How Traditional Advertising Business Nose-dived in Nigeria


Raheem Akingbolu writes on how specialisation, digital marketing and the proliferation of agencies pushed traditional advertising to the back burner

The then Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAPN), conference, which took place at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Ikeja, Lagos in June 1998, was very epochal. It was a conference that also marked the 25th anniversary of the association. It was with funfair that the conference was held and the milestone was marked. On hand to beam the event live to the world was the Africa Independent Television, AIT. It was those days when the advertising business in Nigeria was flourishing and agency owners were smiling to the banks. Business was good. Clients were satisfied. Everyone was happy.

The association seemed to have undergone massive metamorphosis in the last eighteen years and one of these was that the name was changed from AAPN to Association of Advertising Agencies in Nigeria (AAAN). And part of that metamorphosis was the atmosphere at the last conference of the association held in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, last month. The number of representatives of member agencies who attended the conference showed all was not well in terms of welfare of members. Apart from this, many former presidents of the association who usually grace the annual event did not attend the Uyo event.

Business challenges

While many might explain away these developments but they were manifestations of the reality of situation surrounding the business of advertising in the country. It was a situation predicted as long ago as 1998 when the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), posited that in third world countries, the practice of advertising might face some challenging times in the new millennium. The challenging times mentioned was actually an assessment of changes taking place in how the business is being practised at the international level. As at then, an integrated marketing communications company as was still known in the country then was undergoing massive transformation that would have fundamental effect in the way the business was being run locally here. Besides, the period of this transformation was coming at period (mid 90s) when affiliation was the fancy of major agency owners. That was when names like Rosabel Leo Burnett, STB McCann, CentreSpread FCB and so on were the commonest in the industry. For you to be reckoned with in looking for business, you needed to be affiliated to a foreign agency.

Emergence of media independent
However, what started as a positive development for the business of advertising over almost two decades ago might have become the nemesis of traditional advertising as it is known. When the idea of media independent first came, many agency heads kicked against it. Perhaps, according to a senior player in the industry who spoke to THISDAY a couple of weeks back, only a couple of industry players agreed with the idea then. Ironically, both of them were agency owners.

“It was after this that many people began to understand that you can run a media independent agency under the mother agency,” he explained.

But that was where the excitement ends. Those big agencies that have media buying companies under their umbrellas might not be feeling what the smaller, one business agencies are facing. Reasons being that since those big agencies have become a group, even while the mother agency is not doing well, the other subsidiaries will keep the group afloat.

First to leave the core business of advertising to become its own separate business was actually public relations. In the past, this was being done by advertising agencies even while the practice had already started in the country then. Then came media buying in the late 90s. Then even events planning were taken out of advertising business. The next to opt out was experiential marketing and then lately, production outfits and creative agencies have started coming up as separate business.

A top practitioner, who set up his agency in the early 90s, told THISDAY that while many welcomed the development then and hailed as being good for professionalism; little did industry players know that they were killing traditional advertising business.

“Before, if you have a client like say, First Bank. You would be in charge of their core advertising, public relations and events planning whenever they had any function even including their annual general meetings. You also would do media placement for them and you would print their calendars and diaries. In fact, you would have been made if you did only their diary and calendar for one year. But tell me: which of these I listed is being done by traditional advertising agency today?”

He said all these have been taken away from the agency and said if business is not good for AAAN members, how would they be able to pay almost half a million naira annual membership fee that would guarantee a member a space at the annual conference?

Chairman of the Prima Garnet Group and former president of the association, Lolu Akinwunmi, in an interview with THISDAY three weeks ago, said business considerations were the main reasons why these so-called specialised agencies sprouted up and which might have inadvertently sounded the death knell of traditional advertising practice. He said anyone talking of professionalism was being economical with the truth.

“When we started, it was a monolithic agency as everything was done under one roof. But there had been developments outside Nigeria that indicated that the media was leaving, PR was leaving, event planning was leaving and so on. All these were driving by business consideration and not professionalism. I sat on the board of Ogilvy for Africa. I was aware that the decisions we took were driven by 95per cent by financial considerations.”

Perhaps he was right. Even in those days when there were no operational incentives offered by modern technology, advertising agencies were still handling brief, was it core advertising, media buying, event planning and so on, with professionalism and brilliance.

And to worsen the situation, it is not as if those who are setting up these specialised agencies came from another planet; they were actually trained by the traditional advertising agencies. For instance, Steve Baba-Eko honed his creative skills from his days as the creative guru at 141 Worldwide, a subsidiary of the Prima Garnet Group. The list goes on.