Adelaide McKelvey, managing director of Rest of Africa at Continental Outdoor Media recently spoke about the how improved technologies have changed the way out of home (OOH) companies do business on the African continent at the 56th FEPE (International out of home adverting association) Congress, titled ‘Your Audience is Waiting’. This gathering of OOH aficionados, known as the ‘Davos of Outdoor’ to its delegates, was held between 10-12 June in Budapest. The Congress this year brought together OOH professionals from 39 countries to discuss and debate the future direction of the OOH industry worldwide.
Technology has become the friend of out of home (OOH) advertising, and media owners in Africa have converted every challenge into an opportunity to benefit the medium. Life in Africa is ‘oddly different’ and there is great diversity in this large market that spans a large territory. Africa’s area covers 30 million square kilometres, the size of Africa can only be appreciated once you realise that the US, China, India and some European countries could easily snuggle up together as neighbours on the continent. Africa is a world of disparities.
When considering a billboard company in one or multiple markets across the African continent it is important to fully understand the complexities as well as the opportunities that present themselves. The interest in Africa extends beyond the abundance of minerals and resources. Marketers and advertisers are more interested in the 1.1-billion people and their spending power.
The challenge is how to target this audience intelligently, many of whom (36%), live on less than $1 a day, not to mention the challenge of addressing these people who speak over a thousand languages. Being a continent that has had more than 80 successful military coups, not every country in Africa is as inviting as it seems. Politics, war and terrorism are real in Africa.
Forty-four percent of the population is under the age of 15 and there is abundant opportunity and need for improved technology. With the help of 18 submarine cables and the introduction of Seacom, there are currently 53 million cell phone users in Africa and 44.3 million internet users. Multinational companies believe more than ever in the ‘African dream’. Africa is a melting pot of languages, cultures and beliefs, and offers a largely untapped market for foreign and local businesses. Urbanisation across the continent is on the increase and African and global brands alike are all hoping to participate in this land of new opportunity.
In the past the billboard’s greatest weakness has been its inability to transport a message to market at the speed of other traditional media rivals such as press, radio and television. Whilst it has enjoyed the benefit of ubiquity and impact, and even the power of illustration given its graphic ability to demonstrate in picture form the use of a product or service advertised to an often illiterate audience, in some deep rural markets of Africa, it has still taken a considerable time to print a poster, transport it to the market place and then flight it in the selected geographical location.
Digital OOH now offers advertisers speedy, if not instantaneous, messaging and opportunities for engagement with consumers across multiple markets. Many site owners are now transiting from static to digital panels, offering advertisers the opportunity to engage with consumers.
African marketers are aggressively adopting their media plans to include OOH, and media owners are responding to clients every brief, from dedicated location based network as initiated by Primedia Outdoor with clients like MTN and Coca- Cola. OOH needs to reach every touchpoint in a consumer’s day. Improved technology and connectivity has not only played a key role making OOH more flexible and efficient, it has and continues to improve the quality of the everyday life of the African consumer. It has also made a substantial difference in understanding and communicating with the masses.
Not only has mobile commerce enabled ‘online shopping and prepaid services from airtime to electricity, but interestingly Africa leads the way in the development and adoption of mobile banking through services such as MPesa (Pesa is the Swahili word for money). Customers deposit money credited to an account on their mobile phones and then by using SMS technology, transfer it to other users, or to stores for payment for goods and services. Fifteen percent of transactions in Africa are carried out via mobile banking versus 5% in the developed world.
While US president Barack Obama may have made his very first tweet in a little less than a month ago, in a small village in Kenya Chief Kariuki uses social media in his administrative work and for crime prevention. Now commonly known as the ‘Tweeting Chief’ he has 36 500 followers on Twitter. The chief uses his Twitter account to track down missing animals, to stop crime in the area and for general communication in the community. The tweets communicate simple messages from lost cows, to health services and job vacancies.
While world over we are seeing a migration from analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) – we believe that the OOH Industry in Africa has more to benefit from this transition than most first world countries. Nineteen countries in Africa have (officially or not officially) launched national DTT, and on launching, most markets have seen a substantial decline in audiences. Kenya for example lost 30% audience penetration. While this decline in viewership may represent a similar pattern internationally, the reality in Africa is different. The fact that only 5% of homes in Africa have access to DTT creates further opportunity or rationale for marketers to place their spend on OOH.
When it comes to operations, media owners on the continent have some interesting challenges. Not everything works as it should it Africa – and more than just the FIFA scandal – we too have our day to day problems that we have to contend with. Some of these include:
- The harsh realities of the climate and dealing with issues such as UV Rays and high levels of corrosion,
- The ongoing issues of load shedding – a euphemism for black outs
- Theft of flex faces
- Cost efficiencies to export goods to other countries. Bearing in mind that Africa as a unity does not exist, there are high tariffs for export duties across all markets that have forced media owners to find efficiencies on product development to compensate for these tariffs
In conclusion, it is clear to see that technology is a friend of OOH. Not only has it enabled billboard companies to compete with other traditional media in terms of ‘speed to market’ across in-excess of 30 million kilometers of land, with the conversion from static to digital , but it has afforded OOH media to complete with the likes of television in its ability to broadcast across multiple markets, delivering day part advertising. From improved lighting systems to solar technology and centralised diagnostics, as technologies advance, OOH companies in Africa will continue to enjoy cost efficiencies, and research and development on structural development.
Adelaide McKelvey is the managing director of Rest of Africa at Continental Outdoor Media.
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