Yesterday (last week Wednesday March 15, 2017) was a very interesting day not because of the drama in Abuja but of the conversations in Lagos. At the 5th Brand Journalists Association of Nigeria (BJAN) World Consumer Day event, David Okeme, Advertisers Association of Nigeria President, delivered a seminar paper on Consumer Rights in the Digital Age.

He showed us the power and opportunities of the digital space and, on the flipside, the challenges that come with it in a fast changing world. He brought to the fore the challenges to privacy in a data driven world and the fact that in these parts, we really do not have laws that offer any real protection besides the blanket cover of the constitution. We also have the NCC regulation which offers some protection from your data being shared. Today with your BVN linked to all your accounts, banks can access any account of a ‘defaulting’ customer and pull out money without recourse to him. That is the flipside of data.

Many are also unaware of the involvement of robots in social media campaigns amplifying reach so when you speak of eyeballs driving selection, you may actually be engaging more machines than humans. He of course also shared the danger of robots placing your ads on sites based on eyeballs as you may land where you certainly don’t want your brand to be.

My contribution as a discussant centred more on letting people recognise that they have the primary responsibility for their own protection because they need protection from both government and business. Knowledge is key. You need to know before you buy. Look well before you leap. You also need to be aware of your rights so you can make demands. But if redress takes forever in coming or does not come at all, your best bet is to avoid falling victim in the first space. However, as David also stated and I agree totally, there is need for government, business and other stakeholders to work together to improve the laws that protect consumers because we are all consumers one way or the other.

David Okeme, Sola Salako, the moderator and Kayode Oluwasona, AAAN President, and my co-discussant then moved to the second event billed for the day. The ADVAN Industry Dialogue which focused on industry trends and implication for members, a very good initiative which, ADVAN must be given credit for.

I was privileged to have been invited in a personal capacity and it was good hearing from the larger industry. Davide Okeme set the tone for what promised to be a very stimulating session considering the calibre of people on the panels. There were three discussion sessions on Regulation, Advertising and Media to explore trends in the industry. The regulatory session featured Mr Tony Agenmonmen the new NIMN President who highlighted what the new EXCO is doing to take the NIMN to where it belongs by raising the standard of the practitioners and by extension the practice.

Registrar/CEO, Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, Alhaji Bello Kankarofi spoke of the need for practitioners to take responsibility and drive regulatory compliance through self-effort rather than enforcement. I was surprised though that the issue of the continued absence of an APCON Council did not come up or perhaps it did after as I had to leave before the event officially closed due to another commitment.

The A-List cast for the advertising session excited me as I looked forward to a very stimulating discussion but was disappointed as nothing really new was shared. That agencies and clients produce great advertising when they choose to work together in a collaborative relationship is not new. So also is the allegation by clients that Client Service personnel are no more than ‘errand boys’ or girls’ today with very little value added. I heard this as a Trainee at Insight in 1989 as to the kind of client service man you must not become. So co-creation and the need to improve the quality of client facing staff hardly qualify as ‘trends’ in my opinion.

There really was an opportunity to elevate the discourse and challenge us with new insights but this was sadly missed. I hope this criticism of my original constituency will be taken in good faith as I look forward to a mouth-watering intellectual session next time.  Now if the advertising side of the industry did not live up to billing the experiential side was missing in action. As the youngest sector to organise itself, the experiential sector is struggling to find its voice in the larger industry so pardon us if we are still preoccupied with self-proclamation. That is where we are in our journey.

Good things don’t come to those who wait. You better speak up or lose out. If no one invites you to where good things are happening you better invite yourself. Thankfully, I was invited in my personal capacity and I did speak up at the risk of sounding like a bad record at ADVAN events. EXMAN is a toddler among adult sectoral professional groups so we should be indulged. But seriously, given the budgets allocated to that arm, it is high time advertisers get more value for their advertising spend.

Experiential agencies can offer a lot in strategy development because we interface directly with consumers across categories and across the country so gain a lot of consumer insight. One is not bandying figures indiscriminately when we assert that experiential actually reach an estimated 20,000,000 consumers annually. My estimate is based on 40 average-to-big-sized agencies reaching an average of 500,000 consumers annually. Active reach and those data captured cannot be less than 25% of that. This is a varied audience across demographics, psychographics, sectors and categories. The reach in itself is about 15% to 20% of the Nigerian population depending on which one you are using as we have the unique feature of having several population figures. There is a lot of useful information to mine from such interaction and hopefully someday we will start being taken seriously when it comes to strategy development.

It is interesting to note that whilst consumers are shattering myths about media consumption habits and what content they want to be engaged with, this didn’t feature strongly as a trend although it was mentioned in passing following the contribution of Emeka Okeke with his 10 facts. Media selection is now driven more by behaviour (what consumers like) than by demographics and psychographics’. The media industry has woken up to the realm of experience where we engage people by what they like (passion points) and where they go (consumer path). Of course, this is what plays out in a democratised space like social media where content of the most absurd variety is holding audiences captive. It is experience that drives both physical and virtual engagement.

Experience being content: the media session fared a lot better than the advertising side although Alhaji Kankarofi asked a valid point that in my opinion was not satisfactorily answered. Why are we having a cookie cutter solution with the advent of digitalisation? The truth is that with all the hype about digitalization, we still have a huge gap that needs to be addressed through traditional media and not much of this was said.  Majority of those who carry smart phones are not doing anything smart on it. A huge number of our demographics are not on the internet and even if there not active so what new ways are we engaging them. (We are exploring Nomadic Cinema as a way of tracking and engaging a highly mobile target through a passion point – movies and you are welcome to reach me on this).

The issue of consumer resistance to conventional advertising messages came up too with ad blocking apps and options now available with the result  that reach is not exactly what it is estimated to be. Dr Ken, in his usual village humour made a valid point about clients complaining about the quality of recommendations – How can a client that is No 1 in its category be dealing with an agency that is No 34 and expect great results? Clients with ‘Mickey Mouse’ agencies should take responsibility for what they get. That is straight shooting from the hip and the kind of conversations we should be having in the open.

Being a first edition (not sure if there were earlier ones), there is a lot of positives to take from the interaction. We are eyeballing our issues and we can progress into elevating the discourse. Of course, there needs to be better preparation on the part of the discussants so we don’t just wing it. There should also be a clear agenda to push from a sectoral perspective so what we take out at the end of the day is a global picture of  the trends driving the industry at every given time and seeing where there is connectivity and opportunity to take our industry to another level.