It has not been easy doing business in Nigeria —Oluwasona, immediate past president, AAAN

The immediate past president, Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) and Chief Executive Officer of Harmonee Concepts Limited, Mr. Kayode Oluwasona, in this interview with AKIN ADEWAKUN, talks about developments in the nation’s advertising industry, arguing that paucity of data remains not only a challenge to the industry, but also a serious national calamity.
 
The seeming stalemate in APCON
Yes, there is indeed a stalemate. The closest we’ve gone in resolving the APCON crisis was last year, December 29, 2017, when government released list of hundreds of government agencies’ boards. Of course, you witnessed what followed. The council was illegally constituted.
The people on the APCON council were not qualified going by the APCON laws. That was the closest we got to get the council inaugurated. We have been writing letters upon letters to those that matter. We have led a delegation along with the heads of sectoral groups to meet with the Vice President.  We have had several consultations and have met with the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
But, I must confess to you that nothing seems to be happening regarding the constitution of APCON council, as stipulated by law, to enable the advertising regulating body to function properly. You will start to wonder if indeed government is interested in reconstituting the council, but we are not relenting.
 
The implication of an APCON,  without a board
The implication of not having a constituted board for the apex advertising regulatory body is a big one. It has happened before, and I hope it does not happen again, particularly bad history repeating itself. About four years ago, prior to the 2014-2015 elections, we were living witnesses where we had a lot of hate speeches as we had never experienced in Nigeria before. The political space was so heated up such that politicians were ready to do anything or say anything. At that time, too, there was no council for APCON, so the vetting process of campaign material was loose. APCON is a government body and the civil servants there will do their job whether there is a board or not because the civil servants will go to work. But they could not work optimally because some of the things that it was only the council that was empowered to do could not be done.
Another implication is that regulation of the industry actually falls flat. All the organs or regulations stood dissolved when there is no council because it is the council that has the powers to constitute the organs such as the Advertising Standard Panel (ASP). The civil servants there are still struggling to work but you cannot compare it to when there is a council. There is nobody to enforce the policies; there is nobody to monitor the policies and react to things happening and take decisive steps, which means the industry is just open. Beyond moral persuasion, beyond self-regulation by individuals, asking on ethical grounds, ‘does it make sense for me to do this? Will my name be dragged to the mud if I do this? Beyond all of these, everyone does what they like.
 
Creative works, for awards or brand-building?
I think there is the theory of the matter and the practical aspect of it. I have learnt over time to seek balance. Risky as that may be because people will say you must take a stand but the truth of life since I have been studying this development is that a nice balance needs to be struck. What do I mean? You don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Awards are great; advertising effectiveness is great.
Who says that award winning ads are not effective advertising? I have thought about it. Are award- winning ads damaging to the brand? Do they damage advertising? Often, I will say no! Again, if you look at it this way, why does a marketer advertise?  You want to create awareness; you want to create bonding with your defined target audience. We call it affinity, and there are dimensions of affinity.
When a brand is seen as a brand that understands you, its equity goes up. You, as a consumer, can say that this brand understands me. So, when you see ads that win awards they are most likely ads that make the consumer says ‘Wow’ this brand understands me. This is a great ad; this is fine and so on. If you get that kind of reaction from an award- winning ad, I want to believe that it is a plus for the relationship between the brand and the target audience and for the industry. So, if you strive to get that kind of works that gets accolades, would it be wrong for an agency to pursue? I will say no!

‘Nigeria remains an attractive foreign investors’ destination’

But I believe what some industry practitioners are trying to say is that when you are doing fine ads, when you are doing ‘nice copies’ what should be primary in your mind is how it will grow the brand; how it will improve the relationship between the brand and the consumers, and not just doing for the sole purpose of winning an awards.
I think most awards these days are also bringing in the element of effectiveness as part of the criteria for choosing who wins. That is the balance I am talking about. The ad must just be creative, if it is not creative it is not noticed, if it is not noticed it is not effective and appreciated; it just goes on the run of the mill and it is forgotten.
 
The last three years and the nation’s business environment
I must be very sincere with you, it has not been easy doing business in Nigeria. We have a whole lot of rhetorics about the ease of doing business in Nigeria, and all of those things. The truth is that when we hear ease of doing business, honestly it should have been unease of doing business. It is tough doing business here. There is no power to do anything. Without limiting it to advertising, let us look at all other businesses out there, they are groaning having to supply their power. They have machines; they have equipment that needs electricity to power them, not to mention the big companies and industrial machines. Even, in the offices, in this tropical climate, without you supplying yourself power for Air conditioners you suffocate from heat.
So, what is the ease of doing business? Look at the telecommunications industry, for example, it has gone from bad to worse, calls dropping anyhow, voices muffled, and so on. I don’t know what your own experiences have been. You buy data you cannot connect and when you do in few minutes you are told that data is exhausted. Nothing is easy doing in Nigeria as of today? Virtually nothing!
Again, you cannot also rule out the human elements. You know how difficult it is to get any permit for business; the human element comes in there. You have to bribe; you got to do some under- hand dealings, nepotism, and a whole lot of things are against the entrepreneurs in this country.
However, I appreciate what the government is doing today to change some aspects of way of doing things. They have to struggle and have been struggling to get some things right. They show us one paper or the other by way of technical or theoretical report that they have moved up from one index to the other, but the truth of the matter is that as of today, are we where we can say the ease of doing business is as attractive as it can be? I will say it is not so. It is still very difficult.
There are many agencies opening shops and as there are many agencies closing shop. I will say many agencies are closing shop more than those that remain open.  It not only in advertising, it is happening almost everywhere. There are some you see with their shops open, go in there and find out what they are doing. They just open, it is not as if something serious is happening there.
 
Government’s policies and the nation’s advertising industry
Now, when you talk about policies, it is important to mention that sometimes last year when the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, was acting as President, he signed three Executive Orders, the first time he was doing that. One of those orders actually stipulated that government agencies should patronize local suppliers and service providers. That happened few months after we had made representation to the Vice President. One of the things we told him was the need for government to patronize ‘her own, ‘our own’’. The signing of the executive order addressing that requests made us happy. It then meant that we can on that strength face government agencies that we provide advertising service. and to that extent we have been seeing a lot of improvement between government agencies and advertising agencies. They are beginning to use more of professional advertising agencies, the local ones, as much as they also use the foreign ones. Although there are still areas that need improvement but we have seen noticeable changes in attitude towards local agencies.
Data inadequacy in the industry data inadequacy, not just a challenge to advertising industry, but a mational calamity The issue of data inadequacy is not just in the advertising industry alone, it is a national calamity. Even the public sector does not have reliable data to work with when needed. In a situation where population is estimated, budget is estimated and you never get to know how much of it is implemented, and this cuts across all sectors. If it is so at the macro level you can imagine what it will be at the micro level. You only know yourself, how much you have sold, how much you have made and how much you have lost. But the other man knows himself, as well. But you don’t know him and he is not ready to let you know him. This is the problem.
Again, the informal sector is so huge such that you don’t even see them, and a lot of money is made there. Even, in the calculation of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Gross National Product (GNP) and Gross National Income (GNI), everything is estimated. It is what you see that you will even think of capturing. We have a huge informal sector in Nigeria. We have advertising companies that are members of the AAAN; they are big and visible and one can capture them in data gathering, but there are also many other agencies that are outside the association making money but are outside our own data calculation. So, whatever figures you have on these other ones are outside of the association cover even though they are doing businesses and making money. The dominance of the informal sector inevitably will affect the availability of data.
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