A Sector Trapped by ‘Bold’ Individuals with Limited Competence
Companies use advertising to relay messages about their products in an attempt to sell them to the public and increase market share. A study by the World Federation of Advertisers demonstrates that the practice can have a positive impact on economic growth. However, in Ethiopia, industry insiders and regulators say that the sector is plagued by a lack of professionalism and creativity, among other issues. EBR’s Tamirat Astatkie spoke with key stakeholders to learn more about the country’s growing advertising industry.
The advertising industry began to flourish in Ethiopia with the partial liberalisation of the economy in 1991, which gave rise to an environment in which businesses operate under continuous competition to sell their products and services. As a result, a growing number of advertisement professionals joined the sector to communicate persuasive messages to consumers.
Despite its decades-long existence, the industry still struggles to produce effective ads that respect the accepted ethics of the public or adhere to the professional standards set by the government.
A vibrant, well-managed advertising sector will likely prove fruitful for the country’s overall economic development. According to a study by the World Federation of Advertisers, “economic growth is significantly weaker in those developed countries where there is relatively low investment in advertising.” This is because “statistics demonstrate that the more extensive the advertising space available, the higher the rate of investment in media advertising and the greater the strength of economic growth.”
The report shows that the spike in economic growth is due to four phenomena. First, advertising increases consumption. Researchers found that countries and industries that undertake extensive advertising experience an increase in overall consumption. Secondly, advertising stimulates innovation because it plays an “essential role in speeding up the transformation of technological progress…into profit-making product innovation, because it allows for demand to be tailored to supply as quickly as possible.” Third, it promotes competition because it helps “companies’ effort to gain market share.” And finally, advertising enhances the growth of the economy by supporting dynamic economic activities – like the press, sport, cultural events, and civic organisations – through sponsorship.
Despite this promise, industry insiders say Ethiopia’s sector has a long way to go before it can reap these benefits. Mulugeta Gebremedhen (PhD), Assistant Professor of marketing management at the Addis Ababa University School of Commerce, agrees that the change from a command to a free-market economy created fertile ground for the advertising industry to thrive. However, he says that a lack of professionalism and rigour plague the industry. “Most problems in advertising are associated with unprofessionalism, since the majority of those involved in the industry lack the proper education and creativity,” he told EBR.
Experts stress that the expansion and increase of advertising in Ethiopia means nothing without taking into account the main components that ensure effectiveness. Literature written on the subject reveals that affectability – which is the most important component of advertising – helps transmit effective messages to the public by invoking feelings and trying to match them with the product or service offered in an effort to increase the likeability of the product. Additionally, the cognitive component requires that the artwork focus on the attributes and benefits of a product to grab the consumers’ attention.
They stress that if an advertisement is unable to effectively communicate or recall the product being sold, it hasn’t worked. Mulugeta recalls a practical example he gave to his students a few years ago in which a shoe polish ad that displays a man running away from a startled bull immersed in a field full of mud. “All the students confirmed that they saw the ad and knew that it was for shoe polish, but no one recognised the brand,” he explains.
The producer of the ad, Tilahun Gusgsa, doesn’t agree with the Mulugeta’s explanation, arguing that the reality on the ground was completely different. “That particular ad brought a revolution to the ad industry, and most of all it achieved the set target successfully,” he says.
Still, some argue that there’s a fine line between advertising methods that use slight embellishments to sell a product and those that are overly histrionic. Mulugeta mentions another television advertisement aired few years ago to illustrate his point. “It was an ad for corrugated iron that displayed a man on rooftop with a mortar and pestle grinding roasted coffee beans,” says Mulugeta. “This particular advertisement shows the degree of over exaggeration and over dramatisation of ads in Ethiopia.”
