I’m not going to be popular once this post is out in the open. But honestly, I do not care. I have to document this moment in time as – hopefully – a starting point of an uphill task – building a honest, creative, result-producing advertising scene in Uganda.
You got the hint – not all is well and I will give you the highlights. To some, a slap on the face; to others, a chance to raise their voice too and acknowledge our problems and shortcomings.
My first words go to the agencies. As an owner of one of the oldest agencies in Kampala, I’ve seen people. Two major concerns cut across: Loyalty and Quality. I will criticise – it doesn’t mean that blissful examples aren’t there. But we have a lot to do if we are to call all our advertising people loyal and great.
I know quite a number of people who sign job contracts with one agency only to be able to take that job contract to another agency to negotiate a better deal. Not once, several times, I had people going on sick leave only to find out they are working with another agency or have started a private business. Then, numerous rumour-mongers going around telling who cares to listen how working with me is unbearable in order to get a job opportunity elsewhere, only to be employed and thrown out promptly after the new agency finds out the levels of incompetence and deviance.
Which brings the issue of Quality. I once employed a super-expensive Client Service Director who, in over three years of tenure failed to sign a single client to the agency. You can probably blame the agency but not all that way: not even a corner duka, a startup business, not even a pro bono job? Like, nothing? A great guy to have a conversation with but not much commercial quality there.
Or an Art Director who refused to implement InDesign for page layouts, threatening to resign if Creative Director nudges him any further. He was happy laying out outdoor artworks for a major telecom (over a hundred different layouts and sizes) and even books in single Illustrator file, adding artboards and artboards until his files became so heavy they took ages to open and save. And he thought he was way too hot for our agency. Needles to say, we do all our pages-heavy stuff in InDesign.
A media manager who couldn’t insert formulas into Excel spreadsheet. A Finance Manager who consistently submitted VAT returns late. Whole teams of people who refused to complete ECDL that company was paying for – because Office packages were too difficult to comprehend. English spelling and punctuation – the essence of communication work, one large disaster across the board.
But enough hammering of agency people – we all anyway fake it till we make it. Clients are a different ball game altogether. International clients arrive with their standards, brand guidelines and global agencies. Marketing and Comms Managers are head-hunted, from competing brands to non-related brands. Not one is recruited straight from the first-class marketing school because we don’t really have any. Marketing schools, that is. We have a couple of universities that teach the basics of marketing but do not teach the way you should think for the benefit of your organisation, how to conceptualise great products, how to create objects and goods that people will desire.
What happens to most people happens to marketers too. They slide into the job and instead of learning and growing, they start proving their competence. The little of it that they have. By rejecting perfectly good creative work; sending amends in form of changing text to bulletpoints, then bulletpoints to text in the next revert. We had Same artwork sent back to the agency twenty-one times to reduce or increase the shades of gray in the creative for newsprint. The more we fought for the light shade, the darker the client wanted it. Once printed, it was near black – just as we told them so. But even then – they blamed the flop on the agency because agencies are there to be blamed whenever convenient, which is a full-time job.
Head of Communication and Marketing – a super title. But you are a working mother, for example, and you prefer to go home after work, although every other night there is a networking event. Or, even better, your own company is organising events where you simply don’t turn up because they take place after hours. You refuse to nominate a colleague to attend in your place because you are afraid they will shine. Your brand misses out on image building and networking opportunities but you are fine, you work your seven hours a day and a lunch break with your office buddies.
But you are the good one – your colleagues from other companies use all available time to cut deals on the side. Outdoor companies pay them commission, printers pay them commission, radio stations pay them commission, merchandising companies pay them commission, experiential companies pay them commission and the latest craze – digital agencies – pay them commission. A cut from every pie. at the eternal expense of excellence. How can you ask all these people for any accountability after they have handed you an envelope? Month after month or campaign after campaign – you get your cut and you close your eyes a little. Or just enough to get an average job every time.
This is why we don’t remember a single advertising campaign that had really made a difference.
Clients who call for pitches knowing well it will be a formality. Clients who boot agencies because their next agency has more to offer, personally. Clients who contract friends who don’t deliver, so someone has to lose their job. Usually the marketing manager because ultimately, if your campaigns are not making money your bosses won’t listen to your excuses – you are supposed to be managing the agency so why aren’t you?
Media houses: when did it ever happen that you refused to run a really poorly produced ad? Misleading ad? Ad delivered in poor language, poor taste? When did you say no to utter rubbish we are often bombarded with?
Consumers: I pity you. For the torture you’re going through, being exposed to so much of truly poor advertising. For not having the forum to act and stop this torture. For not having a voice. For consistently being underestimated by the marketing managers who, before they even see the creative, already say “this is way too clever for Ugandans, dumb it down”. For your unsatisfied desire to build emotional brand associations. For not feeling any brand love from anyone. For all the squeaking and shouting that hurts your ears every minute. For all the mispronounced English in morning airing of beer and booze ads, for way too much sex in adverts during kids’ school drive time. I pity you for having to endure this creative limbo that we’re in. On behalf of the whole industry that is consistently failing to treat you with respect and as intelligent human beings, I am sorry.
But I promise, we can do better and we will do better. I challenge everyone in communications industry to look inside for areas that are lacking. Let’s learn and improve. There is room for this, always. Let’s do it so we can be proud of our potential, our hard work and our brilliance. We owe this to ourselves and to millions of people who are watching, listening and believing.