Get Skilled, Get Paid, Stay Proud
By Feyi Olubodun
The below article is a keynote Address delivered at the launch of the Nigeria chapter of the IAA (International Advertising Association), on the 31st May 2018 by the author.
Shakespeare once said, “A man in his life, plays many parts in his time.”
While I am many things in this industry, including CEO of Insight, today I would like to speak largely as an ardent observer and a passionate player in this game we call advertising. I would like to state a disclaimer now, that if you consider any of my views controversial, they don’t necessarily reflect the views of my agency and my principals.
I am very passionate about Africa and often worried about the continent. And this is not because I have just recently published a book on the same. It is for more practical reasons than this. The numbers of the continent, and especially Nigeria, give reasons for both hope and potential despair. According to the UN, by 2050, AFRICA will have the largest population in the world. The population will represent 54% of the earth’s population, potentially hitting about 5.2billion.
Nigeria will account for about 20 – 25% of this, potentially hitting a population of between 700million to 1.0billion. By 2030, which is just around the corner, we would have already overtaken the US in terms of population. It gets better. By 2050, Africa will be the only young continent in the world, with more than 30% of the population between the ages of 10 – 24. You would have noticed by now, how the West is trying to reclassify the definition of youth to extend to the age of 60. The World Economic Forum has stated that this population growth, and its inherently youthful composition, will either be a blessing or a curse.
It will be a blessing if the government creates the economic and regulatory environment for businesses to thrive. With such a youthful, entrepreneurial population descending upon us, we would have the largest human resource capital base in the world. We must have businesses and social enterprises that can absorb such a population, thereby engaging their energies productively. Otherwise, it will be a curse.
From a marketing perspective, multinational corporations (MNCs) are now dubbing Africa “the next billion” consumers. Paul Polman of Unilever says that businesses that want to future proof themselves must look to emerging markets. He said this is necessary because in 20-30years, 80% of the world’s population will live outside the US and Europe.
If the next billion consumers will be here in a few years, and the gaze of the world will turn towards Africa, with Nigeria as the apple of the eye that gazes, how should ad agencies be thinking and positioning themselves now? We have always prided ourselves as brand builders and have openly taken credit for the growth of brands in the market, more often than we actually deserve. And clients have generously allowed us this levity. But now that the eye of the world will soon turn this way, what do we do now?
In my professional opinion, there are three things we need to do urgently. I will touch on them briefly. The first is that we need to raise the fundamental skill level of current and future practitioners in our industry. When I joined advertising a decade ago, it was an industry that was full of men and women of density. In less than a decade, we have come into a state in which there are few giants and fewer acolytes. In the days that I joined, the progression of skill development started from deep marketing appreciation to brand building and then marketing communications. We were trained to be grounded, and clients even hired top marketing practitioners from our industry.
Today when I chat to young practitioners, the highest consideration in their mind is how they will win the next award. They don’t even know how brands are built, talk less of how what they do truly impacts brands. How did we get here? Where will the future Shobanjos, Awosikas, Akinwunmis, Ufots, Juliet Okwus, Odigbos, and so many other legends come from?
I believe this is important for us to address very urgently, because the search for the next billion consumers will be led by MNCs who operate global standards. They mustn’t engage us to find that we only have creative awards but no globally comparable brand and business building skill sets. We cannot be trained AGAIN by foreign players, in the practices of our own industry. In any case, we need to do it, in order to continue to attract talent.
The second thing we must do is to scientifically tap into the impending prosperity such an economic opportunity offers. One of the many reasons our industry is getting less attractive to millenials is the seeming lack of apparent prosperity in the horizon. I believe this is largely because we have not been able to maximise revenue due to a lack of industry-wide pricing policy. We all know that without a proper pricing policy, you cannot generate revenue sustainably.
It is my personal opinion that this is the single most important issue that we are yet to address. I took a walk down Madison Avenue, just to see the famous mad men we all read about. I was impressed with junior ad men dressed in designers’ suits that only Nigerian ad agency CEOs and agency owners could afford. I said to myself, something is not right back home. The South African ad industry has set rates for each resource within the industry, in an annual publication shared with clients. Every client knows those rates and know they cannot go outside the range set for each resource level. As such, their ad industry there is way more profitable than ours. Those of us who have worked across multiple countries know that we get paid peanuts in Nigeria, for what we do. As such a lot of future top talent shy away from the industry now. In any case, given what most of us earn, we do not even have the margin to truly innovate in our business and make the impact we desire.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, this is an industry issue and must be addressed as such. We need to come together to develop a pricing policy for our industry and then defend that together, without exception.
Finally, we must address who we truly believe we are as a people. In the end, you can only produce what you believe you are. On the 5th of February, 2 things happened. My book, The Villager, became globally available on Amazon and iBooks. And the movie, Black Panther hit the cinemas worldwide on the same day. The movie became a worldwide phenomenon grossing over a billion dollars in less than 2 months and earning its own Wakanda theme park in Disneyland. The Villager is yet to gross 1 billion anything, as you can tell by looking at me. There is no 30 billion for the account. Yet.
However, when I was asked to comment on the Black Panther phenomenon during interviews in SA, my reply was simple. In a global village where technology is an equaliser, people are beginning to seek true identity. Their first source of identity is within their culture. This is evidenced by the global drive for nationalism that is disrupting politics in the West. We must go back to our culture, in Africa and in Nigeria.
I believe we struggle even with basic issues of national development because we have become shy of our culture. I was asked whether our culture as Africans is responsible for the state our economy. So, I remind them that in traditional monarchy, a king is measured by the prosperity of his people and he knows it is taboo to steal from the coffers of the village. Imagine if political leaders ran the government with the ancient paradigm of tribal leaders. We struggle with literacy because we believe that speaking English is equivalent to being intelligent, especially with an accent. I can still remember my shock at meeting my first white illiterate. Anyway, the Chinese have taught us that you can educate an entire nation, without teaching them English first. I believe our industry has a critical role to play in lifting the national low self-esteem that plagues us a nation. We must go back to telling true cultural stories that will move the heart of consumers to engage profitably with clients’ brands.
In the same way that Niger Deltan comedy, Nollywood and Nigerian music have travelled the world, influencing the way the world see Nigeria, advertising must do the same. Martin Weigel, Head of Planning at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, talks about slow culture and fast culture. Fast culture is about genre of music, hairstyles, tattoos and Instagram followership. They are ephemeral and transient. Slow culture is about the deep beliefs, values, and attitudes of a people. Those take multiple generations to change. We must tap into the riches of slow culture, so we can take the global stage with Nigerian advertising, not with Western advertising done by Nigerians.
Let me illustrate my point with the lyrics of the song from a popular artist, Davido. In his song, “If’, he croons:
‘If I tell you say I love you,
My money, my body na your own ooo Baby,
30 billion for the account ooo Versace and Gucci for your body ooo Baby…’
This track resonated so well with the ladies because of the marriage between slow and fast culture. The genre of music was fast culture, but the lyrics was slow culture. In Nigeria, the culture is such that when you adore a woman, you must adorn her with your wealth. This is because the African woman is a media channel for the man to communicate his wealth to society. This is a paradigm that is uniquely African. If Davido can tap into that, why can’t we tap into so much more to build African brands and clients’ brands that endure?
In closing, as we launch IAA Nigeria chapter today, to work in consonance with other industry bodies, I have tried to state the 3 things I believe we as must address as an industry. In essence, I believe we need to GET SKILLED, GET PAID, and STAY PROUD.
Feyi Olubodun is the Chief Executive Officer at Insight Publicis Nigeria. He is also the author of “The Villager: How Africans Consume Brands”