Going local: Reaching the domestic market requires an insider’s approach

Historically, Côte d’Ivoire served as the francophone regional headquarters for a number of international advertising firms. When the political unrest broke out in the early 2000s, the decampment of multinational advertising agencies to Dakar or Accra created the space for the emergence of an indigenous advertising industry, which is now well into its second decade of development.

Growing in both size and sophistication, Côte d’Ivoire’s homegrown advertising firms are among the most mature in West Africa and are beginning to expand into the sub-region. The domestic client market is diversifying as well. “There has been a lot more interest in advertising. Since the 2010 presidential elections, in which candidates hired advertising agencies to manage their campaigns,” Paul Ledjou, the agency director of Voodoo Communications, told OBG. “The idea that advertising can have an impact has become much more widespread.”

While more companies are turning to professional ad firms to market their products, advertising budgets remain relatively limited and price is often a decisive factor. “Clients are becoming more demanding, in terms of performance criteria.” Ledjou told OBG. “Now, when we chose a media format for a campaign, we have to be able to justify the choice.” Although 2013 was a difficult year for the industry in terms of revenue generation, an expanding client market and strong overall economic growth were positive signs for the advertising sector.

Sector Organisation

A small but relatively strong cadre of Ivorian agencies shares the market with a few multinational firms such as McCann Erickson and Océan Ogilvy. One of the largest indigenous firms is Voodoo Communications, a veteran Ivorian firm founded in 1999 that now operates regionally. The Voodoo Group publishes two magazines and has departments in event planning and business consulting, though advertising — with accounts ranging from telecoms company Orange to the 2010 campaign for Côte d’Ivoire’s current president Alassane Outtara — comprise the bulk of its business.

The sector is also characterised by a significant degree of informal competition. While 26 agencies are legally accredited by the High Council of Advertising (Conseil Supérieur de la Publicité, CSP), it is estimated that at least twice that many operate in the market. However, as more agencies focus on developing a durable client base rather than depending on a single account, the sector is professionalising. As Sandrine Travé, director of the ad agency Reverso explained, “Some years ago the market was divided between just three or four big agencies; now, there are more and more professionals in the sector, which increases competition.”

Regulatory Push

The CSP has recently announced a new enforcement initiative, requiring all advertising campaigns to carry the signature of an accredited firm. The Association of Marketing Consulting Agencies of Côte d’Ivoire, a professional organisation comprising 22 of the 26 accredited agencies, is actively supporting this new initiative.

Additionally, a law that would give the CSP extended powers of enforcement was also being discussed, as of the end of 2014. Though it will take time, a sustained effort at enforcement would support the further growth and professionalisation of the sector.

Clients Sectors

Prior to the mid-1990s, big advertisers were food and beverage producers like Nestlé and Coca-Cola, but as is true elsewhere in West Africa, the telecoms sector has surged and now represents a large share of the market.

A 2013 survey by Twinpine, an advertising network specifically focused on the mobile ad niche, reported that Côte d’Ivoire’s mobile penetration rate was 85.43%, higher than those of Nigeria (83.3%) and Ghana (84%). In light of increased consumer spending following the nation’s economic recovery, more recent growth sectors have included car companies, cosmetics, banks and also insurance companies.


The ability of advertising companies to conduct market research remains limited, largely due to the lack of statistics on various media audiences, particularly for TV and radio. TV ads generate the most revenues for advertisers, but represent the most expensive medium for advertising and only the biggest corporate budgets can afford them.

Billboards also account for significant revenue, in part because market saturation drives up the cost of billboard advertising space. According to the Outdoor Advertisers Guild, the billboard occupancy rate in Abidjan is between 80% and 100%, and space must often be reserved up to six months in advance. Billboard saturation is partly the result of a government freeze on the issuance of new billboard permits. This, combined with a recent crackdown on illegally erected outdoor advertising structures.

Commercial and community radio spots are popular for advertising to a broader audience, particularly in less urban areas. Due to the low internet user rate, estimated by the World Bank at 2.4% in 2012, advertising on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets has not yet taken off.

Non-Media Marketing

A major growth area is event marketing, including campaigns for galas, political speaking engagements, concerts, and promotional and cultural events. With the return of stability in the country, demand for leisure and social venues is growing, and hotels, bars and restaurants are responding by creating new concepts such as after work events and brunch specials.

The overlapping segment of institutional marketing has also seen recent growth, driven by the surge in government and international development activity. Public awareness campaigns for government development projects and advertising for international conferences and official inaugurations account for roughly a third of ad firm Reverso’s business; the agency also serves as the public relations consultant agency for the Ministry of Petrol and Energy.

Human Capital

The major challenge facing the advertising industry is the current deficit in human resources. Although there are a number of schools offering basic marketing degrees, there remains a lack of quality training in graphic design. Some universities have recently launched digital design programmes, but these are still new to the country and there are insufficient numbers of local professionals who possess the necessary expertise in the field and ability to teach. Côte d’Ivoire is not alone in this regard; in a September 2013 press interview, Ogilvy Africa’s regional creative director, Alan Edgar observed that the advertising sector in Africa was “alive and vibrant, but in dire need of world-class tertiary training institutions to tap into that potential… The raw talent is there,” he said, “it just needs help with training.” In the meantime, Ivorian agencies bridge the gap by recruiting abroad or hiring foreign-educated members of the returning diaspora.

Local Edge

At both a regional and country level, localisation is a fundamental component of successful advertising. “In order to enter an African market,” said Travé, “it is essential to have a local approach and knowledge of the local context. Because access to statistics is limited, it is not possible to base a campaign on market research alone. However, the lack of statistical data can be replaced, to an extent, with knowledge of the local terrain, which is why local partnerships can be very useful.”

As access to credit remains a challenge for the industry, many Ivorian advertising agencies seek to partner with a well-established multinational firm, providing targeted local expertise in exchange for capital and growth opportunities. As an increasingly sophisticated Ivorian advertising industry expands into the sub-region, there is significant potential for these partnerships. Growth in event marketing is expected to continue, while the transition to digital TV and expected liberalisation of the audio-visual sector is expected to create new opportunities for advertising while reducing the cost of televised ad spots.

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