Advertising Scene in Uganda – Highlights

by Nada Andersen

I’m not going to be popular once this post is out in the open. But honestly, I do not care. I have to document this moment in time as – hopefully – a starting point of an uphill task – building a honest, creative, result-producing advertising scene in Uganda.

You got the hint – not all is well and I will give you the highlights. To some, a slap on the face; to others, a chance to raise their voice too and acknowledge our problems and shortcomings.

My first words go to the agencies. As an owner of one of the oldest agencies in Kampala, I’ve seen people. Two major concerns cut across: Loyalty and Quality. I will criticise – it doesn’t mean that blissful examples aren’t there. But we have a lot to do if we are to call all our advertising people loyal and great.

I know quite a number of people who sign job contracts with one agency only to be able to take that job contract to another agency to negotiate a better deal. Not once, several times, I had people going on sick leave only to find out they are working with another agency or have started a private business. Then, numerous rumour-mongers going around telling who cares to listen how working with me is unbearable in order to get a job opportunity elsewhere, only to be employed and thrown out promptly after the new agency finds out the levels of incompetence and deviance.

Which brings the issue of Quality. I once employed a super-expensive Client Service Director who, in over three years of tenure failed to sign a single client to the agency. You can probably blame the agency but not all that way: not even a corner duka, a startup business, not even a pro bono job? Like, nothing? A great guy to have a conversation with but not much commercial quality there.

Or an Art Director who refused to implement InDesign for page layouts, threatening to resign if Creative Director nudges him any further. He was happy laying out outdoor artworks for a major telecom (over a hundred different layouts and sizes) and even books in single Illustrator file, adding artboards and artboards until his files became so heavy they took ages to open and save. And he thought he was way too hot for our agency. Needles to say, we do all our pages-heavy stuff in InDesign.

A media manager who couldn’t insert formulas into Excel spreadsheet. A Finance Manager who consistently submitted VAT returns late. Whole teams of people who refused to complete ECDL that company was paying for – because Office packages were too difficult to comprehend. English spelling and punctuation – the essence of communication work, one large disaster across the board.

But enough hammering of agency people – we all anyway fake it till we make it. Clients are a different ball game altogether. International clients arrive with their standards, brand guidelines and global agencies. Marketing and Comms Managers are head-hunted, from competing brands to non-related brands. Not one is recruited straight from the first-class marketing school because we don’t really have any. Marketing schools, that is. We have a couple of universities that teach the basics of marketing but do not teach the way you should think for the benefit of your organisation, how to conceptualise great products, how to create objects and goods that people will desire.

What happens to most people happens to marketers too. They slide into the job and instead of learning and growing, they start proving their competence. The little of it that they have. By rejecting perfectly good creative work; sending amends in form of changing text to bulletpoints, then bulletpoints to text in the next revert. We had Same artwork sent back to the agency twenty-one times to reduce or increase the shades of gray in the creative for newsprint. The more we fought for the light shade, the darker the client wanted it. Once printed, it was near black – just as we told them so. But even then – they blamed the flop on the agency because agencies are there to be blamed whenever convenient, which is a full-time job.

Head of Communication and Marketing – a super title. But you are a working mother, for example, and you prefer to go home after work, although every other night there is a networking event. Or, even better, your own company is organising events where you simply don’t turn up because they take place after hours. You refuse to nominate a colleague to attend in your place because you are afraid they will shine. Your brand misses out on image building and networking opportunities but you are fine, you work your seven hours a day and a lunch break with your office buddies.

But you are the good one – your colleagues from other companies use all available time to cut deals on the side. Outdoor companies pay them commission, printers pay them commission, radio stations pay them commission, merchandising companies pay them commission, experiential companies pay them commission and the latest craze – digital agencies – pay them commission. A cut from every pie. at the eternal expense of excellence. How can you ask all these people for any accountability after they have handed you an envelope? Month after month or campaign after campaign – you get your cut and you close your eyes a little. Or just enough to get an average job every time.

This is why we don’t remember a single advertising campaign that had really made a difference.

Clients who call for pitches knowing well it will be a formality. Clients who boot agencies because their next agency has more to offer, personally. Clients who contract friends who don’t deliver, so someone has to lose their job. Usually the marketing manager because ultimately, if your campaigns are not making money your bosses won’t listen to your excuses – you are supposed to be managing the agency so why aren’t you?

Media houses: when did it ever happen that you refused to run a really poorly produced ad? Misleading ad? Ad delivered in poor language, poor taste? When did you say no to utter rubbish we are often bombarded with?

