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How advertising industry suffers without a council regulator

By Margaret Mwantok
11 December 2017   |   4:12 am
Lanre Adisa is the Managing Director of Noah’s Ark Communication, which was set up less than ten years ago. The agency has been consistent in its rise.

Adisa

Lanre Adisa is the Managing Director of Noah’s Ark Communication, which was set up less than ten years ago. The agency has been consistent in its rise. In fact, in recent years, it has emerged the most awarded Nigerian agency on the global stage, with numerous trophies to show off, including Epica awards, the most recent. In this interview, he talked about how the advertising agency is evolving, the implication of not having a council chairman, as well as his vision to make Noah’s Ark the best agency in Africa.

How will you assess the year 2017 and what are your expectations for 2018?
As you all know we operate within a bigger context called Nigeria and it’s been a very tough year for Nigeria as an economy. Technically speaking we have been told we are out of recession, but we do know that there are a whole lot of people who still find it difficult to make ends meet. If our clients don’t have it easy, it’s going to be tough for us to have any business. We have seen the pains that clients go through, and if you are fortunate to have clients, who are still in business despite the situation, then be very thankful. Not too many agencies have that kind of luck. But beyond this, clients are looking for people who can make a difference in their brands; every kobo matters. We had a scenario where a client had two agencies initially and they had to consolidate. So it’s been a very tough and challenging year for our industry. I want to believe that 2018 will be a better year. And we all know how Nigeria runs, 2018 will be a precursor to the election year, so we expect that more money will come into the economy.

Incase this tough situation comes again, what are the measures you recommend for agencies to survive. Some people have suggested merges and acquisitions, what is your take?
You only merge for strength. For example there should be a reason why I am going for a smaller entity. Maybe they have some things I don’t have. So you don’t just merge for the sake of merging. I cannot bring two underperforming businesses together al in the name of merging. There must be some areas of strength identified. I think what will be required is for individual businesses to look inward and see how they can evolve. The days of taking back and just getting briefs from clients are over. We need to go beyond that. Our industry is not working at the same pace with changes in our environment. Look at the entertainment industry.

There was a recent PwC report on the total value of the entertainment and media industry for the next two or three years. It was quite huge. How much of that is being leveraged by people in our industry? We do storytelling for God sake! So what are we doing about expanding the scope of our area of influence to include digital content development?

A lot of people believe the industry has under-achieved, especially when you compare it to South Africa and other African markets. What is your take?
These countries also have their challenges. I tell you what, Jupiter Drawing Room is one of the most respected brands out of Africa, and they had to close their Johannesburg shop this year. South Africa also went into recession and they have the issue of the Black Power. So things are not rosy, as they seem. But it’s down to you as an agency to find your own way. The most important thing is talent management. I just think we need to unlearn a lot of things.

Rising oil price in the international market is the major drive of growth in the economy. Do you think that the government is doing enough to protect the economy from slipping back into recession should the global oil prices drop?
That is a concern for all Nigerians and as long as you are operating in this economy. We have been at this for a long time and one can only hope that somebody will wake up and see that there is madness in depending only on oil. We can only hope that people making policies will be really committed in diversifying our economy. We talk about agriculture, but it shouldn’t be just about agriculture but the agro-allied industry. What do we do with processed agricultural produce? Like the instance of yam being exported; if we extract the starch and it meets certain specifications, we can earn more money. So why don’t we look at investing in that? That is where government comes in. we can only hope that government will only walk the talk.

Your industry has been without the regulating council. Are you concerned about that and why?
I will say I am concerned not so much just for our industry, but more for our country. The things we place premium on don’t seem to make sense. Anybody that knows the value of communication will know what we are talking about. People have interactions with communication and branding every second of their lives. Meaning that this industry plays a big role in the lives of people. There is a whole lot of talk about Black Friday, where is it all coming from? We are a very key player in the lives of people. It means that the people in government don’t understand.

Perhaps, you have not made it possible for them to understand?
No. They don’t need to be told what needs to be done. We have an instance when somebody who knows nothing about our industry was appointed as Chairman of Advertisers Practitioners Council Of Nigeria (APCON). That was not the first time that was happening, it means that they don’t see us as being important.

Could you state some of the challenges of not having a regulator in the council?
I am not closely involved with happenings at that level. The only thing I can say is that perhaps there are people whose interest are clashing with our own interest. I don’t think it is something about not knowing the value of having a council.

What about having the head of sectorial groups working to change the situation?
They are not sleeping. But I think there are interests that need to sort themselves out one way or another for the larger interest of our industry. The government got to where they are using this same industry. So they know the value of what we can do in terms of shaping people’s opinion. I do know for instance that Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria’s (AAAN) President had an audience with the Vice President. I don’t think it’s a case of we are not doing enough to press our own interest.

What is the business implication of having that prolonged vacuum on the industry?
There might not be so much implication on businesses in the real sense of it because we still transact business with APCON. But there is something fundamentally wrong that nobody in government thinks it is important to have a Chairman running the council. It makes you wonder why you are in this business. Like we don’t matter enough? That to me is the bigger issue. We still go to APCON and get business done. But there will be certain things that cannot be done. Outside of that, the important thing note is the fact that your government treats you like you are not important.

You won the EPICA in your aspiration to put Nigeria on the global map, what does that mean to your agency?
It’s good to talk about EPICA not necessarily in the light of the fact that we won it, but more of how we are daring as an industry. Our mindset from the beginning has always been that we don’t just operate in Nigeria, but we compete with the world. It’s just natural that for you to measure how good you are, you have to measure yourself against the best in the world. That has always been our intention, even when we were a 10-man team. This year, apart from winning at Crystals, we’ve entered for Canes and we actually got shortlisted- not for “Lost” but for Alex and Joe. That was the first time a Nigerian agency will be shortlisted. We strive to be among the best. And the beauty of it is that outside of this country, when we meet people they tell us “we know you”. Even before we say “I am from Noah’s Ark” because they see our works. That means something to us as an agency. That is the importance of EPICA award.

Tells us about Lost, the campaign that won EPICA and what is the element in the work that won the award?
It takes two to tangle, so the important thing is to have a client that is also ambitious. The brief from Airtel was, “we want to be the most loved brand” and truly, from last year till now that is the kind of feedback we are getting from people on the street. That is more encouraging than winning an EPICA. Of all the Telco brands, Airtel is the only one that has not launched a 4G network.

So if you don’t have 4G as other do, it should be a disadvantage. During the focus group discussion, consumers told us what data meant to them. Some of them told us that if they were not seen on social media for a week, it would be assumed they were dead. That was what led to the campaign idea “data is life”. The NCC report showed us that, within late last year and early this year, Airtel actually added 2million new subscribers. When data subscription was shrinking for that industry from about 96illiom to about 91million, Airtel added over 100 00 new subscribers.

That campaign was essentially driven by story telling, why?
It is deliberately emotional, because at the end of the day, we were all raised on stories. We grew up on people telling us folk stories. If a brand doesn’t have a place in the heart of the people, then it can be easily overtaken.