We are seeing more stability in the Nigerian digital ads market – Sean Riley
Ad Dynamo, a globally digital advertising market that caters for global tech companies such as Twitter, Snapchat is not a newcomer in the Nigerian ads market. Sean Riley, CEO of the company said in this interview with BusinessDay’s FRANK ELEANYA that some stability and maturity is beginning to come to the local market.
Can you speak more about the acquisition by Aleph and also the free digital expert that has been launched here in Nigeria?
We are very excited to be part of the Aleph family, and one of the really important points to highlight behind this is that we’ve known the senior leadership team at Aleph for many years, interacting at global training sessions or conferences hosted by our partners. Making the transition into the Aleph family was a very smooth process for us.
The CEO is very passionate about global education and feels that it’s really going to accelerate growth across all emerging markets by closing the gap of skills available and introducing more career opportunities to young individuals across all emerging markets and Nigeria is really key to that.
To explain how important that area is to Aleph worldwide in terms of extending its training program, Nigeria is actually the first market where an English version of the product has been made available, and it began with its roots in Latin America. Nigeria is the first market outside of Latin America and we opened it up for local consumers.
The website is being refined to make the opportunity available to more individuals. And there’s a lot of free training available on the site that anyone can just register and complete free of charge and at any time. and be sure to complete a comprehensive set of courses in digital advertising.
We take waves of students, and the first wave is about to close in that area, and that’s in the area of peer-to-peer learning. There’s a dedicated instructor who guides all local Nigerian students through the process, and the goal there is to do waves of 500 at a time so there are two very different elements. The first one is what I would call an everyday opportunity where you can log on and just complete courses.
The second is called the online ad degree. Here Snapchat and Twitter have actually invested in Aleph, part of the process is that you actually achieve a total flight school certification as part of the process you also achieve your TMS Snapchat certification as part of the process.
Can you give us more clarity about the growth you have seen in Nigeria in terms of numbers, what’s the volume?
Also one of your brands Twitter is going through a tough time currently, how are you navigating the current market? Given all the challenges that you have to face?
In Nigeria, we had two dedicated people in Lagos at the start of this year, and currently, we have 14 dedicated people representing us in Lagos. And of course, they are supported by a larger team of dedicated individuals across other markets like Nairobi or Johannesburg and Cape Town that help to support the Nigerian market.
I can’t disclose numbers, but Nigeria has been a tricky market. Over the past decade, it’s the one market that breaks so many rules. But over the past three years, we’ve seen the market really mature, a lot of predictability coming into and we started to see straight line growth quarter over quarter in Nigeria, regardless of what’s going on in the world.
Financial markets are depressed. But we’ve actually seen that digital advertising often prospers in tough times, it’s where advertisers go to when they need to start counting dollars, or Naira and make every investment count. During the whole COVID period for us as a business, we were very fortunate to achieve growth despite a massive global pandemic.
Twitter has obviously been through good times and tough times over the years. This isn’t the first tough chapter in Twitter’s existence, but advertisers will continue to flock to where they see the value, and also a bit of a sideshow going on between management and Elon Musk. As long as Twitter continues to deliver value to advertisers that is the most important thing.
What’s your view of the Nigerian market, because you mentioned about your products that Nigeria happens to be one of the places where the English version of it was launched. Was it based on research? What are your findings about the Nigerian market in terms of the digital space, and digital advertising? Also the gap you are trying to breach in the market?
What we’ve seen entering the Nigerian market is developing, and it would be really arrogant to say that Aleph is going to come in and close a skills gap in any market. Aleph wants to be part of skilling up more resources in the local market.
The digital advertising world is all about the skills available. Anyone can load $100 on any platform and spend it, but optimizing that, and getting great creativity, are all critical attributes to achieving performance. The easiest way of assessing that skill set is by assessing the caliber of people that we are busy hiring, and the caliber of people that we found on the ground has been exceptional. 10 years ago, and today we feel that the team we have in Nigeria is world-class, and holds its own against any other markets.
For a lot of markets, we are a sales business, and we are here to generate revenue for our sales partners. Twitter, Spotify, Snapchat, expect us to help them achieve their quarterly projections. This is in many of the markets that we operate in. Although it’s an environment where people are able to achieve good sales results with good relationships, that is an important part of it. But at the same time, you have to get to a point where you’re achieving results, because you’re delivering value. But showing compelling results, and no compelling outcome, shouldn’t matter whether we are the best or not,
In the area of skills development, are brands in Nigeria able to absorb some of these skills so that we do not end up training these talents for markets outside Nigeria?
We are absolutely seeing that trend, what reinforces that for us is that brands are also owning the shortfall a lot more openly. So a lot of big brands are openly talking about openly recognizing the gap. And the fact that there is a gap to close to become more digital, All markets are always going to have that challenge not only Nigeria’s young talent wanting to cast their wings and go on an adventure abroad,
Over time, a lot of their great talent comes back. A great illustration for me, if I were to pull out our top 30 clients from 10 years ago, to today, at least 50 percent of our top 30 clients didn’t even exist 10 years ago, which shows that the change that was happening in Nigeria is as fast as the skills and attitude. For example, in a market like the UK it is not unusual for a brand to spend as much as 30 or 35 percent of the total budget on amassing creativity.
