APCON not witch-hunting foreign investors but creating standard practice –Akinwunmi

The Nigeria advertising industry has witnessed transitions through several stages over the years, but recent trends have necessitated deep reforms to reposition local firms for competition in a globalised environment. The Chairman of Advertising Practitioners’ Council, APCON and Group Managing Director, Prima Garnet Ogilvy, Mr. Lolu Akinwunmi, speaks with ADEDEJI ADEMIGBUJI on why the industry must be reformed, among other issues. Excerpts.

Recently, the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria, AAAN, announced it was celebrating its 40th anniversary, what has been the journey so far?

Advertising itself is older than AAAN as an association. It has been formally practiced in Nigeria since 1928. But in the last 40 years since AAAN came on, quite a few things have been introduced. One is that practitioners finally have the opportunity to become professionals. Initially advertising in Nigeria started with sign writers back in those days in companies like the UAC but from the time people like Mr. Moemeke and others set up AAAN, there has been a coalition of professionals and as time went on, advertising had the opportunity of being integrated into marketing and other allied professions, the opportunity for recognition in terms of contributions to the economy and the opportunities it afford practitioners to evolve various other skills beyond what the first sign writers had at the very beginnings. We now have strategists; we now have client service among others. Because it is a global industry, our people have had the opportunity to interact with clients and players in other markets and exchange ideas while learning new skills.

Advertising plays a major role in the economy. In every economy in the world, advertising is the main catalyst of business. I don’t think mention could ever be made of any successful firm or product in the world that made its successes without advertising. In the area of social communication, advertising has played very critical roles. Advertising played major roles for instance in communicating various government projects; from when we changed to Naira from Pounds; during the time we changed from right to left hand drive, when we changed to metric measurement, in all elections, just name them. Even when people are not aware of it, when they are not conscious of it, they being influenced and called to action by advertising messages. So to these extents, advertising has grown and has played major roles in our lives and will continue to play even more key roles in the future.

In terms of depth, how would you compare the creativity obtained when foreigners were in charge here and when Nigerians took over, especially after the indigenisation decree?

I was not around during the indigenisation. I was too young then. But because I worked in a big agency like Lintas, I met the after effect of when these white people were in charge. In fact, I met one or two white people in the industry. One of the things it has done for us is that when the whites were in charge, it helped to establish professionalism, thorough professionalism because we were working direct with London then. They were very professional. They wrote briefs. They did research. Then nobody would do an advertising campaign without going through these necessary first steps. We did pre-tests and post-tests of campaigns. And then indigenisation came and if you are aware, the first schedule of that indigenisation was that advertising should not be owned by foreigners. And that also brought its own advantages because the cultural colonisation that went with consuming wholly foreign ads came to a stop. The type of messages in ads then became typically Nigerian; no one could replicate that elsewhere. We began to develop ads that are unique to us, one that speaks to us as a people. And from that several other creative areas and talents began to evolve. It will interest you to note that all what we have in the movie and music industry today started off from advertising; the cameramen, directors, scriptwriters, name them. They all started in this industry. Now we have what we can call ‘Nigerian Advertising.’ So I would say it was good during those days but then I must also note that afterwards Nigeria was able to develop what we can call the Nigerian advertising, one that is unique to us. See what is happening on radio, Nigerians have mastered the use and application of radio advertising more than any other country in the world.

Don’t you think globalisation has made ‘wholly Nigerianised’ advert nearly impossible?

That was 10 to 15 years ago. There is a new trend that is coming up and tests are beginning to show that even where you have a global campaign; they must be adapted for the local frames of reference. Because tests after tests have shown that a campaign that works in New York, that works in Rio de Janiero might just not work here in Nigeria or some other parts of the world like Asia. So what international brands and their agencies are doing now is to retool the heart beat of their strategy and from market to market, they allow their agencies and local managers to adapt to local needs. The heart beat would still be the same. It does not matter if it is Coca-cola, Nokia, and any other international brand. Local tastes and preferences are now being factored, instead of saying that, for instance, it is the same ad that ran in London that would still run in all other markets. In terms of choice of models, they for instance use local black models for environments like ours, the voicing is also done to appeal to our peculiarity but they retain the same heartbeat and strategy. This way you are sure you are talking to the people. If you are talking above them or you are employing imageries they are not familiar with, you might end up offending them and that means you are spending money and getting counterproductive results.

The opinion of people suggests that advert agencies in Nigeria are shrinking, do you agree?

The statistics you have presented might just not be accurate and I will tell you why. The number of agencies in AAAN six years ago when I was still president was 103. Today, the number of agencies has not reduced even though those within AAAN have reduced marginally. Outside the association, the number has increased significantly. Let me tell you what is happening now, because the industry is now very big, people are branching out and majoring in various aspects of the job. You can start out your own and major, for instance on strategy. That is one of the things the new APCON law allows people to do. So the number is actually on the increase and I am speaking because I have access to registration as APCON Chairman. What I tell you now is that the number of members of these sectoral groups will shoot up soon because those who are not yet members are going to join because part of the requirements of the new APCON Code is for agencies to be members of sectoral associations as precondition for registration and licensing.

As APCON Chairman, explain what the 5th Code of Advertising was designed to achieve?

