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Opinion and Insight

Could Creativity Be the Key to Nigeria’s Success?

The creative industries are driving a country still climbing out of recession and Nigerian advertising changing at a rapid rate, explain X3M’s Steve Babeko and Isobar Nigeria’s Ola Oluwe

Could Creativity Be the Key to Nigeria’s Success?

Something exciting is happening in the Nigerian advertising scene. Mobile technology is opening up new audiences and a fizzing cultural scene is infusing adland with energy. For a country that has only recently emerged from recession, the creative industries represent a source of optimism. 

But not everyone knows that.

“If you look at what is happening to this country now, the creative industry is the fastest segment of the economy today while the government and the rest of the business community is obsessed with oil and gas they sort of took their eyes off the creative industry,” says  Steve Babeko, founder and CEO of independent agency X3M Ideas.

And Steve’s assessment is backed up by findings from Rand Merchant Bank Nigeria, which claims that the creative industries are key to the country’s economic growth. Nollywood, the country’s film industry, is said to be the second biggest employer after agriculture and in Q1 2017, it was reported to have grown 12% year on year.  In May, the minister for information and culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed indicated that the government was committed to investing in the animation sector in particular and was hoping to grow the creative industries from 15,000 workers to 75,000 by 2020.

But on the ground, attitudes from the government are somewhat slower to change… and that’s a blessing and a curse, says Isobar Nigeria’s CCO, Ola Oluwe.

“Before I started this journey in digital, I worked in traditional and the major problem I had and big frustration was that I would come up with ideas and the governing body called APCON that would regulate advertising so we had to get approval from them. Unfortunately, with everything that has to do with the government, they’re really backwards and underexposed, so most of the great ads that we did were always cancelled. With digital advertising there is no monitoring body so we can do stuff that’s on the edge. That’s really exciting… hopefully they won’t catch up!”

In terms of advertising specifically, the rate of change has been astounding – and that’s been partially driven by the proliferation of mobile. In 2017, Nigeria’s mobile subscribers reached 150 million (81%) and internet users are 97.2 (53%).  

But there’s another change too, argues Steve Babeko. His independent agency was founded in 2012 and he reckons that clients are becoming less wary about trusting talented indies. “About ten years ago we would not have been able to get through the door because the clients would still be ‘what is your name, who are you attributed to?’” he recalls. “But today an independent like us and others can work for big clients as long as you know what you are doing and you are able to bring top notch creativity to the table. It’s changed a lot.”

The likes of x3M Ideas and Noah’s Ark might be proving themselves with their creative, but Ola says that global clients in particular still need the help and reassurance of agencies that are part of global networks. “Particularly because of the Nigerian climate and trust and the way the country is being run – global brands need trust,” says Ola.

One such global client is Red Bull, which entered the market last year with Isobar. Other brands eyeing up the market include Mastercard. Ofcourse international brands looking to break into the Nigerian market are not new – perhaps the most famous example is Guinness. Nigeria overtook Ireland in 2007 to become the second top Guinness consuming countries in the world and by many it’s considered the national beer.

Guiness advertising in the African market, which is all about cool and creative local culture, has also had an influence on the creative coming out of Lagos. “In recent times, Nigerian consciousness and national pride, inspired by Guinness’s Made of Black work, seems t be a trend. That’s what everyone is trying to do now,” says Ola.

But there’s another thread to Nigerian creative work, a reaction to the challenges that many people find themselves confronted with in their daily lives. “The country is just coming out of a very major recession and we’ve always had issues with governance,” explains Steve. “There is a gap between the government and the people, a gap between the rich and the poor is ever-expanding. The general population have gone though hard times so the main way to reach them is through a little bit of humour and comedy. If you follow the new Nollywood story, the popular films at the box office seem to be romantic comedy.”

And outside of the advertising industry specifically, there’s a lot going on in terms of culture and creativity. Nollywood is the world’s second biggest movie industry, worth $3bn, and young artists and musicians are combining local culture with pioneering creativity. 

“The crossover between the energy you find across all of the creative spaces, from movies to music to advertising… it’s amazing,” says Steve. “What you find here is that it’s at the point where we’re almost dominating the entire African space, we’re at a global level. It’s such a good feeling and the creative industries feed into this. It’s driven by the youth of this country.”