companies in the world of advertising; it’s in the league of WPP, Omnicom and Publicis, so what it does is, it signifies another ladder for us in terms of our movement as an agency, our growth.
We have done eight years as an independent agency in this country. We built our brand so to say from the scratch by building other peoples’ brands. It is a testimony to what we have been able to do within that period of time that the Dentsu people took interest in a partner like us.
I am sure you know as a foremost medium in the industry that the Dentsu people have been searching for a creative partner in this market for quite a while now and we think that it is the best thing to have happened to us at a point like this, when you cannot really advance that much in our industry if you cannot access global resourcing, for the sake of what you do, for the sake of the clients that you work for and that is the next level for you.
That, however, is not to say that you need that by all means and without it you will not survive; no, you will survive, but it is about complimenting what you have in you already. The truth is that no matter how strong the global network is, they need a very strong local partner to really be meaningful in the market, and this is true of any market for that matter. So we think it is a combination of that and the way it works. As you could see from our release, it also creates for Dentsu, a formidable force so to say, bringing the creative machine of Noah’s Ark and partnering with MediaFuse, their local media partner here, we see that as something that our current clients and potential clients will benefit from immensely. That is the way that we see this affiliation.

How long did it take to get to the level of agreeing on a partnership?

I mean we have been on this since late last year; we have been talking since 2015, the first approach was about November 2015 and since that time the details of how this partnership will work was being deliberated upon and it has been good all along.

For Noah’s Ark what is the attraction to this global brand?

Like I said earlier, we have done fairly well with all sense of humility in terms of having some level of global footprints on our own but we think that being able to access a global network you know gives us a bigger chance at registering ourselves at that level. Also, it is not so much about what you get business wise, I mean there is a business side of it in terms of collaboration on accounts, there is also the opportunity to give to more exposure, more opportunities because again this is a talent business and in a talent business, you can’t stay at one stop, you got to be able to tap into as much as possible. I think having affiliation with a global agency is going to be in the best interest of our team as well as the businesses that we work for.

In other words, no equity partnership is involved yet?

For now, this first phase is on technical affiliation which involves businesses referrals, training opportunities and all those things that will come along with it. There is no equity participation right now but there is a likelihood it will happen when the time is ripe.

We have heard reports of how some of Nigerian agencies were shortchanged in previous affiliations, are you certain that you have done all you should to ensure that this does not go same way?

Well I can’t speak for everybody as it were but I can assure you that whatever we have done and whatever we are doing, we have done the best we can to protect our interest and I think that I should quickly add that it is a relationship that is built on mutual respect and acknowledgment of what we both bring to the table.
One of the things that I found interesting and amazing is that right from the first time that we met, when we brought up the issue of affiliation and the guys did not make any fuse about it because there is going to be an affiliation so your name is going to become Noah’s Ark/Dentsu or Dentsu Noah’s Ark. They recognized the fact that we have built a solid brand in a country like Nigeria, and we will like it to remain like that. To me, that says a lot about how we both see ourselves in this relationship. Like I said at the moment, we are just having an affiliation, there is no equity participation and even when we get to that point, we will do our best to ensure that this works in the best interest of both parties.

You mean that the agency nomenclature remains Noah’s Ark?

Again you know that it is a relationship and it is left to both parties in terms of how we take it further and at the moment, there is no limit to how far, and there is no pegging to our affiliation. You understand what I am saying now whether we remain that way as an affiliated entity or we take it to the next level of equity participation. It is left to both of us. I think that is something that should be determined by how we go from here but there is no pegging that oh, we will look at it for one year and after one year we now consider whether we should go into equity participation, no.

In the immediate, what are the immediate benefits in terms of clients and account haul?

Those are things that will unfold as we go along.

Nevertheless, there are some of their global brands that have local precence?

It is too early in the day to talk about that.

In this relationship are you likely to be eventually subsumed in the Dentsu Aegis investment Group?

Like I said it is a symbiotic relationship. We will be working with the media partners from the Dentsu Group in terms of our media and that is the way this is going to work out and the same thing goes for anything creative from that group as well, it is working in terms of playing for strength, our strength is creative, their strength is media, we combine forces in the best interest of our clients. I mean part of what we are working out is that our media gets into that group and our media team will also work within that group. We will integrate things and at the stage that we are now is a transition period of sort. So we are working that out, we will still hold on to our media but it will be managed by the Dentsu Group.

