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Foreign affiliations good but campaigns reflect poorly on Nigeria’s cultural values, says Benson

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Yomi Benson

Economic recession, media independence, local affiliations to foreign agencies are some of the trending issues in the marketing communications industry, which the Managing Director of Culture Communications Ltd, Mr. Yomi Benson, has responded to positively in this interview with MARGARET MWANTOK

To what extent would you say recession impacted on integrated marketing communications industry?
Greatly, I’d say. The more dollars went up against the naira, the more goods became expensive and the more clients looked inwards to see what to be rationalised in the marketing/supply chain… and by extension, disposable income shrank. With the above scenario in play, it was inevitable for marketing budgets to be slashed. So in a nutshell, the recession recessed the income of the industry.
The concept of working against one another’s interest has crept into marketing communication industry in Nigeria, most especially the advertising sector. In what ways do you think this syndrome can be eliminated?

When there is scarcity, driven by economic meltdown, what do you expect? The strongest would prey on the weakest to survive. But remember that it isn’t the strongest that wins; it’s the most adaptive. So in essence, there is a cause and effect; cause here being the recession. If we remove the cause then the sky is the limit. Everyone will find enough clients and enough brands to service effectively.

What is the role of media independent companies in marketing communication mix and how has their operations helped the industry specifically and the society in general?
I personally do not believe in media independents. I think they came, especially in Nigeria, to take what the creative agencies ought to earn, feed it back to clients as value, thereby denying the creators of the concept requisite earning. Traditionally, agencies are meant to make between 15 per cent and 17 percent of the media spend on all campaigns. What media independents did was to tell clients that they would collect five per cent and plow back their gains on discounts.

The agency is never given 10 to 12 per cent of major campaigns anymore. Apart from this, I am an advocate of a full service agency, where all competencies reside with one general (coordinator), using all these competencies to drive a focused and coordinated campaign just like in the Army where you have a Joint Chief of Staff. Right now it is uncoordinated, self-centered and almost dis-jointed. The brands suffer for it.

The print media industry, which largely depends on agencies before now, is currently taking the game of sourcing adverts to the footsteps of prospective advertisers. What do you consider as the remote and immediate factors for this development?

Fragmentation caused it, just like the marketing independents did in breaking away; so, the newspaper houses are doing the same. We see that gradually the value that brands ought to get from a coordinated campaign is being eroded. It is penny wise, pound foolish for advertisers who patronise these people because all they get is self-centred campaign that lacks the vision of the creator.

What are the consequences of this step being adopted by the principals of advertising agencies?
Dire consequences, I’d say. If steps are not taken to stop this, then very soon the industry would be filled with quacks because the professionals would have left when margins are being eroded. APCON and AAAN and ADVAN need to step in forcefully to manage this anomaly quickly if we want to have a vibrant and value-driven industry.

What is the role of Nigerian Institute of Marketing (NIM) in marketing communication business?
The institute is the custodian of the rules of engagement for to-be and would-be and current marketing gurus. They need to instill positive ethics and intellectual discipline in the marketing value chain, where advertising plays a vital role, especially when it comes to reaching their consumers.

In your opinion, what do you think should be the ideal relationship between LAASA, OAAN, AAAN, APCON, Ministry of Environment and associated bodies?
It should be cordial with a win-win objective. LAASA controls outdoor advertising in Lagos; OAAN are the outdoor practitioners, while APCON regulates advertising with a decree in all it’s ramifications. All these associations must ensure only registered practitioners are allowed to place or display ads in the country. The Ministry of Environment, I am sure, has jurisdiction that is beyond advertising exposure. They should just mandate everyone to remember that we have an environment that must be kept clean and adhere to the environmental master plan for each state or LG in the country irrespective of what kind exposure any organisation wants to have for it’s teaming target market.

How can we stimulate activities in advertising and other marketing communications mix?
Allow the economy to grow; increase disposable income; have great brands with great clients and you will see vibrancy like never before.

In your own opinion, should organs like APCON continue to be an agency of the Federal Government or be independent?
It should be; it is there by law with federal backing. That is the only way it can add bite to its effectiveness.

