By Published on .

To those in developed countries, Africa doesn't seem like a candidate for economic vigor. But a marketing boom has been sweeping the south and east of the continent as economic and political liberalization have chipped away at old attitudes and constraints.

Advertising in South Africa's poorer neighbor, Zimbabwe, for example, has doubled during the past four years. Here, a relaxation of currency controls and the removal of import restrictions have allowed foreign brands into the country since political sanctions were lifted in 1985, giving consumers a real choice in brands for the first time in 10 years.

Nelson Mandela's presidential victory in South Africa has also brought its own wave of optimism to central Africa. South African cash, now freed from the taint of racism, is pouring back into developing economies like Tanzania and Uganda, while Johannesburg's marketing gurus are working overtime to dispatch that city's expertise and brands to the newly available Africa.

Even Kenya, crippled by debt and riddled with corruption, has seen a flowering in marketing budgets. Advertising spending jumped more than 50% last year to $32 million as liberalization of that country's tight import and currency laws galvanized consumer goods companies into action.

Tanzania-Coming out of the Dark Ages

Tanzania looks like the kind of virgin territory advertising dreams are made of. Years of socialism have left an entire generation without entrenched brand loyalty, while a recent relaxation of import restrictions has opened the door for major marketers. However, selling to a public which has never even heard of toothpaste is no picnic, as marketers in the country can attest.

Bharat Thakrar, executive chairman of Tanzania's leading agency, ScanAd in Dar es Salaam, recalls the difficulties well.

"When we went in [in 1990] the whole concept of advertising had died. The population was literally starved of basic consumer needs," he said. "In the rural areas, people didn't know they would get cleaner using soap; they didn't know how to use toothpaste; and they ate their bread dry."

ScanAd now has such international clients as SwissAir, Toyota Motor Co. and Sterling Health. But when the Kenya-based group first set up in Tanzania's commercial capital, the advertising tools at its disposal were basic.

Radio Tanzania, the only national broadcaster, did not know what media commissions were and its listening public hadn't a clue what advertising was for.

Five years later, however, the industry is beginning to expand, and several agencies have sprung up in Dar es Salaam. Radio Tanzania is still the only real national medium, since the country's two Dar-based TV stations only reach the 2 million inhabitants in that city. A third TV network covers only the offshore island of Zanzibar.

National newspapers aren't a viable option either. Though Tanzania has a much higher literacy rate than its neighbors, roads are so bad that papers can take up to four days to arrive. This, along with the rudimentary printing techniques used, keeps circulation low. Even the most popular English language daily, The Daily News, sells only 22,000 copies.

Basic black-and-white advertisements are nevertheless an important source of income for papers and magazines now on sale in Tanzania. Some, like the popular Swahili daily Uhuru, are news-based, while others specialize in less time-sensitive topics as farming or even soccer.

For now, Tanzania is very much a sleeping giant-still suffering from 20 years of poverty under communism-but still holding many advantages.

Since gaining independence from the U.K. in 1962, Tanzania's founding President Julius Nyere has fought to weld the country's disparate racial groups into a single nation, a battle which has borne fruit in one of the most stable governments in the area.

Now theoretically a democracy, Mr. Nyere's nominated successor Ali Hassan Mwinyi has espoused capitalism and is gradually moving away from socialism toward the ideologies and bulging pockets of the West.

All but the biggest marketers-Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Sterling Health-are still on the sidelines, preferring to stage marketing onslaughts from nearby capitals like Nairobi, Kenya. But few observers doubt that Tanzania, the brightest developing nation in the region, is just a whisker away from having its own thriving full-service industry.

Uganda-The Pearl of Africa

Uganda suffered a great deal in the civil war which followed then-President Idi Amin's overthrow in 1979. But the period of stability ushered in by President Yoweri Museveni's arrival in 1986 has brought marketers flooding back to the country.

What they find so appealing is easy to spot. Uganda's per capita income is a modest $280, but it is steadily increasing as Mr. Museveni's economic reforms and anti-corruption stance restore investment confidence. To cap this, Uganda has one of the most liberal media policies in Africa.

The country's 18 million listeners have five major radio stations to choose from, and will soon be able to flip on three TV channels. That's a stunning selection compared to neighboring Kenya, which is larger and more developed but only has two of each. Even more important, freedom from government interference has turned Uganda's media industry into a particularly lively and upbeat one.

The main advantage of Uganda's two government-owned medium-wave radio stations, Red and Blue, is that they offer advertisers the rare chance to reach the country's 20 different language groups in their own tongue. The Ugandan market is young, like most of Africa, but riddled with tribal and linguistic divisions. The national Red and Blue stations can, however, get around this by running ads in each of the vernacular languages alongside a news bulletin in that language.

