Oluwasona: Advertising Could Contribute More to GDP if Properly Harnessed


The new President of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria, Kayode Oluwasona, in this interview, expresses his concern over the low priority given to the advertising industry by government and how APCON’s dissolved council has been left unattended for a year. Raheem Akingbolu brings the excerpts:

In some economies, advertising contributes well to gross domestic product (GDP). Can you situate its contribution in Nigeria?
Like other players in the economy, the contribution of advertising industry to the GDP is huge. Before I go into the details, let us look at it this way; for decades, the industry has been in the forefront of brand building at both private and public sectors and it has always ease employment problem by engaging millions of people in the economy. And now that the industry annual billing is in billions, it can be imagined how much we pay as tax. Even though branding could be intangible, it is still valuable as intangible as it may be. That is why you can measure your brand equity. That is why when you look at the success and global rating of 100 companies in terms of value, a major element of that branding is equity. When broken down, it will be discovered that equity building is predicated on communication or advertising.

Therefore, it depends on our understanding of GDP calculation. That said, one can also look at earnings because GDP is calculated based on different approach. The truth of it is that if you look at the revenue aspect of the industry, what percentage it contributes into the economy. Until the rebasing of the GDP, a big industry such as Nollywood was not included. So, I will say the restructuring of the GDP helped us in realising how big we are as a country economically. If you take a look at the figure then, they brought in telecommunications and other sectors which were hitherto not recognised. Now, we can now begin to imagine to what will happen if advertising is recognised and appreciated. In fact, I am of the opinion that the industry will contribute more to the GDP if proper harnessed.

The truth of it is that those who know how brands are built, especially in advanced market, cannot in any way discountenance or diminishe the contribution of advertising to GDP. Pick any brand that is worth something in let’s say billion dollar; you will be marveled at extent at which advertising helps its growth. If you take a look at brands that are known or household brands In Nigeria, you can easily say, without thinking about any scientific way, that half of the values of the brands are built by advertising. However, I agree that there is a whole lot that need to be done but the question to answer is why are we not getting that desired level of recognition? For me, it is as a result of years of negligence on the part of stakeholders. The level of awareness is still very low with a lot of local business owners still looking down at advertising. We have realised that in AAAN and we are addressing it so that we are not misunderstood.

Over the years, there seems to be apathy on the part of government to engage marketing communication, where lies the missing link?

Succinctly speaking, I think all of these things have historical perspectives. I can tell you that political advertising took a turn for the better towards the 1993 election when late Bashorun Moshood Abiola of the rested Social Democratic Party was slugging it out with Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention. We all remember those jingles, which were then a watershed in the history of advertising in Nigeria. We shouldn’t forget in hurry that those campaigns were executed by Nigerian advertising agency. 23 years after the campaign, one will expect it to have gotten a multiply effect on the thinking of Nigerians. If within that space, things have started changing, one can only expect by now that we should have gotten to a particular level. I must confess nonetheless that things are improving. My guess is that we must have focused our attention more on private businesses’ branding as against public sector campaign which I think was unfortunate. However, we get wiser and better by the day, I hope things improve as we go ahead in the years ahead.

What do you think can be done differently to attract the needed attention to advertising?

It requires efforts from all stakeholders, the practitioners, private business owners, consumers and largely the government. One, the level of sophistication among Nigerian consumers is clear now. I think it only makes sense that things on all sphere are done professionally. That is why you cannot rule out the fact that government communication has to be professionally done. In the past, advertising agencies may have focused on super brands. For me, the reason for this was because of the way advertising came in. If you remembered over 100 years ago, it was the Lintas of this world that came into the market with multinational companies. If you look at the way advertising grew, the idea could not have been much different from following those that brought them in. So, a lot of attention went there, awareness level grew among different sectors of the economy and the need for advertising in the public sector started coming in. Another thing I know today is that a lot of ministries, department and MDAs of government are using advertising agency even though I am aware that there is a whole lot that still need to be done. As I speak, some of them who use advertising agencies used them on trial basis but we are working hard to ensure that it is established as a way of life. We want to ensure that whatever it is that needs to be done by this sector in communicating to its publics, the agencies come in handy to help so as to achieve better performance.

As the newly elected President of AAAN, what new thing are you bringing into the table?

There is really nothing new under the sun. What I would actually want to do is to take the association to the next level. By the time I am done, I want to be remembered for having helped so much in restoring the values and the respect for our industry. In the next two years, a lot of things will be done that will make us perform individually and collectively as an association such that we will naturally attract the respect of all stakeholders including clients, government and regulatory bodies. In a nutshell, I want to make sure that we present ourselves and seen as truly professional and worthy of the respect that we deserve.

The last administration made a practical move towards actualising the dream of the proposed Advertising Academy, what is your plan towards the academy?

When I was talking about what I intend to achieve during our AGM and election in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, I did mention that I want to restore the respect we have always had. There are several things to that; one of which is the need to raise the standard of the profession to the extent that we surpass the level expected of a Nigerian agency. You cannot achieve that if skills are lacking. That is the sense in which the academy will be set up.
We must realise that we do not operate in a vacuum. It is a tough thing to get the kind of academy we are looking for. The thinking about it, in the first place, is noble and should be applauded. Of course, there may have been issues that militated against its effective take off. But now, the coast is getting clearer by the day. In the last one year, we have made considerable progress. We now have a rector, the academy is taking shape but what now remain is to launch it commercially. We are going to start doing something that will make stakeholders know that the academy has come to life. Our forefather in the profession thought of the academy, they did the documentation preliminaries and we now have to go to the execution stage. At this level, we need to firm up a whole lot of things such as getting the faculty, curricula, accreditation, corporate identity and marketing. Before the end of last administration, we were already close to it and by the grace of God, in the life of this regime; we are going to launch the academy. From then on, people can begin to go in as students and get the necessary skills beyond what obtains in the four walls of our tertiary institutions. With this, we hope it will help graduates become practitioners.

One year after the board of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria was dissolved, there seem to be no hope that it would be constituted soon, what does this portend for the industry?

I must confess that I am worried as well as other members of the association. We are worried that the council has not been reconstituted as at now. The issue about this has much to do with the law, which we are trying to study very well. The council was reconstituted in March and shortly after it, a new government came in. Naturally as you would expect of new regime particularly when there was a change from one political party to another, government parastatals’ head had to change to reflect the new thinking. That is actually what happened in the case of APCON. Otherwise, the three year tenure of the last man in Council should not have been in any way disturbed.
However, I think the association believed that the APCON council is a professional one and should not have been misconstrued to be a regular public sector council. If I may ask, why has the CBN governor not been changed? It is the same way we think APCON should be treated. However, it is still being debated as to what does the law says or what kind of council is it.

But for us, being a professional council, you will definitely expect a negative backlash especially considering the fact that for almost a year that a new government has been in position and we have not had a council.
Among other problems, the situation has affected the progress, development of the industry, training and performance.