Can you do a review of creativity in the Nigerian advertising of yesteryears and compare it with what we have today. What will you indentify as things that have changed and those that remain the same?

I can say that there is a lot more consciousness in terms of knowing that there is a bigger world out there which is good and which is reflected in the number of people who are taking interest in training outside the country in terms of, in particular, people who want to go to advertising festivals and all that; but that consciousness was very low at the beginning of my career. Now, people know that there is another world out there; there is another standard to work to. That is one side of it.
The other side of that is also the fact that, yes we are conscious of that but I think the commitment to living up to that standard is not commensurate with the consciousness, and you understand the point. I mean, when I started my career, I saw a lot more competiveness among agencies in terms of who was doing what and who was trying to do this and that but there was also a lot of attention to craft, so you could see that in the quality of creative, in the quality of the people working in the business.
As a reflection of the falling standard of education and interest in craft as well, we can see that unless you have a system in-house that is ready to train and retrain people, you have a big mess in your hands. That is a big industry problem; being able to mutually agree to a minimum standard quality wise is a big concern.
I talked earlier about the consciousness of another world of higher standard, the trend we see now are people going to Cannes festival and all that but it is also sad that people do all that but they still don’t seem to take the work as serious as we should.
I will give an example and I found it very strange and sad when the representatives of Cannes advertising festival in Nigeria Chini Productions told me that only one Nigerian agency entered their work for this year’s Cannes and that was Noah’s Ark and I found that very disturbing for a country, for an industry that is craving for international recognition. The question I ask is why should we go there as Cannes tourists rather than being participants in the real sense of it. The same is true of the Loeries Awards that just got concluded, only one agency again entered for the awards.

What could have been responsible for this non-challance?

I wouldn’t know. Whoever has the money to go to Cannes should not have any problem with paying for the entries. Perhaps, they are not sure about their works; perhaps they don’t have faith in the judging process. I am not too sure, I am just guessing at the moment. I find that very disturbing as somebody who is very interested in how this industry develops and I don’t think that there will be a really good industry if there is no competition like where I started from.
Back then in the 90’s, there was a lot of competition among the agencies even though our horizon was not as wide as where we are now because of the new age of technology and all that, that collapses all borders as it were but there was a lot more interest in craft, in quality, in trying to beat what the other agency is doing, that is not so true about where we are now. It is not so true.

Can you identify some of the things that you think have changed and those that still remain the same in terms of creativity?

One good thing is that this game is still about passion, I mean if you don’t have a passion for advertising, there is no point and I think that might probably be one of the problems we face also about the quality of talents that you have. You must be a long distance person and I always tell people that advertising is a thankless job, today you are celebrated on this account and all that, one little moment down the line you are booted out of that same account. As such, you need to have strength and stamina to go in there. In any case, we still find such people even among the young generation, you still find some people who are really committed, and who really want to make a difference but it is the numbers that we are talking about.
You know that advertising is about giving it everything. Yes, people may not find it believable but I still engage with some clients where we work till 2am around this place on some projects because for me, I am not the MD that sits down there and do admin work. You know I am still a part and parcel of that process and that will never change. If you don’t have that passion, if you don’t have the gut, if you don’t have the stamina to go on and on, then you are not an adman, which is the truth of it all. But like I said earlier, I think the zeal is very important, the zeal among the young generation and I think one can almost understand that part of the problem that we are facing is the fact that we are not training, we are not creating enough room for training, you go to other countries where things are thriving better, you can see that there is a constant pool of talents because they are creating the platform for that to happen.
Well, we (in Nigeria) have been at fixing this problem of training for a long time and we are hoping that we shall get there someday, soon. I am aware that the last AAAN administration announced the take-off of the Advertising Academy but even the take-off is yet to really get into motion as it were. But again, we are all in this together, it is in our interest for that to happen because this game is a game of talents and the younger they come, the better, so that is where the key issue is. Another thing that has changed is technology, advances in technology, social media, the internet, the possibility of doing some things better and faster than before but no matter what we do, no matter what the tools are, no matter what comes from technology, one thing that remain constant is that this game is about ideas, about the stories that we tell, you know, you can use any platform. I can bring the best technology in the world but if that cannot engage the audience it is meant for then there is no story. So that will never change, from the cave man to where we are now, it is about telling stories and being able to connect with people and telling stories that can resonate very well with the audience, so that is not going to change and I think because we are not doing enough of that as it were may be responsible for the dearth of the good materials that we are seeing.