Consumers: I pity you. For the torture you’re going through, being exposed to so much of truly poor advertising. For not having the forum to act and stop this torture. For not having a voice. For consistently being underestimated by the marketing managers who, before they even see the creative, already say “this is way too clever for Ugandans, dumb it down”. For your unsatisfied desire to build emotional brand associations. For not feeling any brand love from anyone. For all the squeaking and shouting that hurts your ears every minute. For all the mispronounced English in morning airing of beer and booze ads, for way too much sex in adverts during kids’ school drive time. I pity you for having to endure this creative limbo that we’re in. On behalf of the whole industry that is consistently failing to treat you with respect and as intelligent human beings, I am sorry.

But I promise, we can do better and we will do better. I challenge everyone in communications industry to look inside for areas that are lacking. Let’s learn and improve. There is room for this, always. Let’s do it so we can be proud of our potential, our hard work and our brilliance. We owe this to ourselves and to millions of people who are watching, listening and believing.

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Balu September 8, 2015 - 23:54

Nice. The truth needs to see the light of day.

Nada Andersen September 9, 2015 - 08:02

I should have titled it ‘lowlights’

JoshTwin September 9, 2015 - 12:56

True, you should have called it Lowlights!

But I see a lot of truth here. My question is, who spearheads the transformation that is needed? Right now it seems everyone’s just trying to survive, not much on plans for the industry at large…

Stephen September 9, 2015 - 10:29

1. Every time I see a poorly done Ad on TV, I don’t blame the company, I blame you the agencies. You are equally as unqualified and unprofessional as the managers you seem to blame. Most of you have no professional qualification except that you have been in the industry for so long and you have agencies that have been around since dinasours. And by the way there is some real quality marketing education in Uganda. Its called CIM and UMI is a global award winning CIM study centre. Yes globally recognized and awarded by the largest professional body of marketers. Maybe you should also start employing some CIM people. But you don’t. Coz somehow you think that you know it all. Yet you don’t. Your agencies keep putting out the same old ideas of yesterday for today’s customers. You think we the people are somehow stupid and you all are the smart ones. You create Ads that never spark an emotion…never. All your communication is simply functional. Nothing emotional. How else do you think you can ever have an Ad that is memorable if all you focus on is that ‘This soap washes fast and clean. Your agencies don’t do market research. They pretend to but they don’t. Why else would you launch an Ad on tv first? Its called consumer behavior. And you all don’t know about it. So thanks for the piece, it was interesting and all but I think you are part of the problem and not necessarily the solution.

Nada Andersen September 9, 2015 - 13:33

Stephen, thanks for your opinion but, agencies do not employ marketers – clients do. Agencies work on instructions and approvals of those very marketers you praise. We see advertising that is approved by those experts. You will not see a campaign that had been trashed for being “too creative” or “too clever for Ugandans”. I had bit my tongue many times not to send to hell the marketing manager who instructs me to “dumb it down because Ugandans don’t read, don’t understand emotions”. Don’t blame the agencies alone – we do not sign off the work, clients do.

Kizzy September 9, 2015 - 10:29

Thank you Nada for your bravery in sharing this truth. I worked in the agency world for 3 years and I will likely never go back for all the very same reasons you have well articulated. Too bad you can’t share names but I know a few culprits myself.

Martin September 9, 2015 - 10:59

Coming from someone who has heard about how “unbearable” you are to work with, I enjoyed reading this, and getting your perspective of the industry, resources and experience.
It is a painfully inept and disloyal industry mostly, it doesn’t reward visionaries or creativity. It salutes formulas, it’s that marketing director who would dedicate to spend their annual budget on 3 harriers and radio spot 10 years in a row.
Hope it changes some day

Godfrey September 9, 2015 - 11:58

Nada.. I honesty like the truth you are bringing out….. In outdoor there are instances where an outdoor ad is placed on routes that the marketing manager passes. …. forgetting the real purpose…. that’s why we need media auditing and accountability being independent.

Nada Andersen September 9, 2015 - 13:16

“My CEO drives there to work, that billboard has to be up by 7am” and the skins are not even printed yet…

Pensioner September 9, 2015 - 12:05

Coming from an insider who knows how the advertising industry works, that was quite incisive.
Those local ads suck and we have to endure them. About the cuts given, that’s a trade that has been going on and on.

Marvin September 9, 2015 - 12:39

Well hopefully they will be some change (self reflections in general) – at least “some” for the start!

brenda September 9, 2015 - 12:42

Nada, you make some valid points. Although, I do find it a little harsh on our fledgling industry, because it is not all doom and gloom. However, I do agree that some things should and must be said. On a ‘positive’ note, I have worked with teams that genuinely want the best for the brand as well as the consumer but it doesn’t always result in great success. However, in those situations, there is always a strange sort of camaraderie in that united approach. I have also enjoyed the experience where the brilliance of one individual can lift the team!

