Billboard Advertisement, Glimmer amid Uncertain Future

Constructing billboards and other advertisements has not been permitted to the private sector since 2012. There is no new directive issued by the Addis Abeba City Administration yet. But, from February to June 2017, the construction of billboards permitted for five months owing to a letter from the Mayor's office, paved way for billboard advertisers to erect more billboards than ever throughout the city's main routes, reports BERHANE HAILEMARIAM, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.

Esayas Gashaw, 34, owner of Esayas Advertising, located between Urael and Bambis Supermarket on Haile Gebre Selassie Avenue, started to struggle with life since he was nine – a time when he started to work as a bread distributor and newspaper vendor. He recognised his talent while scribbling sketches and painting at school.

With an initial capital of 53 Br, he started his work by purchasing five basic painting items, an art brush, and a second-hand steel table. After waiting for three months, he received his first printing order from a hotel owner for 200 Br. This is how Esayas joined the advertising market 12 years ago. Since then, he has developed his confidence and managed to raise a number of clients.

It was not long until he realised that he was doing things the difficult way.

“I developed my knowledge by imitating adverts posted in different locations and finally, I shifted my attention to billboard advertising,” he told Fortune. Currently, he is one of the known billboard advertisers in the capital, with workshops and importer of raw materials for the signage business. His capital has reached close to 20 million Br, making it one of the highest capitalised businesses engaged in billboard advertising as well as printing.

Dozens have followed the paths of Esayas. Recently, he and many other similar companies managed to get spaces to erect billboards throughout the city.

“Unlike other advertising platforms, the billboard business is growing in the past decade,” he told Fortune. “The recent flooding of billboards across the city’s main routes indicates the business is growing surprisingly.”

The business of ADs began a century ago in Ethiopia after the establishment of the first newspaper, Ayimiro and continued in the 1950’s  with the state’s daily newspaper Addis Zemen.  Since then, it has passed through many ups and downs during different political regimes.

The Dergue regime, where everything was state owned, incapacitated the advertisement industry at its infant stage, forcing it to be limited to the state owned companies such as Ethiopian Airlines, Banks and Insurance Companies.

The business grew in line with the development of the technology attracting the younger generation like Markos Abebe, who founded an advertisement workshop at his residence with a capital of 15,000 Br in 1997.

After the National Lottery came into the scene, the advertisement business showed improvements. This was depicted by Anbessa Advertisement, which was established in the early 1990’s by Woubshet Workalemahu, a renowned promotion and advertising icon.

The business grew in line with the development of the technology attracting the younger generation like Markos Abebe, who founded an advertisement workshop at his residence with a capital of 15,000 Br in 1997. Mark Advert, one of the advertising companies established soon after the introduction of a mixed economy, now has a capital of over 80 million Br and owns a six-storey apartment building. He runs a big business with 46 employees.

He entered into the business due to his passion for painting and graphic designing. “I started working in my family’s home for five years,” he told Fortune, “I used to work manually by writing advertisements with a brush.” He did not continue operating in such a manner for long. He started to introduce himself to new technologies abroad and started making billboards.

In designing the structure of an advertisement, he looks at the size, selects the proper place for building, considers the wind direction and inspects the quality of the printing material and structure.

“The billboard work is a little complex,” he said,” It requires some knowledge of engineering and technology.”

Currently, his agency is specialised in fuel station signs, reflective traffic signs, label and digital printing, t-shirt and cap printing, billboard manufacturing and wall branding. He is managing 38 billboards all over the country. One of the clients of Mark Advert is Multi Choice Ethiopia, a partner of DSTV, which uses Mark’s billboards in three places; Kassanchis, Sar Bet around Karl Square and Bole and Ethio – China Friendship square.

“Billboards have an advantage of being seen from a distance,” said Abenezer Feleke, marketing manager of Multi Choice Ethiopia. “It is especially visible to automobiles than pedestrians. It stays in people’s mind for a long time.”

Hence, Multi Choice uses billboards for the sake of creating brand awareness in the people and to introduce new products to their customers, according to him.

“This is not fair,” he said. “The City’s Administration should have announced the privilege in various media outlets.

“The duration of the advertisement depends on the budget we have,” he said. “But, mostly we rent for six months to one year period.” As of now, they have billboards at seven spots in the city. It is estimated to cost the company over two million Birr a year.

Billboards became a type of advertising method in the mid-1860’s in the western parts of the world. After a century and a half, it is still a popular and an effective form of outdoor advertising. “It is cheap unlike other advertising platforms,” said Esayas, who charges between 22,500 Br and 25,000 Br per month depending on the size of the billboard.

In Ethiopia, there is no clear legal framework to regulate such lines of businesses, leaving an uncertain picture for the advertisers and advertising bodies. Esayas and Markos got a license in the early 2000’s when the responsibility was at the hand of the then Land Administration & Construction Licensing Authority, now restructured as Land Management and Construction Permit and Control Office.

The business was even banned for the private sector in 2012. Only governmental and other non-profit organisations were allowed to advertise social, health and other issues related to awareness creation, after gaining permission from the Mayor’s office.

“The office did not give any permission for billboard requests since 2012,” said Ethiopia Taimyalew, acting director for Arada District Construction Permit & Control Office. “We only renew their licences every year.”

But, on February 6, 2017, unexpectedly, the office received a letter from the Mayor’s office, ordering to give permissions for advertisers who want to build billboards, citing the surge in illegal dealers in the capital. Following the letter, the district, along with Lideta, Arada and Qirqos districts, granted permissions to the advertisers provided they suggest places to construct their billboards. Then, the district office issued permits to 29 advertising companies after inspecting the selected areas.

Using this privilege, Markos secured 12 places to erect billboards in three of the districts, where he had already constructed the structure and was ready to post adverts, with a cost of 300,000 Br. On the contrary, Esayas was not aware of these privileges as he could not get any place at that time.

“This is not fair,” he said. “The City’s Administration should have announced the privilege in various media outlets. “This makes the system open for corruption.”

Nevertheless, Esayas managed to rent 15 billboards from others who succeeded to secure spaces at a cost of 400,000 Br.

“I did not want to decline the requests of my clients,” said Esayas. Furthermore, he believes that the time span given to suggest places is not enough as research and selection of spaces cannot be done in just five months.

Despite getting 16 billboards, Yelibe Derese, manager of Arc Advertising, agrees with Esayas.

“I heard about the announcement while I was visiting the district for other purpose,” said the manager of the company whose capital has reached 12 million Br. “Had I not been visited the district, I could have lost it as there was no proper announcement made by the City’s Administration.”

Two months ago, the right to build billboards was banned by the city’s administration, once again owing to the lack of legal frameworks in the country. The Administration has promised a new directive that would be effective to administer the business, which is expected to pave the way for the opening of the market to the private sector. Until then, more than 1,000 advertising businesses including Esayas’ and Markos’ have no right to set any billboard in the city.




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