Like you have said back in the days there used to be a bigger pool of agencies competing against one another, but now it looks like the pool is becoming dry?

Is that right? I am not too sure whether the pool is drying but in terms of quantities, numbers of agencies that are in place, we still have the agencies, but maybe where the problem is, is in the quality. You know, it is in the quality of participants, I mean one of the things that inspired me to think of Noah’s Ark was the fact that I thought that there was not enough competition in our industry. At that point, you could only count two or three agencies that were doing things that I thought in my own opinion that were doing things that I felt interesting and say oh, I wish I could do that, you understand and for an industry as big as ours, I felt that was not good enough, I felt there was need for more competition.
Seriously, it is one of the reasons why I ventured to do this in the first place and I am hoping that we have provided that competition but it is not enough; obviously, we need more, we need more from the older generation agencies in terms of retooling and playing the game as it were and also from the younger generation because it is only then that the clients can get the best from our industry, it is only then that the consumers can get the best too and we will grow the industry. If there is no competition, I mean it is like a league, you don’t have good players, you don’t have enterprising teams, you don’t have a league, pure and simple. For example, you can’t just say that I am George Weah of Liberia and I am not going to the world cup. He is a bundle of talent but there is no other person to play with in the Liberian national football team. I think that is where the challenge is.

So far, how would you assess competition with people like you who belong to the younger generation and bringing a lot of vitality into the system and challenging the old order?

Well I think that there is competition of sort even when you now zero in on the few players that are doing good stuff and at that level, there is competition but my premise is that we need more competition even beyond that, they should not be predictable. Let’s look at LAIF Awards, for instance, for the past two or three years, it has been between three, or four agencies or thereabouts and that probably does easily tell you where we are as an industry, so why can’t we have a fifth player, if you have challengers, five, six, seven, why can’t we go there and be surprised?

But again talking about competition and relating it to the scenario you just painted – the LAIF awards – only few agencies continue to showcase their works, even looking at the marketing environment itself, there are very few agencies that appreciate and involve advertising what do you think is behind this?

Well if you look at the Media Facts book from OMD, you can see that year on year there is some kind of spice as it were. I mean take away the current economic situation that we have found ourselves in as a nation but prior to this year, we have been growing so to say. The question then is who and who are the people contributing to that? For me, I think it is about what we see this business as, every piece of work, whether I am doing it for a multinational or a local brand or anybody; it is an opportunity to do something. I don’t think that there should be a particular kind of mentality that will determine oh, this is the kind of work that I will do for client A or client B. Every piece of work deserves the very best from you; it is a very simple thing because at the end of the day we can say anything, but the success of or otherwise of the agency or our industry is dependent on the individual participants. Do you understand what is driving the agency? How do you see yourself? It can’t just be that I want to make money, if it is that, you can do something else entirely and make money. Why do we wake up and go to work, why should client A come to agency B or A and I don’t think it is all about the billings as it were; we can see that in clients of today, clients are looking for value, clients are ready to go and work with the person that they think can give them that value and I think that is what we are seeing.
So if agencies take more time, I know it is tough, I know that the first thing that you think about is the fact that you want to survive, but you got to think beyond survival, you are going to seize every opportunity and see what we can make from those opportunities and clients know, they want to know who did that piece of work and they talk to each other and one seemingly small brief from a not so big client can open the door to so many other things. They are not going to be asking at that point whether you belong to this network or that network. We didn’t do this networking so that we can just get the businesses on the platter of gold.

I wouldn’t know if you subscribe to the views that mergers could breathe some life into the industry?