The producer of this specific ad, Serawit Fikire, Managing Director of Serawit Multimedia Production, rejects Mulugeta’s assessment that the ad lacks cognitive and effective components. “A fast turnover of stock and the compliments from the advertiser proved the accomplishment of the ad,” he says. However, both Tilahun and Serawit agree that the brands may not be recognised today because the advertisements aired years ago.
Those close to the issue say that over dramatisation is a serious problem in the advertisement industry because it obscures the ad’s core message. Dawit Dagne, a filmmaker and producer, argues many television and radio ads are over exaggerated and lack creativity because there’s a dearth of professionalism in the industry.
As an example, he points to the ways in which ads are used and that advertisers sometimes don’t alter ads based on the medium through which they will be transmitted. “I can provide evidence of an ad that was originally designed for TV viewers, but simultaneously used for radio listeners without considering the platform,” he stresses. This can significantly alter the way a product is perceived, as certain creative methods that work for television might not work for radio and vice versa.
According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, creativity in advertisement is an important feature of successful ad campaigns. Specifically, the elements of “fluency, originality, and elaboration as well as abstractness” all contribute to notions of what’s creative and may sometimes require a level of dramatisation to relay messages effectively. However, the study notes that not all products are created equally in terms of what consumers react to vis-à-vis creativity: “In categories such as cola…advertisers and customers tend to favour higher levels of creativity, whereas in categories such as shampoo, body care, and facial care, campaigns focus on showing the actual use of the product, albeit in an idealised environment.”
To that end, the study suggests that dramatic embellishments may not be the most effective way to sell a product to consumers: “One reason could be that it is still important in certain categories to deliver factual proof points of performance feature.”
Mulugeta says he and his colleagues coined a term – ‘vampire creativity’ – to refer to the excessively dramatic and music background which attribute to absence of the cognitive component in the ad, though it may attain the affective component. This is due, in part, to a lack of training and professionalism among advertisers. “The industry [has been] hijacked by ‘bold’ individuals with no capabilities and competence,” he told EBR
As a result, experts like Mulugeta note that producing effective advertisements that focus on satisfying costumer needs through fascinating them and offering relevant information is crucial, since advertising can’t thrive unless it focuses on efficiency.
For Tilahun, who established his own firm 22 years ago, the advertising industry has twofold: signs of improvement and backwardness. “The advertising companies have not gone alongside with the technological advancement by building their competence and capability,” he argues. “Most problems in advertising are associated with unprofessionalism for the majority in the business lack proper education as well as creativity.”
In addition to the debates regarding the nature of professionalism and effectiveness among advertising agencies, another topic of discussion within the industry revolves around ethics. This issue, which centres on advertisements’ ability to reflect and shape cultural values and norms, is also a point of contention.
Experts say advertising messages have a lot of ethical considerations, since they deeply affect the ways in which people perceive themselves and the world around them. For these reasons, moral issues in advertisement are important, given the fact that they are expected to grab consumers’ attention without violating social customs or providing misleading information.
A study entitled ‘Assessment of Alcohol Advertising Practices in Ethiopia’ conducted by Henock Nigussie and Yemane Berhane in 2010, itemise these concerns vis-a-vis the alcohol beverage sector, which is especially beholden to ethical considerations. According to the study, advertisers use misleading information about alcoholic drinks, employ people who may not be of legal age to drink, and use imagery that is particularly appealing to a young audience.
However, Fekadu Beshah, Manager of External Communications and Sustainability at Heineken Breweries, says that one of the core values of Heineken is respect for people and society. “Heineken plays an active role in encouraging responsible consumption of alcohol in all the markets where it operates, which has been the case here in Ethiopia since 2011,”he argues.“We are also very much involved in the development of our ads and therefore ensure our agencies are working with actors 18 years of age and above in all of our advertisements.”
The study also reveals that lack of audience segmenting mechanisms in the media coupled with other forms of promotion – such as sponsorships – expose young people to alcohol advertisements.