As you know, this is the 5th Code of Advertising here. This means there have been the First, Second, Third and Fourth Codes. Every time a new council is put in place, it has the mandate to review the Code. Chris Doghuje was there before I became Chairman. He focused on debt and he did his best to resolve the debt issue. When I became APCON Chairman, I found that there was another group within the industry that was thinking about reform as much as I had thought since my days as AAAN President. One of the key things we are looking at in this reform is that people who handle ancillary services, models, photographers and all had complained too many times that people who are producing commercials here are beginning to bring in models and shoot companies and all. So we spoke to them and factored their views and concerns. And then we went to the advertisers and discussed with them and they gave their own reasons. We took the matter to the agencies and they said clients are operating in house agencies and all that and we factored all these. We spoke to every segment of the industry and based on that we went to work to effects a reform that will protect this industry and ensure that practitioners earn the respect they deserve while ensuring ultimate good for Nigeria as a nation.

The reform was primarily designed to protect the profession of advertising but there have been some misinformation in some sections of the media where it was being suggested the reform was all about shutting out foreign agencies. But this is not so. In fact it is only in a small aspect of the Code that the registration and sphere of practice of Nigerian and foreign agencies was ever mentioned. We said you can register as a local agency or you can register as a foreign agency operating in Nigeria and this is not a new model. They do it in China. ICAN does it. Nigerian Bar Association does it. It is a model that is common but even in our own, we are saying that you as a foreign player can own so much share in the agency. But if you want to own 100 per cent, then you have to operate within a give space. And this is what we believe was good for the Nigerian market and our government agrees which was why it has been signed and gazetted by the government as we speak. We have done what is within the powers of APCON as body and we are already looking at pushing advertising to the Schedule One in the constitution of the country, which means the Constitution of Nigeria will recognize advertising as a profession and protect it the same way it has protected oil and gas. So we have approached the Senate to see how this could be made possible. But what these people that are spreading these falsehood do not want to tell Nigerians is that APCON is a licensing organization and although they may have registered their company with the CAC and have had all their approvals with other agencies, they must subject themselves to the licensing requirements of APCON as the industry regulator.

The issue of an APCON chairman being the head of an advertising agency has raised so much dust?

Government saw this way back in 1988 and that is why the APCON Chairman is a non-executive Chairman. For instance, I do not have an office in APCON. I only go there for council meetings. I do not sign cheques. I sit a table that approves the budget and then APCON runs. The only time we get to know what they do is when we have board meetings. So I operate in a non-executive capacity. It is a part time assignment. Government has said the only qualification for the post is that you must be a Fellow of Advertising. Tomorrow, government can pick a lecturer that is a Fellow for that position. So what I must say here is that there is no link with APCON in what is happening between Prima Garnet and Ogilvy. All APCON is doing is obeying a court order. By September when I am no longer there, APCON will still be obeying the order. In any case, the matter was not on when I became APCON Chairman. We have tried to explain this and fortunately people in government understand it.

How will you score success management and succession management in Nigerian agencies?

This is not an advertising thing alone. It is a “Nigerian” thing. Now tell me, where is Murphy’s Burger? Where is Terry’s Burger? Where are all these companies that were around 10 years ago? It seems that things are not carried from one generation to another in Nigeria. I do not know why. I was in London several years ago and met a family doing shoes there. A few years ago, I went back there and still met that same business still thriving. It is in every sector. There was a time we had more than 100 banks in this country. Where are they? Even ordinary petrol stations; as soon as the man makes enough money, he loses focus on the business and does nothing to hand it over to the coming generations. But even in our industry, we have done very well in managing success and succession. Lintas has remained since 1928. Insight has remained. So we are doing our very best in this regard.

What about the “crowded” outdoor environment?

It is better now compared to what it was in the past. Many years ago, the advertising industry tried to regulate outdoor. But then OAAN members resisted. There are laws that prescribe the appropriate distance between boards in particular areas. Until Lagos State came up with LASAA, it was really bad here. And if you want to be honest, LASAA has done a fantastic job. It has areas of its weakness in terms of managing its relationships with the outdoor companies but they have performed quite well indeed, especially in terms of environmental sanitation of outdoor signs.

What is the future of advertising in Nigeria in the face of global competition?

Advertising in Nigeria has no choice. We have to respond to the world. Advertising is so global in nature and there is no capitalist in any part of the world that is going to ignore Nigeria. So it is either we regulate it and lay a tradition for ourselves or foreigners will come here and do it. And this is part of what APCON is trying to avoid. Advertising will continue to grow because it is the catalyst for overall economic growth and expansion. You cannot for instance, invest N7 billion on something and keep quiet. It will not happen because you will lose money and the business will not be heard beyond the four walls of your company. At the end of the last century, Time magazine conducted a research and published the 10 most important professions of that era and advertising was number five, ahead of law and medicine. That is just how important the profession is.

Is the growing sub-field of digital marketing a threat to conventional advertising as we know it?

Eight years ago, I was the keynote speaker when Daily Trust launched its Lagos edition. There I warned those gathered of the coming digital revolution. I asked all to begin to think of going digital. I told then there was beginning to be a convergence. The phone you have in your hand is no longer a phone. It is a camera. It is a recording device. It is a mini PC. It is a newspaper and a vehicle to the world of Internet. I remember that day, one of them in the audience said “God forbid” when I warned of this danger. But it has happened. I give you an instance; Newsweek does not print anymore. They sell only online versions and you download and read. Back to your question, it can be a threat if you refuse to change. But you can also convert it to opportunity. Like in our agency, several years ago, we were this big because we had everything in-house. But we had a strategic rethink and had to shed weight. We separated Cutler from Prima Garnet. We separated Mind Share; we separated 141 and today they are specialized and are doing very well and growing in the respective niches. Same way with digital marketing. We will respond to the opportunities it will provide

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