Before ADVAN Finally Loses Its Relevance

Samuel Ajayi

One of the beauties of Advertising regulation mechanism in Nigeria has been its consistent reliance on support and advice from the industry’s sectoral bodies. The bodies include: Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), Advertisers Association of NIgeria (ADVAN), Media Independent Practitioners Association of Nigeria, (MIPAN) Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN) and the recently established Experiential Marketers Association of Nigeria (EXMAN). As the parental body and the driver of the ship, the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON), has grown in leaps and bounds. It has recorded milestones successes and set new standards in its regulatory mandates. Thanks to the collaboration.

But in the last three years or so, there has been a crack in the family structure and I think this should be a thing of concern to stakeholders. Little by little, ADVAN, which used to be a strong stakeholder, appears to have started losing its relevance. In fact, current developments and the strides the industry has made in recent times, are pointing to an unusual reality of the possibility of an advertising industry without ADVAN participation. And this will be sad going by its undeniable relevance to the industry as the real spenders of advertising budget.

The crisis started brewing following the unveiling of the new Advertising Industry Standard of Practice, which ADVAN saw as an affront and systematic attempt to frustrate its members’ control of the terms and conditions of advertising business. Among other things, the reform was meant to strengthen the industry with a new payment regime of 45 days threshold, deregulation of media rates, disengagement protocol, use of local talents thereby deepening local content in the industry, among other reformative measures.  With the reform, the Council thus decided to rewrite the law guiding the business of advertising in Nigeria. Besides the new law which seeks to comprehensively upend the ecosystem and rid it of certain practices which the Council considers sharp and potentially injurious to the industry. It also prescribes jarring penalties for offenders, including jail terms.

As the association of marketing directors and senior executives of local and multinational companies, ADVAN provides an organised forum for advertisers to express their views and influence developmental changes in the Nigerian marketing communications scene. In an attempt to live up to the expectation, the leadership of the association had cried out and rejected AISOP’s implementation as a result of what it called; “an unconstitutional attempt to infringe on the rights of private entities to determine their contractual terms.”

However, it is on record that ADVAN had a representative on the AISOP committee and was part of the deliberations. ADVAN has gone to court to challenge the constitutionality of the ARCON law and its reform. ADVAN joined the National Assembly, Attorney General of the Federation, Minister of Information among others in the suit as respondents.

Notwithstanding the opposition, ARCON maintained its ground and insisted that there was no going back and would not succumb to blackmail, intimidation or propaganda by any stakeholder to suspend the industry reform. This was to clarify its position in the legal battle targeted at the body by ADVAN. According to the regulator, some ADVAN members are uncomfortable with the new fair-trade practice framework because they have engaged in oppressive policies with impunity over the years.

At a time stakeholders thought a pathway to peace in the industry was being channeled, a new twist was introduced to the lingering crisis on Tuesday, when ADVAN sent a letter to the Head of Advertising Agencies Sectoral Group HASG, to resign its membership from the group. The letter, which was signed by the CEO, ADVAN, Ediri Ose-Ediale, and addressed to HASG Chairman, Olufemi Adelusi, indicated that the association’s decision to call it quit with HASG stemmed from careful consideration and extensive deliberation by the ADVAN Executive Council and its association members. Perhaps the letter wouldn’t have been a surprise if it came in a month ago but the fact that it was conceived barely 72 hours after ADVAN reportedly promised members of HASG of its readiness to withdraw pending cases against ARCON and other parties if they agreed on common front, sent tongues wagging. The question is what has happened between Saturday and Tuesday that made ADVAN reneged on its promise?

At this juncture and with the look of things, I want to appeal to stakeholders in ADVAN to review activities in the last one year. To me, the association appears to be losing the war, considering the number of accomplishments ARCON has recorded without ADVAN. I see this as a dangerous trend that is inimical to the growth of ADVAN as a professional association. Perhaps the leadership of the association didn’t notice; while the umbrella body is distancing itself from ARCON and its activities, individual members are cooperating with the regulator. The flip-side is that compliance is growing but the advertisers’ professional body is losing steam. At the end, it will only occur to the stakeholders that advertising regulation can succeed with or without ADVAN as a sectoral body.

Back to the nitty-gritty, there is a need for ADVAN leadership to look at how the industry has fared in the last two years, despite its position. The years under review have been full of activities for Nigeria’s Advertising industry. To me, the only thing ADVAN has achieved is to be in the news, albeit for controversial reasons. Of course, it has also succeeded in dragging ARCON but of what importance. In my view, the ongoing battle is needless, to say the least.

For instance, just last week, the regulator broke a record of bringing Nigeria into global map by holding the second Advertising Industry Colloquium tagged AIC 2.0 and launched the maiden edition of the Journal of Advertising and Marketing Communications as a panacea for the dearth of academic materials and case studies for the training of marketing and advertising students and future professionals. It was the first time such a journal would be conceptualised in the entire Africa. With it, a synergy between academia and professionals, which aimed at fostering a well-structured advertising industry has just been established.

Another major development that has remained a success is the annual National Advertising conference. In the last two editions, the conference has become a rallying point for all marketing communications practitioners. As the biggest gathering of practitioners, industry players look forward to NAC for networking and knowledge sharing. Sadly, ADVAN as a body was not conspicuous in the last edition but only a few people noticed.  Some of the strategic activities at the conference are; paper presentations, town hall meetings, interactive fireside and a dinner, which came with a special recognition platform used to encourage advertising practitioners to keep to industry advertising standards. Here, companies and brands that had distinguished themselves in the area of compliance with the Advertising Standards Panel (ASP) were awarded.

ADVAN recently disassociated itself from the Audience Measurement noting it was not engaged prior to the notice of its launch. However, the Secretary of the Ministerial Task Team debunked the ADVAN President’s claim, stating that he attended several meetings and made presentations on behalf of a sub-committee he chaired. The launch still held notwithstanding ADVAN position which made people to asked why the disclaimer when they were a member of the Implementation Committee. Neither has the ADVAN President debunked the claim of the MTT Secretary of his involvement.

Also, one big watershed this year was the PwC report which recently announced that Nigeria’s advertising industry was worth N605.2 billion in 2023 and is projected to be N893 billion by 2028. The report, which was titled, “Economic Contribution of the Marketing Communications Industry to the Nigerian Economy,” also revealed that every N1 spent on marketing communication in Nigeria has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) multiplier effect of N16.50 kobo. In a way, one can conclude that the feat was recorded because of the current standard industry regulation. Again, ADVAN was neither present nor contributed to the research as a stakeholder.

Under this new regime, there is now a mandatory N1 billion professional indemnity insurance that sectoral groups like AAAN, EXMAN, MIPAN, and OAAN must provide for their agencies. Without ADVAN, ARCON again flagged this off to strengthen advertising agencies service delivery, build capacity as well ensure long-term stability in the industry. This covers professional indemnity for members of the various associations as part of the corporate license requirements. In a related development, ARCON is also reviewing minimum capital and working capital thresholds for agencies in consultation with industry stakeholders. I don’t know if ADVAN is being carried along in this exercise.

In the area of compliance, I’m aware that multinationals like MTN, Coca Cola, Nigerian Breweries, Guinness and others, are working in line with ARCON directives and are compliant with the regulatory framework. So, if I may ask, of what purpose is ADVAN position and legal battle when the same people it claims to be protecting have keyed in indirectly?

In view of this and for ADVAN to remain relevant in the future, I think the best time for the professional body to look back is now as recent development is pointing to the fact that the industry can exist with or without ADVAN.

•Ajayi is one of the nation’s foremost Brands and Products Writers.

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