Viewpoint

June 13, 2023

ADVAN’s God complex as impediment to industry reforms

ADVAN’s God complex as impediment to industry reforms

By Ikem Okuhu

For players in the Nigerian marketing communications industry, Advertising in this case, it has long been known that the Advertisers Association of Nigeria (ADVAN) has a god complex. The complex is a non-clinical description of a disorder characterized by a conviction that it is infallible, can do as it wishes and deserves to enjoy special privileges.

From advertising agencies, through media agencies to the media organizations themselves and everywhere in the chain, ADVAN’s decades-long insensitivity has made it the industry’s King Kong, terrorizing everyone.

. The reason for this is not far-fetched. ADVAN grew to become an influencer of policy, regulatory direction, and even media costs, thereby ensuring that nearly every sector that works with is at its mercy.

But there comes a time when, even as the sole determiner of prices, and as the biggest influencer of supply dynamics of an existentially shrinking industry, you are called by the forces of truth and fairness, to play by the rules which you were a critical part of its making.

I have been in and around the Nigerian marketing communications environment long enough to know when a person, an agency, or a segment of the industry starts entitled, and behaving like “The Dominator-in-Chief ” of the industry. That ADVAN is pointing the industry regulator in the eye and insisting on having its way despite the regulator being backed by a validly made law speaks to the psychology of entitlement that comes with thinking like the man who pays the piper.

But civilization, fairness, and respect for industry rules demand that the tune be not dictated by you. Even then, in the marketing environment, ADVAN cannot claim it is paying the piper for some private entertainment: it is doing this because it has to enable its own business, needs value creators and engagement enhancers to realize members’ goals and derive value from its budget.

I read the 57-page NOTICE OF INTENTION to institute a civil action against the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON). It took the better part of three hours to go through what I must say, is its intentional legalese. And however grandiloquent the lawyers behind it wanted to sound, the only meaning any right-thinking person will make of it is that there is an intention for a retention of the system of unfair advantage it has enjoyed over the Nigerian advertising industry. ADVAN disapproves of regulation in the industry, advertising a desire for the continuation of its control over everything however inequitable.

I think every industry stakeholder should be concerned by ADVAN’s intransigence to well-meaning reforms being championed by ARCON. Otherwise, the industry will wither and wilt. Completely. I could imagine some chest-thumping taking place among the ranks of advertisers, with claims of “disrupting the industry” as a bragging point. But tarry for a while. That big cheque book in your breast pocket, and which you wield as both a magic wand and weapon of industry subjugation might be slipping from your vice-grip, as time and tech continue to determine the interface of business across the world.

I would have spoken of what we are about to confront with the onslaught of Artificial Intelligence, but I guess we should leave it out of this discussion for now. Suffice it to say that any revolutionary impact that ADVAN wants to bring upon the industry looks every inch selfish, poorly thought-out, and counterproductive.

What ADVAN is doing with its threat to sue and ultimately, possibly dismantle the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON) is embarrassingly disingenuous, and even if it succeeds, might ultimately turn around to hurt the persons and groups who believe this journey might benefit them. One can only imagine a professional practice where there is no regulator; no rules to guide and regulate professionals and agencies. Does ADVAN want an industry that is “short, brutish and nasty,” as Thomas Hobbes propounded?

Part of ADVAN’s position in the rather long notice served on ARCON, was that the regulatory body should not exist side-by-side with the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (NIMN). I do not know whether I find this embarrassing or mischievous, but how will anyone even contemplate drawing similarities of roles between ARCON, which was established in 1988 (then as APCON), and NIMN, which struggled against factionalization and for relevance until 2003.

It is also funny that ADVAN is making this comparison. ARCON and NIMN are not in the same professional space. Their roles do, not in any way, overlap. In addition to this, it is important to remind ADVAN that professions grow, and with growth, the birth of new fields. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) is the professional body for the practice of medicine in Nigeria. But it exists side by side with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), and several other professional associations with charter status.

If ADVAN is saying that ARCON and NIMN should not exist side-by-side, then they must also make the point to seek the abrogation of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, and with the continued growth of experiential marketing, one will also expect the wielding of a sledgehammer to prevent it from one day, emerging as a chartered professional body.

I have since learned that the fight between ADVAN and ARCON is one of a fight between ego and professional rules of conduct. Because ADVAN owns the cheques, it also feels entitled to determine when and how it is used. ADVAN, in particular, is insisting on determining when to pay agencies for services rendered.

This challenge has had a chequered history, with media owners wrestling agencies over long periods of indebtedness. The industry discovered that while this fight happened, ADVAN stayed immune, even when it was responsible for the debt in the first place. To solve the problem, the industry evolved a payment policy via the Advertising Industry Standard of Practice (AISOP) that prescribes a window of 45 days within which matured obligations are settled.

I do not understand the problem ADVAN has against this policy, and why it wants to destroy the industry because of it. Does this association want a regime of sustained indebtedness to contractors and vendors? Nigeria cannot exist outside the global community, which has minimum standards for settlement of issues such as this. For instance, France, Germany, and other European countries have a 30-day debt settlement window. In the United States, the window is 35 days. In African countries such as South Africa, and Kenya among others, the window is 45 days, same as what the AISOP recommends.

So, where is the problem for ADVAN here? At the beginning of each year, businesses make budgetary plans for projects, including marketing communications projects and activities. This implies that funds for every campaign would have been provided and allocated according to times and seasons. If this is so, why does ADVAN want to align payments for jobs successfully executed for its members to become capriciously dependent on the pleasures of the persons that have benefited from good jobs already done?

It is an obnoxious feudal mindset that should be deprecated by everyone who has grown away from the age and era when life and privilege were enjoyed at the mercies and pleasures of lords. If this is not so, then ADVAN should explain why it will not pay for jobs it commissioned, jobs for which funds should have been appropriated ahead of time? Let us even look at this court case. Was Jiti Ogunye, the lawyer handling ADVAN’s brief, commissioned without payment? If ADVAN would pay its lawyers to handle a matter against the industry regulator, why would it not pay its service providers, as and when due?

Another axe ADVAN has to grind with ARCON is the ban on foreign models in advertising messages feeding into Nigeria. If the intention does not point to something that cannot be made public, I wonder why ADVAN should not be commending, rather than disagreeing with this move.

If the idea of hiring models in advertising is to enhance connection with the product, engender proximity, and invoke cultural and emotional peculiarities, then this should ordinarily be good for the advertisers, whose intention is to sell goods and services.

The problem here might be from the multinational corporations, whose wares include brands and diplomacy. There is some measure of neo-colonialism in most products and using foreign models forms part of culture exports of many countries.

I do not know any country that is on the part of growth that permits this neo-colonialist regime interminably. At a point, it has to be contained, and the Nigerian advertising industry would not be the first to infuse local content policy in their activities. I am aware that what became the Nigerian Content Act gathered steam in the early 2000s, peaking as a Bill before the National Assembly in 2003 or 2004. It went through a number of metamorphoses before its passage and assent as the Nigerian Content Act, governing the forms and nature of contracting in the oil and gas industry.

Local content in advertising might not please many multinational companies, but ARCON knows the dangers of sustained exportation of jobs through the hiring of foreign models. It knows the importance of culture in advertising and if the intention of ADVAN is to engender a romance between what it has to sell and the buying public, then it should be giving plaudits to ARCON rather than the current war being waged.

This war by ADVAN is an ill wind. The only ones who will benefit, in the end, are the lawyers. I pray someone listens.