Journalism in the service of society

Production of broadcast commercials in Nigeria: Issues and challenges

 (Being text of a keynote presented at the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON])Webinar on “Producing Advertisements and Commercials in Nigeria: Issues and Challenges,” October 22, 2021)

‘A lot of brand custodians and clients talk about encouraging local talent and reflecting more cultural nuances in their visual narratives. Now is our decisive moment to activate a shift that prepares us for the future we deserve and demand. But we cannot keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Globalization and glocalization are two sides of the same coin.  In this post-pandemic economy the big lesson is simply this: globalization opens markets and delivers numbers, securing and empowering supply chains and capacities is what makes markets viable and profits sustainable’

IT really is a priviledge to be invited to speak and I thank you for the honour of your attention. I have been asked to offer my views on Production of Broadcast Commercials in Nigeria: Issues and Challenges. It is a subject with which I am familiar and in which I am very invested. In the interest of full-disclosure, I own and operate a Film production company and making TV commercials is one of the services we offer. I also produce a lot of entertainment programming and TV drama as well as corporate videos and issue-based documentaries. Of all the services we offer at Zuri24 Media, producing commercials is infact the least lucrative but the one to which I bring a special passion for excellence because it is how my career began and a lot of the storytelling capacity and process discipline that have brought some success were acquired in the course of my 13year career working in advertising and brand storytelling. I have thus grappled with issues and challenges of making broadcastcommercials in Nigeria for the length of my career as a Content Producer. I have in the course of that witnessed the evolution of technology and the tools of production from the days of U-matic and betacam tapes to the digital servers and systems that we have today. I have seen the emergence, expansion and decline of several of our indigenous production houses because I served two terms as President of ITPAN from 2002-2006. I have also witnessed the global explosion of our music industry and our film industry from what can only be described as guerilla theatres in Surulere in the mid-90s into one of the largest and most celebrated creative industries in the world today. 

2.     And yes, I was there in advertising when most of our radio and television commercials were written and produced locally and when we began the search for the ‘golden fleece’ abroad – and by that I mean the advertising industry’shunger to create ‘world-class commercials.’ It began with big brands espousing the need for globalization and needing to create brand stories that could travel. It was a period when a lot of foreign creative directors and even production companies were working with our agencies. The truth be told, the quality of our productions and the process that delivered them provided ample evidence for the argument to produce abroad. In my time at McCann Lagos, I supervised production of quite a few of those commercials that were made in Capetown or Johannesburg or Brazil or Los-Angeles or the UK. The end-product was simply superior in quality, the process was also professional and the professionals that I worked with were clearly skilled and artistic in their interpretations of our scripts. The operating environment of the industry in Nigeria at the time clearly needed us to rethink, re-invest, not just in equipment and resources but also in the professionalization of our personnel and processes. We needed better writers and directors. We needed better musicians to create our jingles. We needed better actors and models to be the faces of our brands. But than anything else, we needed to professionalize our production processes such that it was merit-based, ethical and artistically inclined. The biggest challenge really was not the advertising industry itself which needed these services which in itself it wasn’t equipped to deliver. The advertising industry needed a creative industry that was developed enough to deliver the quality of artistic interpretation, the quality of technical resources and the quality of craftsmanship that could deliver world-class broadcast commercials. It simply didn’t exist. Nollywood was not ready. Our music production wasn’t quite there yet. Our performers and professionals behind and in front of camera battled with numerous challenges of poor training, poor facilities. And fundamentally the infrastructural disfunction of Nigeria impacted our capacities to deliver the right quality of product that could compete internationally. 

3.     I think it is important in this conversation to understand all that as a fact of why, for more than 2 decades since, some of the best and most memorable broadcast commercials in Nigeria were either produced entirely abroad or foreign producers and crew were imported to Nigeria to film them here and post-produce them abroad. I say that to acknowledge the genesis of the flight of broadcast production of commercials abroad, not to justify it. Because while the absence of the skill-levels and resources needed to locally deliver quality ads provided a reason to produce elsewhere, we also neglected our responsibility to fix it. That is what makes it unjustifiable, two decades later. 

4.     Brand marketing and advertising is a sector of the economy far more important than many others not just because of its contributions to the GDP and employment of labour, it is as well a cultural branding platform from which identity and national pride is projected. Most successful broadcast commercials reflect pop-culture, regurgitate folklores and leverage tribe stories. The value systems, worldviews and political cleavages of nations can be deduced from a snapshot of their brand stories. Needless to say that broadcast commercials have been known to influence language, fashion, food and many areas of consumer lifestyles.

So really, it requires no argument that ideally the creation and production of these sorts of culturally influential platforms ought to be locally sourced and produced. If not only for the prevention of capital flight as we have experienced but also from safeguarding the authenticity of our cultural stories. Regardless of how sophisticated the outcomes of the ads we have produced abroad or by foreign companies and professionals, it is unjustifiable because the price we have paid as a sector and as a country has been much higher than its rewards.

Several production companies have folded simply from business attrition. Where are the Cinekraft and Media International and Scharf Weisberg or Swift production companies of 20+ years ago? Of course, the quality of investment in equipment and the technology of production have diminished to their lowest especially given that producing broadcast commercials have always required high-end technology to compete. The process of selecting Producers for the few commercials locally produced is fraught with uncertainty and corruption. And somehow, the quantum growth and global success of our film industry, our music industry or the literary exploits of our poets and authors seems to be happening in a parallel universe to larger majority of the adverts we broadcast. And that is because the commercials produced locally are usually those with inadequate budgets and inadequate preparation time. So it is no surprise that they end up poorly. And become yet another example of why some argue that we should continue to produce abroad. 