In most African territories, if you spend 1 or 2 percent of the total budget on creativity, that is progress. We need brands to start understanding that better creativity delivers better results. It distinguishes your brand far better than competitors and helps you to stand out. And so as brands also adopt that sort of changing perception, it also sort of grows the creative part of the industry.
You mentioned that there are 500 people at a time, So I want to know what your target audience is. What was the criteria you used to pick these 500 people? Also, within this time and age, Social media space has been revolving, where do you see the social media space? Where do you see it in terms of brand advertising? Where do you see it in the next two to three years? Because we know that these days, everybody is advertising on social media? Also part of the challenges with digital marketing in Nigeria, and this part of the world is data is expensive and poor internet coverage, it is a struggle in some parts of Nigeria. So what are your plans for this space with this expensive data? And how have you been able to tackle this challenge?
For digital experts, the only criteria are the willingness to learn. Most young school leavers are very much a target audience. but someone more advanced may decide they want to have a more comprehensive set of knowledge around digital marketing. The criteria in terms of demographic is someone with an appetite and we measure that appetite by asking candidates that registered to compete for a very short bit of pre-work and the ability to devote an hour. Those who pass demonstrate an aptitude and appetite to make the commitment for the three month period.
In terms of social evolution, we see brand advertising going, looking at sort of Snap lenses. TikTok augmented reality is becoming such a big part of brand advertising, and it’s incredibly engaging. Talking about Snapchat the metrics are very different. We don’t talk about clicks, we don’t talk about impressions, we talk about playtime. For example, a brand with a lens generates, typically two years of playtime in a single day, which is a lot when you start comparing that metric to TV views or YouTube or any other video.
And on expensive data, it’s a challenge in so many markets. Nigeria is comparatively cheap compared to other African territories. Our partners such as Twitter, Snap, and Spotify, in the past with local telcos, have done zero-rated deals, where we actually pick up the data costs on behalf of the user, but those deals didn’t pull through. As a result of the local market, they haven’t been promoted well enough.
Nigerians have no knowledge that they can actually make use of Twitter free of charge on this network, or that you can use Spotify without paying for any data on this network, and we recognize this as an ongoing challenge.
Is this something we should look forward to? Is there a partnership ongoing?
Those sorts of partnerships have actually been in place for many years in Nigeria, but they just haven’t been very well promoted to mobile users. We face the challenge that Twitter can go and negotiate a deal with the telco, but then we are very dependent on the telco making the users aware that Twitter is free to use. And that has been sort of one of the fundamental breakdowns over the past few years.
In terms of a business-friendly environment, how will you rate Nigeria in Africa? In terms of training, how much are you committing to training young Nigerians? And lastly how much did you lose to the Twitter ban in Nigeria?
In terms of your question on business-friendly, I would say that has progressed to being reasonably easy. In the past, getting a single answer on tax on various elements has been tricky to get but that has improved a lot. Nigeria has been a lot easier, the naira dollar issue is ongoing. Many years ago when the government formally linked the naira to the dollar overnight, we lost 50 percent of our cash in one minute. That was irrecoverable. So the naira dollar exposure has been an ongoing issue.
Partners such as Twitter who’ve opened up local billing, have started to remove that risk for local businesses. Being in Nigeria, you should be working in Nairobi, be sure you don’t go to other markets and enforcement to pay dollars. But the sort of exposure that the Naira represents does make that tricky.
In terms of the training, I can’t give you any number, but I can say that Aleph has a dedicated team running digital ad experts. The goal is to scale up to 1000 Nigerians on the Online Academy. The digital expert takes a lot of effort because the industry moves fast and changes fast And so, maintaining current content, and adding in new platforms as they emerge is a never-ending task.
How much did you lose to the Twitter ban in Nigeria?
We prevented Twitter from disclosing numbers in the markets that we represent. For a market that we’ve been operating in for 10 years, to go from 10 years of steady growth to zero income over the course of nine months was a hit. But probably the biggest loss to us was the loss of talent. because we had actually just started to build out to increase our dedicated Twitter sales team in Lagos, and we lost a lot of talent as a result of that and we had to restart that process.
Digital platforms are establishing their headquarters in Ghana, where would you like to establish yours?
Looking at the markets that we want to be present in Africa, it’s not driven entirely by which market we prefer or where we think the big opportunity is. It’s also largely driven by the existing partners that we happen to represent. For example, we don’t really have any platforms right now that are strong in any French-speaking countries within Africa. When you have Snapchat, Spotify, Twitter, and Yahoo, you kind of have to follow the markets that have the bigger audiences on those platforms because you have to go to where you have something to sell.