BRAND PERSONALITY: Outdoor Practice Entry Point No Longer As Easy As Before – TOE Ekechi

Toe ekechi pix1One of the foremost outdoor advertising practitioners in the country and chairman of both Marketing+Media Limited and Allianz Media Limited, Theodore Okwurunicheta Ejike Ekechi, says what some practitioners call over-regulation of the industry is nothing but the fact that it is no longer easy for anyone to come into the industry without some operational experience.
The argument has always been that outdoor places more value on cost than other media. As a top figure in the industry, do you subscribe to this?
That is exactly true. Outdoor has been a cheaper medium in terms of cost of reach of a thousand. And it is very easy to understand. Why it is so and why it may not be so in other climes which is where most of those who don’t agree with this argument come from. In terms of the literacy level in Nigeria, it is not really very high and the reading culture is also very poor. These two factors combine to make the exposure of the print media very limited. Most people buy newspapers and flip through the headlines and that is the end of it. The categories of Nigerians that are really loyal to their newspapers are addicted sport followers. In order words, people are not usually very likely to go through newspapers over and over again, that made the exposure one would have had with the audience very limited. When it comes to TV, people watch it, but the adverts are not continually placed on television; they come and they go. They are what I call fleeting exposures and the electricity supply in the country also makes it difficult for the time of advert to coincide with the timing of the target audience. so most the time, advert exposures are lost. Radio ordinarily would have provided another medium, but radio is so impersonal in message delivery because you don’t get to see any visual to dramatise the message you are passing across. It’s only through the outdoor medium that you have an opportunity to dramatize your message, transmit a live resemblance of the product and services you are trying to expose. The cognitive impact of outdoor medium is very strong and luckily, it gives much room for creativity. And it is one medium you are exposed to whether you like it or not; you must see it even when you are not interested. By the time one exposure is repeated for 24 hours for over 360 days, the chances are that with a very mobile cosmopolitan city like Lagos, you are forced to be hit by exposure even against your wish. There a compulsory exposure of advertising messages. So by the end of the day, since we have to calculate by the number of people that are exposed to a particular advert that cost a particular sum of money, you’ll discover that outdoor advertising has the potential to elicit repeat exposure. I have done this analysis to show that one off exposure is what you have in the print media, partial or no exposure is what you have in TV, impersonal and non descriptive exposure is what you have in radio exposure. So what you call cost per exposure is the effectiveness it brings about. I have always maintained that outdoor advertising is a cheaper medium in Nigeria today than any other medium you can think of for these reasons.
So what is the effect of this overregulation on the business?
Let me start by making a comment that most of my colleagues in the industry do find uncomfortable. The industry is not overregulated! What we have in the industry is unstreamlined and inconsistent regulations. And the fact that we have inconsistencies in regulation does not translate to overregulation. Outdoor advertising has operated for a long time in an environment of freedom. The industry tried to indulge in self regulation with the emergence of OOAN which has done so well in self-regulation of practitioners. But there’s profit motive in any business, so naturally people are attracted to industries where you have the least resistance, where the entry level is not tough. Outdoor advertising at a time presented an opportunity for entrants of a lot of quacks. It therefore reduced the potency of self-regulatory intention and strategy of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria, OAAN. OAAN has tried, but it was the environment that has not allowed it to succeed. Check all the regulatory agencies, you’ll discover that they are driven by former practitioners of outdoor advertising
(Cuts in) Yes, that’s true! Why is it so? Those who are unable to stand the competition within the industry find a way to make money for themselves. So it’s not that the industry is overregulated, what has happened is that agencies are now coming up to take advantage of a booming industry, and in so doing a little bit of confusion sets in. Naturally we say it’s the local government that has the residual responsibility to control advertising generally, but the 1999 constitution that gave states the power to control and make laws for the local government inadvertently took away that sole power of local government. So the state, in making the laws, does not make it very clear. In some areas where the states try to control the advertising sector, the local governments are doing the same thing
(Cuts in) Is that where non-streamlining of control comes in?
Yes! For example in Lagos, it would be unfair to accuse Lagos State of overregulation. If you think the rate they are charging is high, then that’s a different thing entirely. It is not the same thing as the process of control. Whether we like it or not, the sanity that has been created in Lagos, has also made it more difficult the entry qualification into the practice of outdoor advertising in Lagos. Therefore, only serious minded companies who are equipped can practice in Lagos. And that is why the best of all innovations in outdoor advertising has come from Lagos State. The level of intervention of “Area Boys” and omo oniles (land owners) has reduced drastically with the coming of LASAA. It’s not because there are less “Area Boys” it’s because when you now want to erect a board, you have statutory documents that has given you the right to develop such board in Lagos. Once you know you are on the right side of law, it is easier for you to deal with those boys.