A third radio network, Green, broadcasts on FM in English, Swahili and Luganda.

Uganda's two private radio stations, Sanyu and Capital, have stirred up the media scene most in recent years. Both began transmitting non-stop contemporary music to Kampala on the FM band in December 1993 and competition between them has been fierce.

The TV industry is also flourishing in Uganda, although its reach is limited compared with radio. According to the Advertisers' Guide to Uganda, published by Steadman & Associates, a survey of the Ugandan TV scene was conducted by the U.K.'s British Broadcasting Corporation in 1992. The study estimated access to TV sets is limited to only 41% of the population in the big cities.

Government-owned Uganda TV aims to broadcast nationwide once its ambitious plan to more than double its transmitters gets off the ground. For now, it is restricted to major cities, while privately owned Cable Sat, an over-the-air station, reaches a 31-mile radius of Kampala. A third channel, Sanyu TV, is scheduled to launch as a commercial station for Kampala in October.

Uganda's five daily newspapers together account for nearly a quarter of all advertising expenditures in the country, although this will undoubtedly be eroded as radio and TV extend their reach. At least nine weekly publications soak up another 7% of the ad dollars between them, while a couple of sports magazines and general interest magazines are also available to advertisers.

Zimbabwe-South Africa's Shadow Looms Again

A brief glance at its poor-quality newspapers and embarrassingly amateur TV production might persuade visitors that Zimbabwe was one of the poorer countries in Africa.

But this onetime bastion of white supremacy has a fairly robust economy and sports an advanced advertising industry. Even better, recent free market reforms have seen media spending double in the past four years to $50 million.

What lets advertising down badly in Zimbabwe is the quality of its media, which is two-thirds owned by the pro-Marxist government of President Robert Mugabe.

It is a subject dear to the heart of Richard Wiley, managing director of the former Southern Rhodesia's largest advertising agency, Barker McCormac, Harare.

"The government has had a monopoly over the media and they haven't adapted to change .... If you look at the quality of newspapers, for example, they're printed on locally produced newsprint, and sophisticated color ads just don't look good on it."

But things are beginning to improve, as Mr. Mugabe moves the former British colony away from more than a decade of socialism.

Michael Hogg, chairman of the local office of Young & Rubicam, Michael Hogg/Young & Rubicam, Harare, strongly supports decentralization and liberalization and how it has kick-started the market.

"What's making the market grow is the presence of a lot of South African and international products," he said. "First of all, local manufacturers are having to have a close look at packaging, and secondly [they are] having to accelerate media coverage because of the influx of imported goods."

Foreign publications like Reader's Digest have also been allowed in for the first time in years, and the state's stranglehold on TV might also be broken with the government about to allow the first private TV station.

For now, newspapers hold the largest slice of advertising revenue in Zimbabwe, 58% of the total, followed by 19% for TV and only 11% for radio. This is not theway Albert Nhau, Zimbabwe's only black agency head and the managing director of Lintas Zimbabwe, would have it. "Radio has the highest reach of all media .... It has twice the listenership of TV," he said. The "new" South Africa, a powerful competing force in advertising, has been unleashed, leaving the Zimbabwe industry only too aware that Johannesburg's cadre of experienced admen are just a one-hour flight away.

Kenya-The Grandfather of Capitalism

Kenya has long been a marketing hub for East Africa. But recent years have brought fresh impetus to its own advertising, too, as looser currency and import controls have allowed new products and much stiffer competition into the country.

Consumer goods were what first led the charge on advertising budgets in 1993, according to Roger Steadman, owner and operator of Steadman & Associates, a media analysis company in Nairobi.

"Fast-moving consumer goods companies were finding they had to pay a lot more for their raw materials once price and import controls had lifted," he said. "Liberalization has caused the advertising industry to grow for the first time in many years."

Advertising in the personal care arena, for example, shot up from 13% of total media spending in 1992 to 21% a year later, and now other sectors are following suit.

"Kenyan advertising is going through quite a change," said ScanAd's Mr. Thakrar, citing the flood of new products, such as automobiles from Hyundai and Daewoo. In fact, he believes ad spending overall will rise 20% in 1995, against an inflation rate of 12% to 13%.

A lot of this money is set to move into TV advertising, despite its modest 30% reach. TV has been on the rise since a second station, KTN-TV, joined the government-owned KBC-TV in 1990. The two together now command 37% of all media spending compared with 13% six years ago.

This has been mainly at the expense of daily newspapers, whose share of revenue slumped 13 percentage points to 28% over the same period.

Most Popular
In this article: