We had an exciting chat with the Creative Director of Now Available Africa, Emmanuel Amankwah. Now Available Africa is an independent ad agency with its head office in Accra, Ghana. It operates satellite offices in Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria. Its multinational clients include Nestlé CWA, Unilever CDI and IOM ( International Organization for Migration).
Now Available Africa. That’s an interesting name. What inspired it?
Our founders envisaged an agency that is always at the cutting edge of advertising, they created a unique proposition that did not exist before, hence the name Now Available Africa, we make the seemingly impossible task achievable and available now.
What are the core values of your agency?
To create with Passion, to lead with cutting edge creativity and to show integrity in all our relationships.
Which of your campaigns are you most proud of and why?
This is like being asked to choose between your children. Tough ask, isn’t it? But in terms of scale and the use of media, our SKY Girls campaign stands out. SKY Girls is more than a campaign, we created a movement! that can best be described as hyper ambitious. It was like five or six campaigns in one and it really tested every skill, every resource and even created additional skills in the agency. SKY Girls breathed new life into NAA, and I think we have all gotten better as a result of crafting and executing this movement. It's something that has and will continue to have big impact on teen girls in Africa.
What informed your decision to enter for Pitcher Awards?
I think the Pitcher Awards is fast becoming a very recognized Advertising Awards platform. It’s close association with the celebrated Lürzer’s Archive as well as the Cannes Lions Festival has made it, globally recognized. But more importantly, the Pitcher Awards is leading the push for creativity that is true to the African essence. This is very important if we want our work to receive the recognition it deserves in the world.
I believe it’s time for us to stop apologizing for the work we create. We are African; we speak, act and create differently from the rest of the world. We have to be proud of our unique identity and keep creating work that embraces this. The Pitcher Awards is leading this charge and it is great news for all of us.
Did your expectations for entering match the results?
As an agency, our expectations for entering any awards competition is one: to win. Not some, but in all of the categories we enter. With The Pitchers we also came to disrupt and shine a light on Creativity coming out of Ghana. Coming into the recently held event, we had very high expectations; which were not all met. Our work stood out and won some accolades but given the high standard of work coming out of Africa we know that we have to work much harder to achieve more In the next event.
Some people think winning awards is just for ego tripping. How do you connect your success at the awards to practical business strategies?
This perception is unfortunate as it puts so much pressure on Award Show organizers to do more to prove the skeptics wrong. Maybe, that’s a good thing. For us, we see awards as an important part of our entire agency business. When we win, we get the rare opportunity for someone to tell our clients that we are good. For existing clients, it’s proof that they’ve made the right choice and for potential clients, it’s assurance that they should keep calm and go with us.
In our experience, awards help us get noticed and then put pressure on us to prove that we are capable. So, winning actually means, lots and lots of hard work because that’s the only way we can remain consistent in this highly competitive industry.
With thousands of raw ideas at hand, how do you succeed in coming up with a successful campaign?
We are always asking ourselves why anyone would care about what we are doing or what we are saying. I think that’s the key in helping us cut through the clutter of messages and ideas that are all around us.
At the end of the day a campaign must make an impact and the best approach is to be strategic in your communications and to put the target needs at the center of execution
We try to immerse ourselves in the lives of our audience in order to feel what they feel so we can clearly express a thought that will immediately connect with them and hopefully, cause a reaction. We don’t succeed all the time; but we make this our approach whenever we are creating any campaign.
What do you think about the level of advertising in Ghana?
Advertising in Ghana has come a long way. When I was growing up, there was only one television station and one radio station. Both of them were national and all radio and TV advertising went through these stations. Today, digital has liberalised the media front, bringing with it, countless channels. This has given rise to increased content from just about anywhere. Advertising agencies don’t have total control over ideas any longer; anyone with a great idea can create and share with the public at any time.
Clients are beginning to take note of this and this is why there appears to be a gradual shift from the traditional agency retainer model. There is a massive rise in online influencers who keep creating amazing content and collaborating with brands who are interested in using their content to tell their stories. We have also seen a strong push for locally relevant content. Just over a decade ago, it was rare to find a print ad with a headline in any local language. Today, the use of the local language in advertising is no longer an exception.
But we still have a long way to go. Digital is still a growing media with just about 35% Internet penetration. Most people still equate social media with digital advertising. Traditional media budget is still way higher than digital in about 70% of all advertising campaigns, every year.
Elsewhere, digital advertising spend is fast exceeding traditional spend. The famed, 30-second TV spots are increasingly being replaced by programmatic advertising on Facebook and Google. But I’m pretty excited about the growth of content in Ghana. There are many positives to take from this development. The future is bright.
How would you say Now Available Africa is doing something different?
Now Available Africa has always been a different kind of agency. From its setting up till now, we have been all about pushing the boundaries. Our agency is the pioneering digital agency in the country. When we started talking and doing digital, it was almost unheard of in the country and possibly, in the sub-region. We started off as a digital-first agency because, we understood that digital is the future.
But more importantly, we don’t believe in labelling our agency as a digital or traditional or multimedia media agency. We are simply, the agency that looks for novel ways to feed our messages into the larger media and pop-culture machine so we can dramatically increase reach and impact. If a particular campaign requires a digital only approach or a multimedia approach, then we will be ready to offer it. This has been our approach in many of the successful campaigns we have created.
One of your popular saying is that: “We don’t wait for a brief to suggest creative solutions” We know the traditional process is for client to brief agency on proposed campaigns, how are you able to get your clients to sign off on unsolicited work?
Being immersed in a brand means living the brand every day and actively looking for ways to make a brand become better all the time. So, by not waiting for briefs from client we are just being proactively mature in ensuring we catch the flow or the next wave of any campaign. The agency is a consultant and at the end of the day a good consultant always covers all basis and looks ahead.
What are the major challenges facing advertising agencies in your country?
Broadly speaking, I think the main challenge facing our industry is economic. Our country is still heavily reliant on primary commodities like cocoa, gold, and oil. All of these are subject to unpredictable changes on the international market and this is a great threat to our economy. And when the economy of any country is unpredictable, brands cut their advertising spend dramatically.
Talent is one area where there is a big challenge. Till date, there is no institution that trains advertising creative or marketing people for the job market. There are institutions who train designers and marketers but not the kind of training that is needed in the Advertising industry today. For this reason, agencies have to constantly begin training new entrants, from scratch. There is often little time for this and so you find that the few who are available keep moving from agency to agency, making staff turnover, very high in the industry.
Another challenge we face is evaluating the effectiveness of the kinds of content we use. There is a challenge of convincing clients on ROI of the kinds of content used. Digital media helps in terms of reach and interaction but beyond this, it is difficult to track the effectiveness on the traditional side of things. In this digital age, agencies have to be able to combine the science of consumer behaviour with the art of content creation in order to keep moving forward. The lack of accurate media data on all media channels is another challenge facing our industry in today’s big data world.
Agencies are dealing with a lot of change right now. Media, technologies, and consumer behaviour are always evolving, and that can sometimes make it difficult to successfully run an agency. Do you think your agency can withstand the storm?
Yes. I think the way we can weather each storm as it comes, is to keep looking forward. We need to keep attracting great talent by producing the kind of work that gets noticed, and makes people want to associate with. We must listen more to the people we are creating content for. Today’s consumer has such a powerful voice and huge following; we cannot ignore what they have to say. This is why co-creation is very important for the future of our business and the businesses of our clients.
What are your expectations for 2020 Pitcher Awards?
I expect great storytelling that makes very relevant use of media and appeals to audiences in a very personal and purposeful way. I am hopeful that the bar that was set last year will be raised and we will see work that show how far content has come over the past few years. Most of all, I’m looking for entries that show a little more bravery.
Finally, where do you see Now available Africa in the next 10 years?
Our strategic medium to long term plan is to be a regional player in the digital advertising space in Africa. We want to actively serve a broad spectrum of clients to generate meaningful business outcomes, using the most talented team and the most effective tools available.