5.     The point is at what point do we embrace the important responsibility of developing the resources, the creative capacities, the technology and the equity that will make our brand storytelling artistic products that are authentic to our aspirations as a country and in which we are self-sufficient.? We cannot continue to evade the hard work necessary to build a world-class broadcast production industry by outsourcing projects. We have done it for over 2 decades, and clearly we have also outsourced, in the bargain, a lot of capital, killed many local production companies and in many ways diluted the cultural quotient of our content. To reverse course we have to be intentional in the national interest. If we have learnt nothing from the lock-down during the COVID-19 Pandemic, we know now that it is a huge security risk for any country not to be self-sufficient in the supply chain of its most critical industries. Infact the creative industries of every nation must recognize that a new future awaits in how its business does business. Budgets of commercial productions are impacted by higher insurance costs. Travel time for crews are longer. Filming times are longer too. Tariffs on production equipment will continue to rise. Without a doubt, COVID protocols will complicate much of production processes abroad for quite a bit of time to come.

6.     That may be our call to invest now in developing our own capacities. We must be deliberate to understand that development in any sector means productivity and growth of local content, training and re-training of the human resources and capacity and the careful retention of capital in the local economy is what guarantees long term viability.  The post covid-19 future of Nigeria’s economy will soon make outsourcing productions abroad ever more prohibitive budget-wise. The negative trending of the naira against the dollar will inevitably continue as long we produce nothing locally. We must begin now the necessary steps to rebuild local resources and empower the human capital needed to upskill the quality of outcomes from our locally produced commercials. 

7.     There cannot be a better time to do it than now. Outside the advertising industry, the creative landscape of Nigeria is experiencing a renaissance unlike at any time in history. In many ways, we have embraced technology and the opportunities it brings to connect our creativity and imagination on many levels, across borders, into the diaspora; and that is happening in our music industry. We can now have a creative in our music industry who has won a Grammy. That’s massive progress. It’s happening in  Nollywood as well. So many films and TV series are being licensed or commissioned by global platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Africa Magic etc. Not to speak of thousands who have YOUTube channels and are aggregating massive numbers of subscribers. T

echnology is really doing a lot of good in terms of giving access to as many of our young people as possible to create and to tell their stories and use their talent. I also think in terms of the technical quality of the work we have been doing lately, I am very impressed. You have to be impressed with how much our young people are creating on all kinds of platforms especially in areas like animation and design. We are enlarging, expanding, and are reaching out globally. And doing the work locally, using local resources and retaining local capital to reinvest locally for growth. The music makers, the TV content creators, the social media skit Producers, the Nollywood filmmakers and storytellers of today are brimming with talent and expertise at every level and our agencies should be at the fore-front appropriating the best talents and the best storytellers from all these industries into making our advertising products globally competitive on its own merit.

8.     We need to prioritize the frequent use of our local creative power. This is the best way to help it grow. We have to find talented professionals and appropriate them into the brand story production processes. Technology  through the open access of social media guarantees that emerging talents would come from irregular places. There is nothing really unique about the storyteller; the only thing that is always unique is the story. We need to aggregate and appropriate every talent that we can find that can contribute to us making or originating the best stories, andthe most engaging content. And as we expand opportunity for a new generation of storytellers, we can be confident that technology takes away all our limitations.  We have young animators out there in Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt who can create animation stories for brands that tap into our ancient folklores. We have tons of writers who can create and translate our brand stories into many of the over 100 languages in Nigeria. We have a great music heritage of different genres; We need to appropriate all our cultural assets in our storytelling to build a distinctly Nigerian brand of content that is made in Nigeria for the world. 

9.     The regulatory bodies in marketing and advertising must also embrace and recognize the industry Guilds and associations of advertising commercials Producers. I am delighted to see the President of the Independent Television Association of Nigeria (ITPAN) on the panel of this discussion. The challenge of rebuilding and growing best practices and global standards of production quality needs a Marshal plan that must be a collaboration of APCON, AAN and a body like ITPAN. In my time as President of ITPAN we created together with the AAAN a Handbook of TV Commercials Production in Nigeria. Sir Steve Omojafor as then AAAN President gave it enthusiastic support and promotion. This may be a good time to revisit that document as a first step to sanitizing the process of commissioning and producing TV commercials. We need to do the hard job of educating and equipping and upskilling with targeted training in Broadcast commercials production. It is an investment we should have been making decades ago. The training institutions of AAAN and APCON must embrace this mission as a part and parcel of defending our national imperative for self-sufficiency in a critical sector. 

10.  Finally, we need to work harder to interest our brand owners in the value of a little patience, and a bit more risk-taking in the process of growing local industry capacity. We will need patience and we will need resourcefulness in this path. We will need long-term investments of trust, both in the agencies and the creative resources available locally. Our agencies cannot be brave on their own because in the end advertising is a team sport. We all have to be pulling in the same direction and we all have to embrace the responsibility for growing the supply chain of creativity serving our brands in this market. A lot of brand custodians and clients talk about encouraging local talent and reflecting more cultural nuances in their visual narratives. Now is our decisive moment to activate a shift that prepares us for the future we deserve and demand. But we cannot keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Globalization and glocalization are two sides of the same coin.  In this post-pandemic economy the big lesson is simply this: globalization opens markets and delivers numbers, securing and empowering supply chains and capacities is what makes markets viable and profits sustainable. 

I thank you all for your kind attention.

*Odugbemi, rpa.,fta, is CEO Zuri24 Media Lagos, and, Academy Director, Multichoice Talent Factory (West Africa)

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