Is it really applicable because these are rough legs who don’t mind going violent?
They have a limit to which they can go violent. What happens is that you have to weigh the cost of going to law for protection and the cost of settling these Area Boys. Before the advent of LASAA, it was usually cheaper for you to settle “Area Boys” than going to the law for protection. When the “Area Boys” realise that you are as exposed as them, it’s a fight to finish and because you know you are not protected you will dance to their tune. Before the advent of LASAA, people erected sites without valid approval and the “Area Boys” had their way. But now, what you do is minimal settlement, because they know if they ask for much, you can go to the police. So what they ask for now is what I may call an appeasement fee. It’s not like before that you have specialised “Area Boys” for outdoor advertising. “Area Boys” who had letter heads with fixed addresses and contact phone numbers. When you practice in their neighborhood, for you to have peace of mind, you have to pay them every month. So as outdoor advertising has developed, so has the control.
Now to innovation in outdoor, do you think outdoor in Nigeria has really grown up to the innovations going on at the international level?
In economics, they say supply is limited by the market. There’s a limit to which you can put a product into the market if the market capacity is saturated. Outdoor development or innovation is limited to the sophistication, buoyancy, fluidity and dynamism of the Nigerian economy. It is going to be difficult for outdoor advertising to overtake an economy to which it is subdued under. Therefore, given this context, I would think outdoor advertising medium has done very well; most of the time trying to be ahead of the market. Innovation comes with a lot of cost. You don’t innovate for an audience that does not have the capacity to sustain the innovation. You can’t bring Boeing 777 to Nigeria as a local carrier all in the name of innovation; it’s suicidal! So the outdoor has tried to move ahead of the sophistication of the Nigerian economy. How many businesses are run on the basis of information available from the bureau for statistics? If you want to sell an iconic billboard to an organisation, you should be able to demonstrate why that iconic billboard that costs like N100million per annum should be better than deploying ten uniposts of N10 million per annum. Do you have the traffic data? Do you have the socio-economic categorisations of passengers that ply that road? Do you have the chronological timing of who goes first and comes last? Do you have data of the purchasing power of the consumer you are targeting? If you have that, can you forecast with some level of certainty what the budget of Nigeria is going to be in 2015? All these are factors that affect the direction for business and economic activities; these are indices that you need to make real business proposal to convince a Unilever that N100million invested on one billboard per annum would not be a waste. And if you are doing such a thing, you should be ready to talk to a bank that will be ready to give you about N500million to bring such project. So how do you convince the bank that the economy is going to remain as stable as it is? You are in a society where people practice marketing upside down; they only practice when there’s a boom and they retreat when the economy is hard, and which should be other way round! In the face of all these considerations, outdoor advertising as a medium has done well in the area of innovations.
Finally, can you give an overview of where Marketing+ Media Limited and Allianz Media Limited would be in the evolutions taking place in the market?
In spite of the little distractions we have had before in Marketing+Media, we have done everything possible to get back to where we are and we are gradually getting back to where we are supposed to be in the comity of outdoor advertising agencies in this country. It’s a gradual return that had been strategically calculated so that the capacity we have should be able to sustain the level of our growth, and that has been very consistent. So Marketing+Media would continue to be what they are as a pan-Nigerian outdoor advertising company that had presence in almost every major city in the country and is very strategic when it comes to mass marketing; that is what Marketing+Media really represents. So, people who want to reach audiences of all classes, Marketing+Media still has the wherewithal to provide such services. I feel very satisfied and I don’t know if there’s any other outdoor company in this country today that can match our spread in the country. We may not be one of the biggest in terms of billings, but in terms of spread, we still want to say that no other company can match Marketing+Media. And that is why we pride ourselves that we provide effective visibility nationwide and we are all over the country building effective visibility. We want to sustain that. And for Allianz Media, we want to ensure that Allianz Media is set up to address niche market. We are not really very keen in providing audience for everybody who wants to go outdoor; we are still very selective of our clientele providing them something that is special with fastest speed provided with flexibility in our offerings. In that niche market that we have chosen, we are doing very well. By the grace of God, one of the projects that Marketing+Media is working on will be one of the biggest things that is happening in digital outdoor advertising in Nigeria. As usual, when we put up our mega board in Abuja for Glo, it became the largest outdoor hoarding in the country and now that we have gone digital, our megaboard is certainly going to be the biggest in terms of total square metre and area of exposure.
Where is it going to be located?
It’s going to be located in Ikeja, Lagos.
Has construction work started on it?
We have gone 60 percent with all the preparations and the equipment are presently on sea sailing down to Nigeria. So we always like to do big things and will continue to do big things.