Counting the Gains of Outdoor Advertising

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With about N5bn expended on outdoor advertising in Lagos State alone during the 2015 general election, the sector could attract more investments in years to come, writes Raheem Akingbolu

With an investment strength running into billions of naira and ability to control 60 percent of Nigeria Total Out-of-Home Advertising spend, Lagos has consistently remained the happening zone for outdoor business. According to a book: ‘2015 General Election: The Politics of Outdoor Advertising in Nigeria’ the state is also home to some of the Africa’s iconic out-of-home advertising platforms.

The book, written by George Noah, a former Managing Director of the Lagos State Signage and Advertising Agency, captures the different episodes of the political and economic undercurrent that characterised the outdoor advertising in the period leading to the 2015 general election.

Cost and platforms
Noah, who revealed in the book that vandalism and extension of election dates inflated costs during the period put the total spend at N5billion. He also did a breakdown of how the sum was spent by stating that it was distributed across different components of the outdoor advertising industry. This comprised: printers, installers, fabricators, graphic designers, outdoor vendors, media buying agencies, security, billboard owners and branding/communications companies and party agents amongst others. It also generated employment for thousands of ad hoc staff recruited by contractors to keep up with
The book revealed that about N2.5 billion was spent on wall drapes and billboards – these included: 300 static and 40 electronic boards.

It further stated that an estimated 40,000 street lampoles deployed gulped N1 billion; while 5,000 A-frame boards cost N350 million. About 5,000 stick-in-ground frames were deployed at the cost of N50 million.
Three million posters and 500,000 T-shirts – were printed costing about N300 million and N400 million, respectively. An estimated 400 busses were branded costing N80 million. 200 branded vans and 250 branded cars were deployed gulping N45 million.

“About 100 units of bus shelters were used costing N10 million. Other outdoor deployments including experiential activities, banners, hatboxes and indoor LEDs accounted for about N200 million,” Noah added.
Giving further details about how both parties fared in their outdoor campaigns, the book stated that: “The APC appeared to be more prepared and organized, sprinting off the blocks a year before the elections. Officials and individual party members hoping to stand for election approached LASAA seeking advice on enabling rules, costs and key players in the outdoor sector.”

LASAA’s intervention

In the 148 paged book which is divided into 22 chapters, the former LASAA boss criss-crossed the various subjects and themes that set the tone for the tension that engulfed the outdoor industry during the period under review, distilling facts from fiction, and in so doing setting the records straight and offered insightful perspective on the narratives.

The book gives an overview of the outdoor advertising sector in Lagos State. It further sheds light on LASAA’s guidelines geared towards ensuring decorous outdoor campaign during the period; the fault lines that exposed initial cracks in enforcing the guidelines; and complicity by law enforcement agents in the spate of impunity that marred outdoor political campaigns.

The author dwells on measures that may be taken to guard against a partisan stance by law enforcement agents in future elections; the role played by groups such as the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) and the Goodluck Lagos Grassroots Project (GLGP) in escalating the crisis. He also addresses issues related to the PDP gubernatorial candidate, Jimi Agbaje’s open letter to LASAA.

The roughshod approach adopted by the then PDP-led federal government, which culminated in the termination of all forms of outdoor advertising along major federal government roads in Lagos State, is perspicaciously chronicled in the book. Noah also beams the spotlight on protests that occasioned the federal government’s actions.

The book can indeed be divided in three main parts, the pre-campaign period, the campaign period and the post election moment. The first two chapters is an introduction of LASAA and some historic perspectives that led to the formation of the agency. In the chapter, the author offered refreshing overview of the outdoor advertising industry in Nigeria.
In chapter two of the book, the author shed some light on some of the steps that LASAA took in anticipation of the usual frenzy atmosphere of outdoor advertising in Lagos during electioneering campaigns.
For example, he mentioned about how a stakeholders’ forum was organised to issue guidelines in order to ensure that the issue of outdoor platforms did not constitute a nuisance on the public.

In chapter three, the author began to zero in on the campaigns and some of the events that gave the earliest sign of the gory future ahead. He recalled how LASAA had to be quick off the mark in order to check some infractions and prevent situations from getting out of hands. But the real kernel of the story was reserved until chapter four, where the author began to unravel some of the challenges faced by the agency in its effort to enforce sanity in the outdoor industry in Lagos by ensuring that all the political parties played by the rules.

And because that did not go down well with the power at the centre, force was introduced in a blatant attempt to intimidate LASAA. In subsequent chapter the book clearly narrated some of the underhand tactics adopted by the then PDP government in an effort to illegally claim billboards around Lagos State. The author recalled how the PDP resorted to blackmail and police intimidation just to have their way.

The role played by the infamous TAN cannot be forgotten in a hurry. In chapter six of the book, the author explains in details ‘the wanton act of impunity perpetrated against the outdoor advertising sector by the group. He recalled how the group, which was led by Ifeanyi Ubah, flagrantly embarked obnoxious activities that resulted in about N350million loss of contract for two Lagos-based outdoor agencies.
The author also narrated how at a point APCON ,a federal agency had to intervene to stop TAN, after the Registrar of APCON thought he had had enough of their nuisance.

