Besides cutting travel times significantly and offering scenic views of farmlands, Addis-Adama Expressway has more to display. As the competition among companies gets fierce, they try to seize any opportunity to publicise themselves. The recent boom in billboard and other forms of advertising has spread its wings over the expressway as well. If someone is wondering what to set their eyes on the next journey, they should be ready to be bedazzled with adverts and infomercials, reports FASIKA TADESSE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
When someone is on a cross-country journey, he/she will look at the trees or bare land, with or without deep thought, chat with the next passenger or sleep until the destination arrives.
But this might not work when someone travel on the 78Km Addis-Adama Expressway which extends from Tulu Dimtu to Adama. Travelers are forced to pay attention to the billboards that are displayed ahead of the roads. And one cannot ignore them because of the position and size of the Ads.
This phenomenon is not a new one. It has stayed for some months beginning in April but has snowballed very recently.
Three years ago Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegne and the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang inaugurated the state-of-the-art Addis-Adama Expressway in a colourful ceremony, transmitted live on the state broadcasting media. It was a groundbreaking achievement for a country with no experience in toll roads.
Five months after its inauguration, the road became operational and targeted to serve the nation for 20 years. The expressway along with its dual feeders was constructed at a total cost of 11.2 billion dollars, 43pc of which was financed from the government’s coffer while the Chinese EXIM Bank covered the balance.
The expressway, which starts at Tulu Dimtu, 2.8Km off the main road in Qality, links Dukem, Bishoftu (Debre Zeit) and Modjo, before reaching Adama. Of the expressway’s tollgates, Addis Abeba and Adama each have one, while the remaining are located at six interchanges.
The 31m wide, six-lane expressway took five years for completion. It cuts the total time to connect the two cities from two hours to just 45 minutes. To link the communities detached due to the new highway, the government has constructed 34 underpasses and 43 overpasses.
The tollgates operate with a payment ranging from a maximum of 70 Br to 10 Br for the shortest distance. It is managed by the Ethiopian Toll Roads Enterprise (ETRE), one of the 13 state-owned enterprises operating under the Ministry of Transport (MoTr). The Enterprise hired over 600 permanent and temporary employees to manage the highway.
Out of the 24 companies which have more than one Ad, steel manufacturing enterprises such as, East Steel, C & E Brothers Steel Factory, Sino Steel Plc, Habesha Steel and Adama Steel Factory are the front runners.
Only seven types of vehicles- which differ based on the axle type- pass through this road. These will be inspected by surveillance cameras installed every two-kilometres.
The expressway has seven toll plazas to collect money from the drivers, 48 gates on the highway and three checkpoints to thwart cargo overloading on freight vehicles. Eight large and 77 smaller bridges are also part of the expressway. The road has eight tollbooths with surveillance cameras and includes lighting and fences along the entire 78Km stretch. Tollbooths are controlled electronically and operated by technicians.
For the past three years, a total of 15 million vehicles passed through this road helping the Enterprise generate 480 million Br. On top of that, during the first quarter of this fiscal year, a total of 1.9 million vehicles paid 58 million Br to pass through the tolls.
Beyond the payments from drivers, the Enterprise distinguishes another source of revenue renting overpasses bridges, the tollgates and the booths for advertisers who wish to publicise their products or services to the passengers in the 21,000 vehicles crossing the highway daily. On the other hand, cars stop for 15 to 30 seconds at toll plazas on initial and final points, respectively.
During the first quarter of this fiscal year, the Enterprise managed to generate 1.3 million Br from such advertisements. One company can rent up to four slots.
But the idea sprang up from the advertisers and not from the Enterprise.
“We were approached by different companies to rent out the areas for advertisements,” said Zehara Mohammed, marketing and communications team leader of the Enterprise. “Subsequently after conducting a study, we announced a tender for the slots.”
However, the response was not satisfactory as only a limited number of advertisers submitted their bids. The tender was announced for the second time, and the response was as cold as the previous round, drawing the interest of limited companies that rushed to occupy prime locations. The tender was cancelled.
Later on, companies started to flock towards the Enterprise with a request of getting slots for Ads.
“They told us that they were not at all informed about the bidding process,” said Melaku Lelisa, a senior finance expert at the Enterprise. This led the Enterprise to consider availing additional spaces for advertisements.
Since then, the Enterprise is renting out spaces for advertisers in three spots: on the bridges, on the toll booths and tollgates. Currently, about 24 companies have rented spaces to display their Ads. It has designated 77 places for advertisement and is working on marketing strategies to sell the spots for potential advertisers.
The Ad slots have an area coverage of 92sqm on the bridges, 1.26sqm on the booths and 1.1sqm on the tollgate. For the 92sqm slots, the company charges 137,353 Br for 13 months with a one month preparation period. All slots have the same price, despite their location.
“The spots between Tulu Dimtu and Dukem are fully occupied,” said Melaku. “People believe that the business transaction is high between the two cities.”
Out of the 24 companies which have more than one Ad, steel manufacturing enterprises such as, East Steel, C & E Brothers Steel Factory, Sino Steel Plc, Habesha Steel and Adama Steel Factory are the front runners. Additionally, Berhan International Bank, Cooperative Bank of Oromia, Pro Touch Printing Advert, Marketing & Advertising Service and Kaleb Service Farmers House are among the advertisers.
Berhan, established eight years ago with an authorised capital of 300 million Br, uses different outlets such as radio, television, newspaper and magazines to publicise its services. But now it is diverting to new modes, such as displaying Ads on metre taxis.
“We want to avoid the conventional ways of advertisement,” said Solomon Assefa, vice president of strategy and corporate services at Berhan.”Therefore, we eye different advertisement platforms.”
The Bank, which managed to gross half a billion Birr profit by serving clients in its 161 branches, has currently four advertisements on the bridges and at every toll booth.
“We are receiving good responses,” he said.
The other user of this spot is Adama Steel Factory, which was established with a capital of 40 million Br in 2010 in Adama, Oromia Regional State. The Factory lies on a total area of 40,000sqm with 65 employees. It has Ads only on the tollgates and tollbooths.
The company targets to remain in people’s mind assuming they are well recognised by individuals who journey through this road. The Factory is bounded by the expressway and the Ethio-Djibouti railway.
Adama Steel uses three advertisement platforms such as print, broadcast media outlets, sponsoring construction related exhibition and the Addis Adama Expressway, according to its sales manager, Abdisa Terefe.
In a bid to avoid traffic accidents caused by the ADs, the Enterprise has set standards for the fonts, design, content and placement of the adverts. Last year, the number of people that died in car accidents declined by eight to 20.
For Geta Mekonnen, creative director at Astar Advertising Plc, this advertising platform is attractive for businesses as over 20,000 vehicles that pass through this road daily.
But he has a reservation over the visibility of the Ads as the road is a speedway.
“Travellers might pass through the road at high speeds, without even getting a glimpse of the Ads,” he said.
He also fears the irregularity of the displays, as there are no standards for outdoor advertisements in Ethiopia.
“If the Ads are not displayed in a well-organised manner, it will affect the image of the expressway, as is witnessed on the major roads in the capital,” he said.
Aisai Shicun Steel Pipe Plc is one of the front-running companies to display its advertisement on the expressway bridge, occupying 92sqm at the cost of 137,353 Br for 13 months.