As you drive, or commute, on the city’s major highways, you are likely to be met with a billboard, bearing a larger-than-life portrait of an aspirant smiling down at you.
Outdoor advertisers are back. Politicians, political parties and recovering corporates have reserved prime spots on major highways and roads to market themselves.
This was not the case at the onset of the pandemic. Billboards were deserted with advertising agencies’ books of accounts running dry.
Today, a different picture is painted - too much colour and high bidding for advertising agencies.
“The most expensive billboards in Nairobi are along Uhuru Highway. This area has high traffic and it is constant. The amount of time people spend in traffic, translates to the times they look at billboards,” says Lenny Nganga, an advertising expert.
Moving towards Mombasa Road from Uhuru Highway, which is the prime spot for advertising agencies, there is no way you can miss the adverts on the billboards.
That’s what meets your eyes. Industry sources say that the billboards are mostly filled with corporate adverts.
“Few politicians have their adverts up on billboards, however, we expect an increase after nominations,” says Ng’ang’a.
“The elections have attracted many new entrants who want popularity and have started inquiring a lot about advertising, but have not yet started spending.”
According to Ng’ang’a, the demand for billboards will increase towards the election period.
“About three months to elections, that is the peak period when politicians and political parties take up billboards,” said Nganga, adding that most advertising agencies do not give their prime locations for politics.
It is evident from billboards in prime areas that advertising agencies are reaping more from corporates than politicians as corporate advertisements outnumber political ones.
What is pushing up the number of political billboards are the new entrants who are trying to distinguish themselves from the others by spending on billboard advertising.
According to Charles Obengele, the head of business development at Ledrad media, advertising agencies mostly go for political parties as opposed to individual politicians.
“With political parties, you can easily trace the source of the money when you are being audited. It is easier for advertising agencies to go for political parties because of accountability, unlike individual politicians, who come with cash making it difficult to track their sources,” says Obengele.
He further notes that political parties go for below the line type of marketing; like branding of caps and t-shirts.
Fortune Wasike, who deals in branding of merchandises at his company Fortune Wear, gives us a picture of how business is for him now.
“This is a pleasant period for us, owing to the fact that last year I was compelled to shut down one of my workshops. Right now I am back to business, I am getting new clients from different parts of the country,” says Wasike.
As compared to other election years, industry sources say that this will be a better year for advertising agencies.
“The incumbent government is leaving, there is an opportunity to reshape the whole government. Previously, Jubilee was seeking reelection. This year even independent candidates have a stake”.
Wasike who has been doing the business for about seven years says this year looks better for him.
“In 2017, it was obvious, right now it is tough because political hopefuls want to align themselves, and their competitors have to really work hard to advertise and brand themselves”.
Wasike says, “I am currently working with a number of political parties. Right now, the competition is stiff as compared to what I saw in 2017,” he said.
According to industry statistics, 2020 was the hardest year for outdoor advertising agencies because corporates cut down their budget when the pandemic brought the economy to its knees.
In 2021, corporates started adapting to the Covid-19 partial lockdowns and protocols. Few efforts were seen here and there as businesses slowly brought back their advertising budget.
Industry sources say that, this year, despite the economy being on rebound, corporates are not yet back where they were before Covid-19 destabilised the business environment.
“If you compare the first quarters of 2020, 2021 and 2022, clearly, 2022 is better, despite not being as good as 2019,” said a source.
Wasike says advertising orders have started flowing in, in big numbers.
“In a day, I get between five and 10 clients, we also have bulk orders where we supply over 10,000 people,” he says.
He confided that he is taking advantage of this period to accumulate capital to grow his business.
The global billboard & outdoor advertising market is expected to grow from $61.67 billion in 2021 to $66.80 billion in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.3 per cent, according to the GlobeNewswire website.
Mombasa road is one of the high traffic areas in Nairobi, therefore attracts high rates in terms of corporate and political advertising. Advertising on a billboard on Mombasa Road costs between Sh140,000 and Sh160,000 per month inclusive of VAT.
Ng’ang’a says prime areas are reserved for long-term paying customers.
“Short term contracts sometimes mean empty billboards. Elections are short-term, between three and six months. All this while we are still required to pay city council, county council and landlords,” he adds.
“Long-term paying companies are like Safaricom, EABL, gambling companies; they give multiple-year contracts, unlike politics which utmost give six months,” he says.