In September 2022, ARCON banned the use of foreign models and voice-overs in advertising targeted at Nigerians from 1 January 2023.
What the ban means is that Heineken or Coke or MTN can no longer expose in Nigeria the same advertising it runs in say Cameroon or South Africa, if the advertising does not include Nigerian models or voice-over.
While the ban is not the biggest grouse The Advertisers Association of Nigeria (ADVAN) has with ARCON, it is nevertheless a source of concern for both advertisers and agencies. For ADVAN, the ban is another manifestation of ARCON’s partisan and overreaching powers.
ADVAN argues that the ban is antithetical to the government’s improving ease-of-doing-business agenda. Further, it will increase marketing costs which will ultimately be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices of goods. It also pushes Nigeria to be an isolationist state vis-a-vis the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
ARCON’s argument in support of the ban is three-legged.
One, ARCON argues that job and opportunity creation is a key agenda of the Buhari administration. And that tends to happen when advertising productions are done in Nigeria using Nigerians. Such productions create jobs throughout the line. Models earn money, voice-over artists earn money, sound engineers earn money, and caterers earn money. And on it goes through the chain. The ripple effect is positive on families and on the economy.
Two, ARCON argues that given the recent high-quality productions we see in Nigerian music videos and in Nollywood movies, there is no real justifiable basis for shooting TV commercials outside of Nigeria.
The third reason in support of the ban is to protect the profitability and health of the marketing communication industry, especially creative agencies, which seem to be haemorrhaging. It is, after all, the mandate of ARCON to ensure not just the survival but the thriving of the Marcom industry.
But is the ban well-considered or flawed? It is the latter. Allow me to espouse my position.
I understand the spirit of the ban. I support the sentiment. But the letter, the phrasing of the ban, is fraught. I’ll explain.
There’s a loophole in the phrasing of the ban. If the mandate is to use ‘Nigerian models or voice-overs in advertising targeted at Nigerians’, an advertiser and its foreign advertising agency have an easy way around this.
First, all the foreign agency needs to do is hire Nigerians living abroad to shoot the commercial abroad. There is a plethora of Nigerians living in Johannesburg, Nairobi, London or New York. The agency won’t have to step foot in Nigeria. They would not have created any jobs or opportunities for Nigerians living in Nigeria. But by the phrasing of the ban, they would have fulfilled ARCON’s requirement. Yet the desire of the ban is to create jobs and opportunities for Nigerians in Nigeria. This is obviously a loophole in the ban. It has to be plugged for the ban to make sense.
Second, there are such things as global brands. Global brands by definition cut across geographies. Often in product formulation, in marketing and in communication. They thrive on familiarity. And familiarity is aided by the uniformity of messaging and imagery across markets, many times using the exact same advertising across several markets. This is a standard global marketing practice. Nigeria can’t be an exception. If we like and want global brands in the country, we must also allow them the latitude to expose in Nigeria the same communication material they use in other markets. It is why they are a global brand.
Third, it is the case that the quality of TV production in Nigeria has improved tremendously. You only have to watch Nollywood and some of our locally-produced music videos. However, a TV commercial is not only about the quality of the picture.
Further, some types of productions require expertise, techniques and equipment that are not readily available in Nigeria. Product shots for alcoholic beverages, food products, automobiles and some types of computer-generated images (CGI) are a few of the productions whose expertise, technique and facilities requirement are not readily available in Nigeria. We need to leave wiggle room for these types of productions.
Several years ago, I was involved in TV commercials for an alcoholic beverage that required good pouring and liquid extrusion sequences. We did one in London and two years later another in Cape Town.
The technique and equipment used in achieving these shots were amazing and revelatory. Some good friends of mine also waxed lyrical about the CGI and shot techniques they witnessed in Cape Town shooting a commercial for a bank. Nigerian productions are simply not on this level. Yet this is the quality that many brands require in their advertising. A ban on such offshore productions robs many brands of this level of quality.
Check out some of the filming techniques in the video below.
Barring productions that involve special expertise, an easier way to ensure productions remain in Nigeria is to levy an “import duty” on offshore productions. Say a 35% or 40% levy on all such productions (yes, it has to be high to serve as a deterrent). So if a company goes abroad to shoot a TV commercial for $70K, it’ll have to pay ARCON a $24.5K or $28K levy before it can expose the TVC in Nigeria.
I have not met a CFO or CMO who will be happy to pay a 40% import levy on a TV commercial.
Over time, this levy should be a disincentive to shooting a TVC offshore.
How will ARCON enforce this levy? It’s easy. It will be at the point of requesting ARCON approval to run the ad. In the vetting form, ARCON will ask for the location of the shoot, name, address and contact details of the production house, name of the director, name of the producer, name of models etc. All entries in the form have to be filled in. Lest we forget, per the ARCON Act 2022, ARCON has the power to “investigate and compel public and private organisations to produce advertising and marketing communications related information.”
Sure the brand or agency can lie about these things on the form. But all ARCON needs is one scapegoat. Agency and client. When it withdraws an agency’s license and a $100K-TVC is canned, people will err on the side of caution.
But there are still many grey lines with the ban. What happens to the use of stock images in print, digital or OOH advertising? Are those banned too? What about buying and using foreign library music in radio and TV productions? So many questions, and very few answers.
ARCON should reevaluate this ban. The principal actor in the matter, the creative agencies, are against the ban. But more importantly, it has gaps. ARCON mustn’t throw the baby away with the bath water.