I mean mergers are welcome. I mean that is what I believe; but I think that we are largely a very traditional society so people want to hold on tight, they feel very emotional about their businesses. They probably don’t have the trust that merging with somebody will give them what they are looking for. But in reality I think businesses need to wake up, we need to be more mature in our businesses and see where your opportunities are.
The first and most important task of any business is for it to survive and to see, now if I go pass that level of surviving, how do I sustain this, how do I grow this, you can’t stay at one spot and say you are doing business, no.
Now, for anybody to also merge with you, they will be looking for, ok what is in it for them, what do you have, what strength do you bring to the table. I will give you instances outside of here: There is a gentleman called Tim Mellor, one of the top creative eggheads in the UK and he was running a very small and medium sized agency with his partner who is a strategist and Grey London was looking at restructuring and they needed somebody of the quality of Tim Mellor; what did they do, they bought that agency. Obviously, they went there for a purpose, we want this particular character, so they bought the agency and made Tim Mellor the Executive Creative Director of Grey London and there was transformation.
I don’t just want to wake up out of ego to say I have bought agency A or B. For what purpose; is it because of the accounts that they have, is it because of the talents that they have, it is because of some networks whatever the case maybe, which is the first part. The other part is to also have the other party willing to merge, to see what is in it for them as well; will it help them to stay in business, to take care of things and all that? So I think we are ripe for that but you have to look at the factors. I should know why I want to merge will agency A or B without feeling any sense of loss. I mean, I would love to see that happen depending on what the circumstances are but I think there is no harm in mergers but like I said, the factors must be right.

There is a new trend among advertisers who now look beyond the shores of Nigeria to hire agencies to do creative jobs for them; don’t you think this is an indirect indictment on the local players, particularly when local agencies are not getting businesses?

It’s back to some of the conversations we’ve had about our industry generally. Are there policies? Are the policies being implemented? And to what degree can we do this or that?
Of course, it requires that the industry works with certain agencies of government to do that. Otherwise people will tell you it’s free enterprise and we can do this or that. But if we have a policy which was the aim of our reform, that situation should not occur. It’s perhaps a failing of the policy that we can still have clients who don’t take it serious whether to work with us on not.
I think the aim of that reform is to ensure that the local industry does not suffer as we’ve seen in some of those instances. I hope that we all get that message and we can take the implementation otherwise more clients will take a cue from that and say that is what I want to do.
Having said that, there is another part of it that is very important and that is while we are working at the policy level, we also need to work at the ground level in terms of ourselves as the agencies. What quality am I providing, what kind of service are they getting from me? It doesn’t make sense for those guys to go where they are going. They are going to pay more money. But that doesn’t justify what they have done, because in some of those instances you have to ask if there are other motives behind what they have done? That I may not know.
In reality, I can tell you that we work for a client who before now was working for some outfit from South Africa and it took the coming of a new marketing director to say what crap is this? And the guy called for a pitch from local agencies and we won the business and we’ve been on the business for three years going and have had more businesses from that client. That is my own attitude to it. I think on the local front we need to step up our game so that when the client is looking elsewhere it will be stupid even to him.

Now that you are into a relationship with a global agency network, are there some old traditions that you are likely to drop? For instance over there, the books are open, but here the books are always closed. Will you be disposed to let us into your billing profile?

The truth of the matter is that if you look at the AAAN constitution, it actually tells us that we should share our figures with the secretariat. Why we have not been doing it is beyond me. And, quite naturally, when you go into a new relationship there will be some things that will be expected of you. Issues of figures or no figures are neither here nor there for me, at the right time we’ll reveal what and what we do.

How do you quantify and quality the value worth of Noah’s Ark.

Just looking at the businesses we have won and all the other things we’ve done you can see that the business is in a growth phase. Specifically, I may not be able to go into details or figures, but I can tell you that year-on-year we are growing as a business.

You were one of those that were very passionate about APCON reforms, there was a lot of excitement in the early days of the current Minister of Information Alhaji Lai Mohammed, but more than one year after, not much progress has been made with regards to the APCON council, what is your take on this?

