I am strongly inclined to believe that the article written by one Brendan Akinsanya in BusinessDay (Tuesday, March 26, 2013) criticising the current regime of advertising reforms in Nigeria was inspired by a not-too-thorough understanding of the Nigerian business environment. If, as he claimed, he is a marketing communications consultant, then he must be operating from outside the “capturable” confines of Nigeria’s mainstream marketing communications environment.
I say this with utmost respect, but any Nigerian who thinks the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) has not done a great job in instituting reforms capable of ensuring the growth of the marketing communications business in Nigeria is doing a disservice to the entire nation.
For years, the Nigerian businessman has been at the mercy of the so-called global companies who have made it their business to import all manner of services, including those that can be better done in-country. Perhaps Brendan did not look at, for instance, the aspect of the reforms that seeks to restrict the use of foreign models in advertising targeting the Nigerian consumer. Perhaps also he did not see where in the new regime APCON is also seeking for an increased measure of production jobs to be done in Nigeria rather than shipping the money out to countries like Kenya and South Africa.
I have read the APCON reform booklet and I have come to the conclusion that it has the interests of Nigeria as a cultural entity at heart. It also has the Nigerian businessman as its primary beneficiary.
In his article, Akinsanya dwelt on how it would have been impossible for Nigeria to develop if the federal government had limited the stakes of multinationals like Shell, ExxonMobil, and ChevronTexaco to the 25 percent which APCON has stipulated for foreign agencies intending to do business in Nigeria. But he appears to have forgotten that for over a decade forward-thinking Nigerians struggled and eventually won the battle to institute the Nigerian Content Reform regime in the oil and gas industry as well as the maritime sector. This Nigerian content regime has saved the country billions of dollars in capital flight while empowering more Nigerians. It has also generated thousands of employment opportunities for Nigerians who are now doing jobs that otherwise would have been outsourced to Korea, Europe and the Americas. Just recently, the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board reported that as a result of this deliberate policy of the government of Nigeria, more Nigerians are now owners of tankers and other sea-going vessels, which was not the case in the past.
In discussing foreign direct investment of any form, government normally takes care to emphasise on areas where its people do not have the competence and production capabilities. It stands to reason since it would indeed be a curious policy to import or outsource what one has capability to produce. I cannot see South Africa liberalising the importation of wine because it has a thriving local wine industry. It will be a shocker to go to a green grocer in Cape Town and see apples labelled “Produce of Brazil” because the apple industry in South Africa is capable of taking care of the needs of the country with so many surpluses for export. I doubt if Sweden and Norway would also provide incentives for the importation of stockfish because they have it in overabundance. Not to mention that they don’t even consume it!
The story is not too different in advertising. The Nigerian advertising industry is one of the most creative in Africa. Nigerians are otherwise very expressive people and so are naturally given to writing good copy. Why should a country that has a good number of creative minds open the doors for all manner of “imported” agencies to play in its environment?
Contrary to the position held by Akinsanya, what emerging economies need in order to grow is really not the presence of foreign firms but the importation of value-adding capital. An emerging economy does not need foreign companies for the sake of their presence. They are needed for the sake of the value they could possibly bring to the table. Yes, they can transfer technology. But need we ask what kind of technology foreign agencies could ever transfer to Nigerians in the advertising industry?
Most people do not understand that while most industries can afford to be totally global, marketing communications can only be “glocal” because in communications, cultural infusions and local frames of reference are critical to effective delivery. If you look at the most effective advertising campaigns in Nigeria, they are the ones that speak to the Nigerian in his own language. Think of “Baba Blue”. Think of “If e no be Panadol…” Think of the short-lived “Mama na boy” campaign that gender rights activists ensured that MTN pulled off the airwaves. Think of the current “Mama Do Good” by Indomie and the “0809ja” of Etisalat. The messages in these campaigns speak the Nigerian language to Nigerians. No foreigner can do this as well as a Nigerian can.
Tanimowo is a marketing communications executive based in Lagos.
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