ZIMBABWE: Local Ads Lack the Oomph

When was the last time you came across a print, electronic or outdoor advert that grabbed your attention so much it influenced you to take action? If you find yourself scratching your head don’t worry because very few local ads have the oomph to stick in your long-term memory or to get you to act.

It is not too far-fetched to say that our advertising today is being crafted by people who have very little knowledge of the discipline. To state it bluntly, ads in this country are tainted with high levels of mediocrity. Only a few ads done locally penetrate through our mental filters with compelling presentations that are based on a uniquely Zimbabwean worldview. A majority of ads today are composed as if merely showcasing the product or service is the only variable.

Visual imagery, easily the most important dimension of an advertising message, is currently being used in a manner that has little impact on brand awareness or liking. In many instances, advertisements carry pictures that are disconnected from the textual messages.

Surprisingly, a number of new advertising agencies have mushroomed  in recent years in spite of the poor economic conditions. While companies significantly cut their advertising budgets affecting many ad agencies, the emergence of new, indigenous business operations appears to have shored up the advertising industry.

At the same time, a number of international ad agencies opted out as a result of deteriorating economic conditions, leaving the market open to new players. According to ADMA, the number of advertising agencies registered with them jumped from around 12 advertising agencies over 10 years ago to 26 today. Of course, the real number is far higher han this because it is not mandatory to register with the association.

With a computer loaded with the appropriate software, some knowledge of graphic design, copywriting and hawking for jobs, it is very easy to join ranks of ad agencies. While the emergence of new agencies has resulted in the creation of new employment opportunities there has also been an attendant decline in the quality of advertising. Briefcase, one-man ad agency operations that do everything from ideation to printing have become a norm in the industry.

In addition, poor copywriting, use of glossy visuals plucked from the internet and violation of ethics is rampant. Although there are several statutes in Zimbabwe related to advertising, the industry is largely self regulated which makes it prone to unethical practice.

It is quite sad that despite the fact that the industry is undergoing a boom, it lacks its mainstay: creativity. Many ads today are just too focused on selling products at the expense of creativity and brand-building. Take for example, on billboards, visual imagery is employed on a willy-nilly basis with some models that are featured being distinctly non-Zimbabwean.

Some billboards incorporate contact details in small fonts that are barely legible to the target audiences. The fact of the matter is that visual imagery is supposed to command attention, stimulate curiosity, demonstrate product features and benefits and establish a personality for a product.

In today’s ads, little to no consideration is given to whether the billboard will effectively communicate. Communication elements are merely bundled together like burnt-out logs with very little regard to effectiveness or the worldview of target audiences. It appears that there is little concern from a design angle to think through the communication process and utilize that to influence how an ad is put together.

The dearth of creativity is also apparent in the little exploration of humour in local ads. Granted, humour in advertising is a delicate method of attracting attention to the client’s product. But, if done right, it can engage prospects and get them to remember the product.

Zimbabweans, by nature, are a jocular people, and it is mindboggling why this social psychology does not find its way into local ads.  Of course, many companies have marketing managers who masquerade as ad specialists and stifle creativity. But ad agencies need to develop special skills to deal with such challenges.

Ultimately, what the advertising industry needs to recover is a sense of passion. The advertising industry needs to take advantage of the improving economic conditions by improving the quality of what it produces. The notion that doing ads is another get rich quick game needs to be replaced thoroughly by a new commitment to quality and creativity. People in the advertising industry need to be well informed for a simple reason: big ideas come from the unconscious mind only if the conscious mind is well fed.

After all, there is a science and an art to advertising, and getting that science and art right is critical to effective impact. Unless that happens don’t worry about paying attention to the next big billboard you come across because it will be not worth your time, energy and eyesight.

About the Author
(Born ’75 in the backyard of Zimbabwe , Chief K.Masimba is a children’s writer, poet, playwright, social activist, journalist and online publisher.His first self-published book, The Dream Of Stones, was awarded the Zimbabwe National Award for Outstanding Children’s Book for 2004. You can reach him at: biriwasha.m@gmail.com)

  • Sizani Weza

    But you get what you pay for. If Zimbabwean companies cannot pay, who do you want to invest their time and energy developing quality products for less?