It is a challenging country. This is probably a reflection of how government sees our industry. I know there are efforts on the part of AAAN and other bodies to engage government perhaps even more than before. The AAAN President recently visited the Vice President. But that disturbingly slow pace on the part of government is a major concern. The council for instance was dissolved when this new government came on board and it has not been reconstituted. That doesn’t show any form of seriousness as far as I am concerned. It is beyond our control, but we can only influence it. It slows things down; it is also disturbing from the point of view that maybe we are not taken serious. Maybe it’s not worth it to them. But that should not be the case because we are in an ideas age, government needs to engage with people. I will even advise any government to have something like an advisory body from our industry and other relevant industries to guide them on communication so that they don’t do things the same old way.
I know some countries that have even cancelled the idea of Minister of Information. You cannot force orientation on people, but it is about communication at the end of the day. And it is a two way communication. And that is where the problem is. But you have this one way communication that has been decreed from up there, expecting people to buy into it. But if you have this communication experts from our industries, from the academia and all that then you can be well guided on how things should go. And now you can see that they are in trouble with the new campaign. Everybody is knocking it here and there. It is not the way things are done in this new age. Things can be done better!

What is the problem with the campaign?

It is not about whether it sounds brilliant or not. Any good piece of communication will always be effective if first the message is unexpected, but it must be relevant as well. I think the timing is wrong. To say “change begins with me” now is wrong. That is not to say that “change begins with me” is a bad idea, but it is an idea that should have come at the beginning of this administration, to signal where they are headed and what is in it and our role in it. And not just saying it, but also meaning it through your action.
Let’s look at it this way, the President comes in and says this government is about change and our clarion call is “change begins with me” and the first me is me, the President, not that you are throwing it back at me. So because it starts with me I will take certain actions to show that I really mean it. Let’s say some of those areas of waste that we have seen in the past are dealt with, and then we’ll see that this man truly means business; then his cabinet will also take a cue. But if about one and half years of being in power (yes there are some things that are outside of your control like the price of oil), you are now talking about change now, people will not be interested.
The only thing Nigerians want before they can change anything is to change the face of the economy. If the government can come up with ideas that will improve on the quality of living, then whatever they say people will be interested. Like I said, there is nothing wrong with saying “change begins with me” because truly, it will take individuals, including people in public office to change certain things about our disposition to the country for us to have true change.

There is a growing argument against gender stereotyping in the advertising industry all over the world, what do you have to say about that?

We don’t do that. It’s cheap. The role of women has changed from back in the days when they were mainly housewives; they are now breadwinners in their rights as well. For any communication to be effective we need to respect the role of the women and put it in proper perspectives. Not as window dressing or some kind of sex object.
At the last Cannes, there was a big issue about it. There was a particular lady that was at the forefront of such stereotyping. So it’s a general problem around the world. A good example is our work with Three Crowns milk where we are saying that the woman is the centre of the family so she needs to be fit, she needs to look good and be in a good state of mind. Women can appreciate that; they can see themselves in that role. I will contrast that against just putting a woman there for the sake of attracting people. That is not the right way to go. It’s cheesy and cheap and won’t grow any brand.

The APCON registrar once complained at a public forum about the issue of copycatting, do you think it exists and what are its implications for the industry?

Well, I am not too sure how much of that we have. It is good you mention that, because sometimes it brings to the fore the role and perhaps what the limits of regulators should be, seriously speaking. I have run into situations where either NAFDAC or APCON will tell you, you cannot do this or that.
Let me give you an example, in the US, Burger King ran a campaign where they ended with a line saying “eat like a man, man”, a year or two later, Old Spice ran their own campaign that says “smell like a man, man”. Here you can say, o, its copycat. But the reality is that they are two different campaigns first and foremost. I have had instances where APCON will fight one brand for using one thing or the other. And as a creative person I get worried. Is that supposed to be their job? The job of APCON is not to say that I have written what the other person wrote. Let me be the one to face the shame with my audience. Then I will learn and do better. The job of APCON is to see that I am protecting the interest of the consumer and the interest of competitors.

What about the case of unethical practice?

