Africa Rising: New power and potential

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With a strong brand presence in Ghana, Coca-Cola was among Africa Rising's sponsors.
With a strong brand presence in Ghana, Coca-Cola was among Africa Rising's sponsors.

Fresh from an industry conference in Ghana, Boko Inyundo and Paul Rajput describe how big brands are taking the continent seriously.

ACCRA, GHANA — Is Africa rising, or has it risen already? Or has it only risen for some and not for others? Or has Africa not risen at all?

That is how Seni Adetu, former CEO of Guinness Nigeria plc summarized the topics explored by global leaders of brands, advertising agencies, the media and regulators during an inspirational leadership conference April 27 and 28 under the banner "Africa Rising – the New Consumer Generation – What’s Coming Next?"

The forum was hosted by the International Advertising Association (IAA) and the Advertising Association of Ghana (AAG) and officially opened by John Mahama, president of the Republic of Ghana, who was himself a marketing communications professional early in his career.

While opinions were mixed about the extent to which Africa is rising, we came away with some observations no doubt also informed by our experiences at the law firm Lewis Silkin, advising our clients on a range of legal matters including mergers and acquisitions across sub-Saharan Africa.

Market confidence in West Africa was certainly palpable, and the discussions we had with various industry stakeholders, as well as the many brilliant presentations we witnessed, lead us to believe that four areas are key to future progress of the advertising and marketing industry in Africa.

The four areas are: Revenue, Regulation, Reputation and Research — the four "R’s" we believe will be key to Africa Rising.

So, taking each in turn and providing context for each as gleaned from the conference.

1. Revenue. Most are aware by now that Africa’s fast-growing markets and improving macroeconomic fundamentals are proving attractive to investors. With its large reserves of natural resources as well as its diversifying economies and transformation through structural and regulatory reforms, Africa has registered strong and sustained GDP growth.

Many anticipate further market stimulation through regional integration, public investment in infrastructure, increased agricultural production and a buoyant services sector.

In fact, many of this conference’s sponsors are widely recognized for their pursuit of growth in Africa, notably Ecobank, Coca-Cola, Vodafone, MTN, Unilever and Moneygram. In addition, advertisers such as Diageo, KFC, Walmart, Nestle, Danone and India's Bharti Airtel telecoms are all taking African expansion seriously.

This has spurred a local talent hunt by both marketers and agencies as they gear up their Africa operations.

With explosive growth in advertising spend by major global brands in Africa, the major advertising networks’ appetite for establishing affiliate agreements, or for acquiring such operations, grows concomitantly.

One debate among delegates at the conference related to the role of multinationals and global advertising networks in building the capacity of the local advertising industry.

Many of the speakers and local delegates held affiliations with one, or in some cases more than one, global advertising agency network. Many participants lauded the role the networks play in training and up-skilling local practitioners.

However, there were some in the audience who voiced concerns about the potential for capital flight once affiliations were struck or local industry consolidation was stimulated by the major networks.

Interestingly, some delegates also advocated for the growth of African brands cross-border, many seeing the regional scalability of locally owned brands as being key to local, independent agencies growing revenues across Africa’s borders via these clients and this leading to these agencies becoming even more attractive propositions for the large global advertising holding companies.

2. Regulation. Progress has certainly been made in West Africa’s local and regional brand management and advertising industry. Proving that point was the impressive talent on show at this conference among representatives of local brands and independent advertising agencies.

However, the past few years of economic growth, rising demand for advertising from brands, deepening penetration of the Internet, mobile connectivity and increasing competition from new entrants helped inspire the undercurrent of debate over imminent regulatory reform in Ghana.

This includes a proposed new licensing regime to ensure quality and professionalism in line with a global standards as well as new entry and operational guidelines for foreign practitioners, like the ones already put in place in Nigeria by the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) through its Committee on Advertising Practice Reforms (ACARP).

This desire to improve industry standards seemed to have widespread support among delegates at the conference. At the same time, the plan drew mixed reactions from what appeared to be a core group of younger, possibly more digital-savvy, entrepreneurs eager to ensure such regulatory reform was not simply a protectionist reaction by the "old guard" looking to raise barriers to entry for new, perhaps more agile, entrants.

Some voices from the floor warned that such pushback could, potentially, stunt the progress of the Ghanaian advertising industry as it seeks to serve brands in the context of Africa’s mobile and technology evolution.

3. Reputation. Nurturing and maintaining reputation by behaving as a socially responsible brand will be key for any organization seeking to operate successfully in African markets.

Corporate citizenship in Africa will undoubtedly attract a variety of stakeholders’ attention given that brands in Africa operate in a context where poverty, conflict and weak government institutions tend to be more pronounced.

Arguably the best presentation over the course of the conference was made by Yaw Nsarkoh, senior vice president of Unilever Nigeria, who advocated for a more balanced perspective on whether Africa had, as yet, risen.

While clearly passionate about Africa’s potential, Nsarkoh emphasized that brands needed to adapt appropriately to African markets by working alongside African consumers to improve their lives.

One example he gave was Unilever campaigning to get consumers to brush their teeth twice a day, thereby catalyzing improvement in dental hygiene in the region while growing the toothpaste market. This echoed similar sentiments at a global level over the past few years from Unilever CEO Paul Polman and Keith Weed, its chief marketing officer.

It also chimed with the aspirations underpinning Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan launched in 2010. This aims to double the size of the Unilever business while reducing the company’s environmental footprint and increasing its positive social impact in an increasingly resource-constrained world.

4. Research. Ilana Melzer, one of the co-founders of Eighty20 Consulting, championed the importance of data and the role of quantitative, as well as qualitative, research in ensuring government policy-makers, brands and advertising agencies better understand Africa’s consumers, the size of markets and the profile of demand across a range of products and services.

She emphasized that the smarter collection and interpretation of data from research would stimulate more creative campaigns anchored in real insight that better resonates with consumers, thereby helping brands with their positioning in African markets.

Furthermore, Jarrod Eckstein, Managing Director, Unit5, The Creative Counsel, South Africa’s largest advertising group, highlighted how a better grasp of traditional and digital media consumption trends in Africa would enable advertising agencies and brands to more effectively reach Africa’s consumers across a plethora of channels.

So, is Africa rising, or has it risen already? Or has it only risen for some and not for others? Or has Africa not risen at all?

When it comes to the four "R’s," we would concur with the CEO of Vodafone Ghana, Haris Broumidis, who said that when it comes to Africa, "we can see the glass is half plenty." Africa is brim-full with potential, and all stakeholders must look to harness this potential collaboratively with an eye toward the common good.

Key to this will be how brands and agencies generate revenue and invest profits in innovation and sustained growth, how regulation is applied and enforced, whether reputation is front and center of brands’ engagement with consumers and markets, and whether data from research is appropriately mined and interpreted.

Boko Inyundo is a business development manager, and Paul Rajput is a corporate partner at Lewis Silkin.

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