On a separate note, the one thing I totally agree with is that it is the consumer who has to suffer through all of these ‘teething pains’. As I indicated earlier, our industry is still young and I feel these are the times that will test our mettle…we will put many a foot wrong but we will also do many things right and these are the things that we will drive and thrive in. It may be hard and cut throat now with shrinking marketing budgets and finicky and flighty customers and it may not seem like we are doing much right, but our industry is just a reflection of the times we live in….these hard and fast times! Insecurity permeates our society spreading fear and greed in its wake. This will also come to pass and lessons will obviously have been learned and the people that populate our industry will have learned too.

Don’t judge yourself too harshly but also do not make stupid excuses for yourself, you can only do your best and if your best is not enough go back to ‘school’ and better yourself!

Nada Andersen September 9, 2015 - 13:01

Totally agree. I did say I will criticise which doesn’t mean there are no examples of greatness. I just felt it’s time to put this in writing and let people feel the blunt blade and crudeness of words that describe where we are at.

Fallen Hero September 9, 2015 - 14:20

What are your thoughts on poor agency leadership and how it affects team output? I once worked for an agency of about 25 people. It had a staff turnover of over 110 people in two years. Yes, one hundred and ten people came and went… Some were fired, rightly or wrongly. The vast majority couldn’t wait to get out. I don’t know about you but to me that’s just a sad reflection of extremely poor leadership. Because as we all know – People don’t leave jobs. They leave bosses.

Nada Andersen September 9, 2015 - 16:05

Pablo, leaders have to have people to lead. Otherwise they are called shepherds.

Fallen Hero September 9, 2015 - 18:21

But if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs then maybe, just maybe you have misunderstood the situation. I have never come across a leader (other than a dictator) who is always right…

Nada Andersen September 9, 2015 - 19:50

Dear aggrieved anonymous former employee (with e-mail address, one thing you should have learnt at Star: Leo is that the owner of the business is always right. My business is not a democracy and lazy, slow, self-absorbed people who fail probation have, well, zero voting rights. Keep slandering.

Pamela September 9, 2015 - 15:10

….there is a lot of truth to this, however, i think marketers are in bed with finance people….finance should be able to carry out analysis that clearly show return on investments!! Why are marketers being given the liberty to determine prices, who in finance is independently checking and verifying the proposed costs? why are media owners accepting to pay commissions to these people, what’s the worst that could happen if you refuse esp for leading media houses? What is UMOAs objective in this market? How does one carryout a show for example and spend say a billion shillings and in the end nobody queries the details of these spends? I think change must start from somewhere…this article will also be ignored and it shall pass.

Nada Andersen September 9, 2015 - 16:03

I think agencies have to push for measurable campaigns; rather earn less but know (via research) that the campaign was effective. Clients have to wake up to research – which is the cost they first kill because every client knows all the insights best.

Belinda September 9, 2015 - 15:34

Bold and straight forward. If we care about this profession, some introspection is necessary; especially now. I will return to this later to share my views.

Thr3aded September 9, 2015 - 15:36

Totally agree with most points above but to us the biggest challenges causing all this ugliness and spread of trash in the industry are;

1. Corruption mainly marketing managers, they always want envelops and end up trashing creative work.

2. Unsatisfied creative teams (professionals) that most times end up moving from agency to agency thus leaving the agencies to hire desperate mediocre creatives or unprofessionals that are not passionate and are just gambling with advertising.

3. Clients interference in the creative process….some clients are big headed even when they are clueless about what they hired you to do….for instance if you go to a doctor as a client you would ask to be given a shot on the head but respect the profession which is not the case for advertising. some cases clients ask for colours that don’t work like “i want that banana to be blue it will be attractive and its our colour.”

4. The non passionate, the non motivated etc circulating in agencies.

5. Poor design process and tools selected by agencies

6. verbal briefs

7. Lack of exploration and research; agencies just cram a pattern and thats it.

among others…

except for this “For all the mispronounced English in morning airing of beer and booze ads” we disagree because Uganda is ethnically diverse and we credit the copywriters who have tried to communicate to this diverse audience like the pakalast campaign, another one a currently running one is the “kibillibodi” to mean billboard an MTN radio ad. there is even a uglish dictionary in aristoc as we blog today; a combination of english and luganda to better communicate.

thr3aded uganda

Nada Andersen September 9, 2015 - 16:01

I see your point on English, mine is just the English we kill because we never look at the dictionary when there is a new word to say. Like chi-howa-howa for chihuahua – just a silly example but shows we speak before learning or understanding – and that is unprofessional. Someone is paid to be a radio presenter, they are not doing the job for free, so be professional, that’s my bottom-line on English.