Daniel Workineh, Brand Executive of Habesha Brewery, says his company adheres to the society’s principles. “Habesha Beer has only two media spots per day in electronic media,” he says. “This cannot be considered frequent…as the ad is aired only twice within 24 hours in each medium.”
Seifu Alemseged, Acting Head of the Promotion and Marketing Development Department of the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC), also rejects the complaints on the frequency of beer ads. “EBC airs ads as per the advertising proclamation, which allows the same ad to be repeated twice in an hour,” he says. “As we air ads of different brands of beer that may give a wrong perception for viewers that the ads are excessively frequent.”
Workneh Taffa, Head of Public Relations Coordination at the Ethiopian Broadcasting Agency (EBA), agrees. He says that the introduction of the proclamation in 2012 has improved ads both in terms of content and presentation. “In the first three years, EBA’s focus was mainly on awareness creation and education using different mechanisms and giving feedback on corrective measures,” he says.
However, he does not deny the existence of problems in advertising practices, especially in broadcast media. “Over exaggeration, misleading information, lack of product credibility, and similarity among ads were identified pitfalls based on EBA’s monitoring and feedback from members of the society,” reveals Workneh. “We have enforced corrective measures on the misleading and inappropriate content of ads on products such as refrigerator, milk powder, burgers, and alcohol.”
For instance, ‘How dare you claim to have property without having a refrigerator’ is an expression that was used in an ad for a refrigerator by Samson Advertising. Samson says that EBC told him to take out the expression because it does not take into account the social context. “Despite the controversy that revolves around the ad, it was powerful in bringing a dramatic increase in sales volume,” Samson argues.
Again, six months ago, due to failure of specifying the exact amount of nutrients in the product, an ad for Anchor Milk was also temporarily banned from the media as per a complaint filed by the Ethiopian Food, Medicine and Health Administration and Control Authority to the EBA. “While we believed that our television advert complied with the country’s advertising regulation, we took it off air to work closely with the Authority and the EBA to clarify the points they mentioned about our ad,” Zeco Kassim, General Manager of New Zealand Milk Products Ethiopia, told EBR via e-mail.
A beer ad that honoured the 125th anniversary of the Victory of Adwa by Habesha Brewery was also suspended by the EBA. “We prefer to pursue a different approach from the outset in our ads to the normal trend,” says Daniel. “Our unique presentations of ads have brought misunderstandings from media outlets and the EBA. We promote history, values and traditions without directly associating them with sales of the product.”
Seifu has a different outlook on the controversy. “We temporarily suspended the ad because it associates the product with the country’s history, patriotism, culture and national pride,” he says. “We set a direction that a company’s ad should be based solely on its products and services.”
Additionally, on March 30, 2016 the EBA wrote warning letters to five electronic media outlets – EBC, Ethiopian Broadcasting Service Television, Sheger FM, Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC) and Bisrat FM – to be cautious regarding the content of beer ads. “This measure has been taken mainly to protect the rights of consumers and maintain the rule of law,” Workeneh told EBR.
Following these measures, the representatives from beer companies and media outlets held a consultative meeting on how to collaborate and be more creative to make the ads free from controversies.
“We have seen improvements in beer ads after the meeting,” says Muyedin Beker, Customer Service Chief Officer of FBC. “Besides the extra efforts and caution the beer companies and the advertising agencies taking in the production of ads, they consult and gather feedback from us.”
Workeneh asserts EBA will even sue companies whose ads breach the law in order to enforce rule of law and protect the right of consumers.
Mulugeta agrees with Workneh and proposes recommendations that champion all stakeholders in the industry. First, he suggests that the establishment of an association of advertising agencies, which will have paramount importance in creating a forum for discussion on problems, sharing experience and most of all, facilitate trainings to build capacity in collaboration with different educational institutions. Finally, Mulugeta says media companies should play a role in placing a mechanism that ensures the ads are ethical as well as free from evading the social norms and values. EBR
4th Year • July 16 2016 – August 15 2016 • No. 41