In recent times, affiliation of local agencies to foreign ones has been in vogue. To what extent is this development aiding or abetting the industry’s growth in Nigeria?
Affiliations expose you to global best practices. So it is good for development. When foreign agencies now want to come into the country illegally is what is wrong. I am aware that there is a guideline that helps whoever wants to come into our country legally. Let them follow it. Nigeria should not be averse to foreign competition because we actually have an edge: our economy.

Moreover, no one can know your country as good as you. Government, however, needs to be protective of its marketing environment because we are a growing economy with huge potentials. We must reduce or manage capital flight, and retain them. Any business that believes in our growth, both within and without, should be encouraged.

With global re-alignment, foreign agencies are dictating business locally? Where does this lead us?

Erosion of our core values! Remember that it is what you feed the society that it reflects on. When foreign agencies take over then their cultural values would permeate the materials that they expose. It’s another mental colonization that we must do all we can to resist. Look at the kind of ads some foreign denominated agencies are producing – Star, Guinness and Gulder, etc. They are good aesthetically but they don’t resonate with who we are. Some are even demeaning. Take the interpretation of the Black spirit in the Guinness ad from a white man’s perspective. Does that reflect who we are or who we intend to be? Therein lies the challenge of the foreign agency take over. It portends danger for the marketing communications value and intellectual chain, as it relates to our cultural nuances.

Vetting of advert copies is one of the responsibilities of APCON. However, when a small advertiser is still complaining about the advert rate, is it not double challenge for SME operators? At times, the processing fee is higher than the advert rate itself. For instance, a 2×1 product ad needs to be vetted at N25, 000. Meanwhile, the cost of advert is less than N10,000.

The principle of vetting is what we should look at. It is meant to protect consumers against false information and also protect advertisers against comparative or disparaging ads. When seen from this angle, then you begin to understand that it is necessary. I agree that rates can be looked into, especially for very low budget ads like you raised above, but we must encourage vetting. It puts us all in check.

Advertising is not an exclusive of the print, TV or radio but also operates on online, in the public bus, etc. What measures can APCON adopt to regulate the activities of these platforms?
The promulgation of the APCON decree happened over two decades ago. There are new learnings and new media. We need to reflect this by amending the law to echo current and possible future advertising direction.

These days, electronic billboards are erected in strategic points to attract audience’s attention. In the night, it derails drivers’ focus on the wheel. In your opinion, how do we use this medium effectively at night without causing problems on the roads for drivers?
I think differently. I think they light up those places that would have been dark and they also add serious aesthetic value to the environment. It is like you saying all vehicle owners should not use headlamps at night because they sometimes go into other drivers’ eyes!

How can marketing communication outfits survive the current economic recession?
Yes, I am positive. We at Culture Communications are surviving without foreign affiliation but with hard work. That means if you are adaptive: creative, serious, pray and focused, you can succeed. Remember, tough times don’t last, tough people do.

Do you subscribe to mergers and acquisition of marketing communication outfits in Nigeria based on recent poor posting in their financial return?
Yes, I do, but the Nigerian entrepreneur believes in sole ownership. That is why partnerships don’t work well in Nigeria. It’s ingrained in our soul and tradition to say it is mine, not ours. We innately exhibit ‘I’ rather than ‘We’ tendencies. The Nigerian spirit endures and wants to own. Therefore, local acquisitions, though great, might not happen in the nearest future.

How can the industry be promoted in such a way that every stakeholder is a winner?
Value. Value. Value! Create and offer it. Let the clients see the value each and every ad agency offers; get great creative people to work in the industry. Clients pay well for services rendered, while great services ensure brands are selling and consumers see that we are telling them the truth in very creative ways. APCON steps in to enforce laws while AAAN, ADVAN, OAAN, etc, do their jobs well.

How has your firm fared amidst the economic recession?
We have been adaptive. Instead being a service-rendering company only, we have become content providers and even delved into ownership of some mainstream media. We are diversified within the creative and marketing spectrum and we are always open to new ideas. And finally we do all we can to know our target market and the Nigerian terrain more than anyone. We can predict the future and like a bank MD said in an ad, we are tomorrow’s people because we know tomorrow. If your brand wants to tap into this… you know where to go… Culture Communications Limited.


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