Plastering the City Outdoor Advertising Growing, Sometimes Unprofessionally

Good morning. Have you used Pears’ soap?” was a famous advertising statement on billboards used to advertise the Pears Soap in the UK in the 19th century. Following the popular advertisement and the impact it has created among the general public, Pears Soap became the world’s first legally registered brand. The maker of the advertisement Thomas J. Barratt is considered as the “father of modern advertising”. Since then outdoor advertisement has become one of the major forms of marketing and promotional activities.

History tells us that out-of-home advertising and billboards are the oldest forms of advertising. The story of outdoor advertisement goes back to the ancient times. The Egyptians used papyrus to make sales messages and wall posters. Commercial messages and political campaign displays in the Roman Empire period have been found in the ruins of Pompeii . Lost and found advertising on papyrus was common in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.

Having this long history; however, the 20th century can be considered as the golden age of promotion and advertisements. The growth of productions and marketing them has demanded a parallel up lift of promotion and advertising. This has contributed for their dramatic progress.

The growth of outdoor advertising has also been evident in Ethiopia, one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. Particularly the unprecedented growth of billboard advertisement that promote products and services as well as messages of governmental institutions, NGOs, religious organizations etc, is visible in all the major towns of the country in the past few years.

“There were only billboard advertisements of major soft drinks just fifteen years ago,” says Geta Mekonnen, creative director at Astar Advertising and who has worked in the field for a long time.

With the growing trend of the sector several advertising and promotion businesses have also registered an overwhelming growth and expansion in the past decade.

Esayas Gashaw used to vend Newspapers and wash cars to make a living. Thirteen years ago, with an initial capital of only 53 birr, a couple of brushes and cans of paints he commenced Esayas Advertising. He started his work around the locality known as Bambis in a make shift house. He used to make advertisements on canvases using his drawing skills.

Now he has a multimillion birr advertising company with a digital printing machine that costed him ETB 550,000 and has employed more than 40 workers.

“Businesses have understood how advertisement and promotion can make a difference. Every business starting from small traditional coffee shops understood the need for an advertisement,” he says.

Outdoor advertising, particularly billboard advertising in Ethiopia is spearheaded by the digital printing technology revolution and the economic boom of the nation. “Fifteen years ago we used to design billboard advertisements and sent it to Kenya or elsewhere for printing” says Geta. “The coming of these digital printing machines has changed the land escape of the billboard advertising.”

Eskinder Assefa, managing director at Mono 2000, one of the billboard advertising giants, directly relates advertisement with competition. With the booming of local businesses, competitions increased. “This demand with the introduction of digital printing has made billboard advertisement very essential,” Eskinder concludes.

Many advertising and promotion companies have been established in the past few years. According to Addis Ababa City Administration Trade and Industry Bureau, about 381 outdoor advertising and promotion companies have been established with more than ETB 100 million capitals in years from 2004-2013.

A billboard advertisement sized 30 meters by 10 meters costs from ETB 300,000- 600,000 based on the content and quality of the materials it is made of. This price includes the fee for the city administration and the physical structures to put up the billboard. “Business is good in the billboard advertisement, but lack of rules and regulation has distorted competition and has made it hard to be certain about the future of the business,” says Eskinder.

Very recently outdoor advertisement is introducing different new features. A number of companies have started putting up billboard advertisements on building walls. “It has changed the feature of billboard advertisement and has made the buildings as well as the city more beautiful,” Geta remarks. The city administration however is not content with this new trend. “Billboards should be put up only on buildings that are related to the advertised goods or services,” a senior official in the administration told EBR.

Another new feature is that a new outdoor advertising company called Ayen Media has built giant metal structures and rent them for clients to put up billboard advertisements. The company erected these structures in heavy traffic spots. Ayen Media has been established a year and half ago and have built these structures around 10 spots (six of them are now affected by the railway construction) in Addis Ababa. Each spot has a double face structure to put up two billboards. The rent for each surface ranges from USD1,000-2,000 per month depending on different factors such as the type of client, time, location etc.

“In Ethiopia every one can hang outdoor advertisements anywhere they like,” says Eskinder. Barberries, bars and restaurants and different companies hang their own advertisements wherever they want. “There aren’t rules and regulations; there is nobody accountable and no one is concerned,” he reflects. In cities like Nairobi and Kigali, only advertisement and promotion companies have the right to produce and hang advertisements, he adds.

Worku Tuffa is a lecturer of marketing at Addis Ababa University. “Though it has registered a limited progress, the advertising business in Ethiopia is still traditional,” he argues.

According to him, advertisements focus mainly on the “features” of products and services rather than the benefits a customer can get from them. “But advertisement is the association of the product value to the customer.”

Yohannes Wondimagegn, an architect, has been observing billboard advertisements in the capital and he says they have brought a big impact in the city’s look. “Some part of the city is chronically disturbed by wrongly conceived and haphazardly hanging billboards,” he says. “In fact it could have made the city more attractive had billboards been used properly.”

Two years ago, the Addis Ababa City Administration has banned hanging billboards except for some organizations that follow the rules strictly and other billboards which have special permission for their social contents, to which many people didn’t comply.

However, now a clear abiding proclamation has been approved by the city administration and specific rules and regulation are developed. “After the approval of these rules, the authority will soon enact them strictly,” says the deputy manager.

There is a need for a strong controlling and monitoring body of advertisements and promotions; not only the physical appearances but the content and the implications with it too. “The work should also need to be done with professionals; these should compose not only artists as is the case now but mainly marketing experts,” says Worku.

Ethiopia has huge potential for advertising and promotion business, a senior consultant who has worked as a promotion and advertising consultant in several African countries and who wanted to stay anonymous told EBR. With the growing local economy and the increasing number of multinational companies engaging in the consumer product market, the industry is expected to continue its growth.

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