Between LASAA and Agbaje

In the book, Noah devoted one chapter to set the record straight on what transpired between LASAA and former Lagos PDP governorship aspirant Jimi Agbaje.
But perhaps the highlight of the book begins from chapter nine where the author began to delve deeper into the crisis between LASAA and PDP. This was the moment when the then PDP controlled federal government moved in to forcefully seize the billboards on the federal highways.

At that moment, according to the author, all the billboards on federal roads were shut down in line with federal directives, leading to huge loss of revenue for outdoor operators. The vent also stoked up intense tension in the industry, which made some operator to begin to fear for their lives and the survival of their industry.

Going further in chapter 10, the author recalled that the move by the then FG to freeze all outdoor advertising exposure along its right of way was the thin edge of the wedge that precipitated a range of consequential actions. At the point, the author noted that the industry operators had been pushed to the wall and needed to find a way to express their misgiving openly.

Still in that chapter, the writer narrated how LASAA alongside the civil society and outdoor operators embarked on open protest at Maryland bus stop.
The writer has also done well to document the infamous role of the militia group Odua Peoples’ Congress(OPC) in the political equation. He recalled how the OPC held LASAA staff and the entire people of Lagos State hostage in a dangerous showmanship that demonstrated the desperation by the PDP to win at all cost.

At this point, he noted that the security situation became tense that he was advised to take his safety more seriously. The author recalled how he had to change address and even employed two mobile policemen for round-the clock security.
In a simple quote, Noah’s capture how his courage began to fail him because of the atmosphere of insecurity that had formed.

“Suddenly, an innocent gaze from an unfamiliar person didn’t seem so benign anymore. Every motorcycle that rode close to my vehicle on the road became suspect. Just as every vehicle that kept showing up in the rear-view mirror seemed to be on a sinister mission. In the same vein every street hawker that sidled up to my vehicle in the notorious Lagos Traffic jams appeared to have malicious intent.”

The author went on to the more academic aspect of the election providing fact that will be very useful to researchers who needed to know each of the major parties deployed the outdoor to balance public opinion in their favor. It also delved into some of the different types of out-of-Home platform used during the elections.

At this point he also zeroes in on chaotic poster war that took place in Lagos between supporters of the then Lagos Governorship candidate Akinwunmi Ambode and PDP candidate Agbaje. Supporters of both candidates went on a defacing-free spree that left behind funny looking billboards and poster of their candidates all around Lagos. Of course this skirmishes that played out of the streets of Lagos became a subject of interest to the press.

Post election exercise

In chapter 15 the author began screeching to a halt. This was the beginning of the post election moment for LASAA and there was an urgent need to restore the state’s aesthetics, which has been severely blighted while the campaign lasted. He also recalled how LASAA and Lagos State Waste Management Board had to form a partnership to implement a unique waste recycling initiative using the mountain of waste generated from the campaign materials.

Of course as the dust settled on the election, many outdoor practitioners were left sulking because an occasion that should naturally bring them harvest have gone. Some have even lost non-political adverts for no fault of theirs’. But the author indicated, in the book, how LASAA had to sooth their pains with stimulus packages.
In this book, Noah has been able to capture and preserve history both for posterity and research students who may want understand the critical place of outdoor advertising in political campaign. His expertly understand of the terrain and the process belies his robust three decade long acquaintance with the integrated marketing communication, spanning advertising, print and broadcast journalism.
Of course the book also throws up some of the loopholes by way of weak regulatory framework and institution which provides the cover for impunity and lawlessness, especially during election.
Noah gives details of LASAA’s determination to restore sanity following conclusion of the elections, with the implementation of an Augean task – to rid Lagos of the visual blight caused by the unrestrained use of posters and other political campaign materials.

The recycling initiatives undertaken by LASAA to dispose off over a million campaign posters deployed, with the support of the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) and stimulus packages introduced thereafter – in a bid to rekindle investment in the outdoor sector – also form topics of discourse.

The popularity of A-Frames during the campaign period and airborne mediums that were overlooked, also form the backdrop of discourse. It wasn’t all doom and gloom. The 2015 political campaign period was also a time for thinking big in the outdoor industry, with innovative and ambitious structures that broke the mould, some of which had never been displayed before in Nigeria. This is also worth remembering and is summarised in the chapters.

There is of course a need for reflection and forward thinking, now, even as the electioneering wounds inflicted on the out-of-home advertising industry are yet to heal. It is in view of this that the concluding chapter underscores the need for proactive steps to be taken to foreclose a reoccurrence.

The book moreso looks into the challenges faced by outdoor regulatory agencies during the period of electioneering, as well as the potential personal risks faced by personnel of these agencies. It ultimately seeks to prevent a repeat of the controversial events that engulfed the outdoor industry in the course of campaigning for the 2015 general elections in Lagos State, while highlighting the positive and defining narratives that unfolded.

So while the book is a great addition to the body of knowledge, it was noticeably too soft on the All Progressive Congress (APC) which was equally culpable in the disregard of rules. Nevertheless Noah has made a great leap forward in the preservation of Nigeria’s unique political history.