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Advertising Wars: Separating Facts From Fallacy

25 May 2013

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By Kelechi Nwosu, Celey Okogun and Jenkins Alumona


The ASCOMDI Report of 2010 proved that 75 percent of media debts are traceable to non-registered Advertising Agencies
This may sound unbelievable to many doubting Thomases, but that is the stated fact. It has become necessary to resurrect the ASCOMDI (a Debt Reconciliation Committee set up by APCON) report in the light of the lie canvassed in the media that “many chief executives of local advertising agencies had refused to remit payment to media organs after being paid by clients. These showy executives, who live large like the Joneses, would rather buy luxury and swanky homes overseas...”  Louisa Aguiyi-Ironsi wrote in her now famous attack article.

Some background will be useful here. Sequel to accusations and counter-accusations spanning nearly a decade by media owners - Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), and Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN) - that the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) owed over a billion naira, the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria ( APCON) under the then Chairman, the revered and respected Mr. Chris Doghudje, a veteran and Fellow of the industry stepped into the fray. Doghudge in 2007, formed an all-parties stakeholders’ reconciliation committee made up two representatives each from all sectoral bodies in APCON.  Known as ASCOMDI, the committee’s terms of reference was straightforward: determine the total debt profile in the industry, investigate the claims of all parties with a view to identifying the true debtors and true creditors, and design an amicable solution acceptable to all parties.
The committee toiled night and day, sieving through documents dating as far back as year 2000. After four extensions and postponements of the deadline for the submission of claims, ASCOMDI wounded up its sitting; then followed several months of collation, compilation, verification, and clarification of ambiguity.

On Thursday, May 27, 2010, APCON held a press conference to present the report of ASCOMDI to all sectoral bodies, the media, and general public. Of interest is the report by ASCOMDI that N766.6 million (out of the claimed N1.145 billion debt) was traced to non-AAAN member agencies! For better understanding, there are media buyers and independent producers and marketers who go directly to media houses to buy slots, spots and spaces. For those who missed the press conference, the ASCOMDI report is a public document in the custody of APCON and can be accessed.

It is therefore a promotion of fallacy that less than three years after the conclusion of what was accepted as a thorough process, promoters of “Nigerians cannot do anything right” are busy trumpeting an old lie in the hope that loud repetition of a lie will make it the truth. Frankly, we are less concerned about the messenger but more fixated on the dissemination of falsehood, manipulation of facts, misleading conclusions arising from ignorance and hatred. Again, it amounts to pure deceit of the Nigerian people to state that NPAN has “blacklisted” some advertising agencies because of the debt issue.

Aguiyi-Ironsi would have done the public some good if she had included some names of the blacklisted agencies in her article. Perhaps, Aguiyi-Ironsi didn’t because the blacklisted agencies, if they exist at all, are not members of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN). AAAN can hardly be held responsible for debts accumulated by fly-by-night operatives more than Louis Aguiyi- Ironsi can be held responsible for the problems of Nigeria

In spite of the fact that a  credit structure does not exist in Nigeria today, in contrast to situations in other climes, settlements, reconciliation or otherwise of media bills is a direct function of constant dialogue and continuous engagement between media owners and advertising agencies. Interestingly, both parties prefer to observe the unwritten rules of confidentiality on this subject matter for the aforementioned reasons.

This year, organised advertising under the auspices of AAAN is 40 years old and advertising as a business is nearly a century in Nigeria, following the footprints of the country’s Centenary celebration. So, at what point did the Nigerian advertising industry lose the “trust of both the business community and Nigerian citizen?” The successes we have recorded as an industry could not have come without the firm belief in our abilities by the business community and the strong acceptance of our communication message by the Nigeria citizen. The industry has received kudos and knocks in equal measures from the Nigerian people as the final critics, cynics and consumers of communication messages; resulting in some of the great brands we know of today and in the past. We cannot, as a nation, over romanticize the telecoms success which has become the poster boy of every government in the last decade. But truth be told, no one can divorce advertising from the over 15 percent aggregate year-on-year growth the sector has witnessed in 10 years. And if you doubt it, let’s wait six months and take stock of all the variables when the dust settles on the raging war in the current Mobile Number Portability (MNP) scenario. Of course, in a parity market like the telecoms sector, advertising becomes the differentiator.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is music to the ears of every Nigerian, in and outside of government. Anybody who truly loves the country would jump at the opportunities offered by FDI with full cognisance of the turnaround FDI has achieved in oil and gas, infrastructure development, manufacturing, consumer goods, and so on. In 2012 alone, Nigeria’s FDI was put at $6.9bn representing an increase of 17.24 percent over the previous year. But let’s not be slaves to some buzz word! Frankly, FDI is more susceptible to some sectors than others. The reason the service industry especially those with intangible products are not attracting much FDI. Take this scenario. A multinational entered the Nigerian market about four years ago and took an office space in Victoria Island, Lagos. Its 10-member staffs were involved in B-to-B high level product marketing to a small clientele in the construction and agriculture sectors. At this stage, the company didn’t see the need to seek FDI protection from government. But today, they are keen on setting up a factory in Nigeria and are in process of approaching government with a $180m FDI and seeking some investment concessions. This is understandable and straightforward.

Peharps, it’s time for Aguiyi-Ironsi and her co-travellers to answer the big question: what is the big investment an advertising company makes that qualifies it as FDI?

Another issue that the current debate has thrown up is the expectation of the Aguiyi-Ironsi’s of this world that advertising practitioners should wear rags and live in huts. They chose to forget  that advertising people are professionals some who have worked their way up the ladder and also deserve some degree of comfort. They ignore the fact that most top executives and heads of agencies have given over 20 years to the industry and that what is perceived as a “swanky” lifestyle is nothing compared to lifestyles of similar colleagues on the marketing side or even the banks.  There seems to be an unspoken, but really concerning trend for people especially those outside the advertising industry to circumscribe  admen based on perceived values. Clearly, not everyone can create effective communication, and creativity is a growing  commodity in our market which needs and must be  elevated and rewarded and not disparaged.

If the managing director of a successful bank deserves a private jet then why begrudge the managing director of a successful advertising company the use of a new SUV? If the managing director of a top telecoms firm lives in Ikoyi why should the managing director of a top advertising company make his home in Ajegunle, as sexy as that may seem.

Nwosu, Okogun and Alumona are admen who live and work in Lagos


Tags: Nigeria, Featured, Business, Bill Board

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