There was a particular one with two Telco brands, where somebody wrote one line and other wrote another and they said the latter reminded them of the first one. It is not their business. Seriously! I can tell that to them any time, any day. It is their job to see that you do not do anything that would work against the interest of your competitor or consumer or society at large or anything that would be offensive. Whether my line is “eat like a man, man” or “smell like a man, man” is not their business. Let the judgment be left to the audience. The campaigns I am talking about in this instance, they were both distinctive and very effective campaigns. Yes people can say couldn’t you guys think beyond that? But I am saying let us go back and check the books to see what the role of APCON is. This is a subject I am very passionate about. Not just APCON, even NAFDAC. And somebody needs to put them in check. We have NAFDAC telling you, you cannot use “awesome” for a food brand; that is for God. Somebody said that at NAFDAC. I mean people slave to create work, and somebody sits down, who knows next to nothing, who doesn’t watch films, doesn’t listen to music, doesn’t know jack about the art and he just sits down only to say ‘that is not going to work’. Sometimes we take a campaign there and they water down the campaign and ruin it for no just reason.

Is there something the industry can do?

This is a problem with Nigeria. The idea of APCON was meant to take care of the issues that we still have with APCON and NAFDAC because on the APCON body, they have representatives from NAFDAC as well. So why should I still take the communication back to NAFDAC? Is that not duplication of efforts? Those are the issues that we as AAAN and as a pressure group should be fighting because we face this everyday and we pay money.

Can you narrate the story of Noah’s Ark, how it all began?

Noah’s Ark is in the eighth year of this journey and it is not a product of long term panning. It is something that happened along the way. As you know I have spent all my advertising years as a creative person and part of the convention in our industry is that the business people start agencies, so creatives often times don’t bother about business. But as a person, wherever I worked, my goal as always has been to contribute as much as I can to develop this industry; for people to recognise and respect what we do globally. That has always been my guiding principle as regards my career and I never for once thought of starting an agency.
So when the thought of the agency thing came up, for me it was just a reflection. My reflection was where exactly were we headed as an industry? I thought there was not enough competition. I also thought that despite my inhibition about business, I thought that my generation needed to also contribute something meaningful to the industry.
Kudos must go to the generations before us – the Mr. Shobanjos of this world, Chief Odunsi and the rest of them. That generation did something that people could see. But when I looked around, I couldn’t see anybody in my generation that had done anything that I thought I could be proud of and I didn’t want to end my career complaining about what could have been done. I didn’t know whether my dream was going to fly or fail. But that didn’t matter to me, I thought my dream was stronger that my fears. And I always tell people that I didn’t have any problem in the agency where I was working. I was well loved, I was the number two man and I had stakes in the business as well. But I thought that bigger idea of contributing to my generation was too important for me to just walk away from it. That was what led to Noah’s Ark.
Right from the beginning, that has been our driving force; that there is nothing so different about our peers in other markets that we cannot do what they are doing or even beat them in it. That to me is the way I look at it. The agency took off on that premise. So maybe it’s no surprise that we have been able to do what we are doing. The competition is not just in Nigeria, it is in the world. That vision was such that people could relate with it and whoever came on board could run with the board. And being able to attract the right talent and create the right environment; I think that to me is very important. I am interested in how we can inspire that individual to be at his or her best at all times. That is what you’ll find with our team.

So far how has it been?

I think it has been a very exciting journey. I didn’t realise how risky my move was until about seven or eight months after I started this. We did have a first year that was good. But the following year was a challenge. The businesses we had then were on a project basis. We did some work for Peak and we launched Peak Choco. But the following year, that project was gone. The other business that we had was gone.
But one thing I must say which is very important and I will recommend to everybody is use every opportunity you have very well. And the only way you can do this is not to be thinking about yourself. Make the most of it by giving it your best. Because in truth, the thing that saved us in 2009 was goodwill. Even the first job was goodwill and the gentleman that called me to the Peak job did so because he worked with me when I was in Insight Communications.
Wherever I worked back then, I worked like the business belonged to me. Not with any aim of ‘one day I’m going to start my own’. So in 2009, there I was with the Indomie people and we were just talking, and the guy was like I want to split the Indomie business, I will give half to you and half to the current agency. I didn’t go there expecting that to happen. And later he decided to give all the business to us! And we have been on Indomie since 2009 till date. Again that was goodwill. That has been the case for most of the business we do. You are as good as your last job.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


    No comments found.