Edmund September 9, 2015 - 19:17

Well written Ms Andersen. (i wish i could say it like Mr. Smith in that movie The Matrix: hehehe)

I think what you have presented is an indication of not only the advertising game in Uganda, but even other professional service sectors.

From civil construction (see UNRA probe currently on-going), to various consultancy opportunities (legal, business, economic, socio-economic) et al.

I am glad you put it out there initially.

The rot needs to be gotten out as the customer and consumer of these advertising services receives some really crappy work at the end of the day.

One line though…

I had biten my tongue many times not to send to hell the marketing manager who instructs me to “dumb it down because Ugandans don’t read, don’t understand emotions”.

Zerida September 9, 2015 - 20:37

Thank you for saying what we’ve all been thinking!! Great piece Nada 🙂

Godfrey September 9, 2015 - 23:06

In the areas of OOH media the industry needs a truly independent monitoring service to attain some level of accountability.
When advertisers purchase media it is rational to source independent verificstion that the campaign has been posted without any errors. hence at the end of the day this media manager will try to do what is right and best for the client.

Mutebi Roy September 10, 2015 - 03:22

Which agency used to make Warid’s Ads? They used to be funny and on point.

skaheru September 10, 2015 - 09:27

Bravo! And I like that this has come on my #UGblogDAY. All true – every single word. Some of the comments above are not surprising, but we talk about this stuff every day, so keep a stiff upper lip and make your skin tougher.
And now, on to forward this to every Marketing person in #Uganda!

Baker Chagga September 10, 2015 - 11:04

Such bravery is what is required for any sector to thrive.
Personally my career isn’t in marketing but audit and accounts but i hope you find courage in knowing that Ugandan Audit firms have taken diversification into Ad-agencies as key. With that being said feel free to contact any Ugandan founded audit firm to take a quick look.

Norma September 10, 2015 - 12:06

So much truth in here, its refreshing! I’m constantly commenting on how dumb and uninspired alot of the ads out here are. And so to read that many good ideas are dismissed just because there is a marketing manager out there who thinks me the consumer is too simple minded not to understand and appreciate a good ad is insulting. I enjoyed reading your piece, I hope it can go a long way in making some people in the marketing industry aware of the fact that consumers deserve better than the raw deal they’re getting.

Nada Andersen September 11, 2015 - 09:07

I made a decision NOT to give up on fighting for the most basic human right of consumer – to be challenged trough intelligent, witty, creative, engaging advertising. We must stand up for Uganda and make consumer relationships with brands a beautiful journey.

Anon September 10, 2015 - 18:06

“this is way too clever for Ugandans, dumb it down”
I’ve always wondered which Ugandans. I’ve resolved that any marketing manager that says this is usually talking about themselves. Great article.

Charlotte Beauvoisin September 11, 2015 - 03:25

Great read Nada. How on earth can creativity, or professionalism, flourish when people are just focused on their cut? Or their lunchbreak? Or their 7 hour work days?
Charlotte A.C.I.M.

Advertising Agencies in Uganda – 2015 | Colin Asiimwe September 15, 2015 - 00:24

[…] world is very volatile and is  fraught with upheavals and upsets. In Nada Andersen’s blog here she said this was because there was no quality and people were impatient and jumpy. In fairness the […]

JP September 16, 2015 - 05:44

Great article! All agency owners are experiencing the same problems! Thanks for bursting the bubble Nada. Sometimes I wonder if there’s any agency with committed staff who ain’t share holders?! It’s on very rare occasions…

Anthony September 29, 2015 - 12:48

Blaming will not bring out the best in this rotten industry since most people are not ready to swallow up their pride and take the blame to work out something good but this is one of the way to liberation in the advertising industry.

You have only looked at one side i.e. the private sector and how about the Public sector majority being government agencies who are now solely entitled to ask for commission like its their daily bread. So here its about how much you can give back and now how good your idea or creativity is on the idea generated for the government agency or ministry. The communications department or procurement is at liberty to conceal your order or idea for as long as they see no “benefit” on what they get from the idea fronted by a salesperson. It pains to see someone who has no basics of sales perform better than you just because they are good at “kick back” and other “benefits” than real sales.

All i can say is the battle is one and the war is won by the brave who dare to challenge the status quo especially in our market where some claim that its still young. My question is this infancy will continue up to when yet careers are being racked up coz of dumb rotten individuals in the market.

Should also talk about the PR strategy used by some agencies even when their clients are doing a dis-service to the clients!!

All i can say Mrs Nada, Keep writing!


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