Where Ads Must Pay Their Way

November 30, 2013   ·   0 Comments


By Robert Waterhouse:

Suzy Menkes at INYT's S.E.A. of Luxury Conference, Singapore, Nov 2013.

Style Editor Suzy Menkes at INYT's S.E.A. of Luxury Conference, Singapore, Nov 2013.

I returned to France from nearly four weeks in Addis Ababa on November 21. My copy of the INYT was duly waiting in the mailbox: no surprise and no surprises.

It was the day of the Luxury Conference special report – eight pages of East-influenced wealth-spend inducement based on a Suzy Menkes Singapore event – while over in the main paper Breitling had one of their double-spread centre page cut-out ads with ace pilot John Travolta saying “Welcome to my world”, and Jaeger-LeCoultre were hosting another Tides of Time World Heritage ad supplement, reporting a glitzy jamboree in Ajaccio, Corsica.

That Tuesday I’d been reading on page four of The Ethiopian Herald, (the country’s semi-official daily) an invitation from the Addis Ababa Construction Project Office for companies to bid for building a sanitary sewer line, another from the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation inviting bids for engineering design, manufacture, factory testing and site delivery of substation equipment to power the new Beles and Wolkayit sugar factories, while yet another from Ethio Telecom sought competitive international suppliers of IT net screen and firewall equipment.

At the top end, Ethiopia is a rampant economy. Addis Ababa has swollen from perhaps three million souls a decade ago to possibly nine million today. It needs just about everything China has to offer and it’s getting it in quick measure, including a 34.5km light railway system being inserted through city streets in less than two years.

The Herald is not the only newspaper to benefit from working ads. Both the English-language business weeklies, Capital and Fortune, are stuffed with tender invitations, company reports or simply promotion of new arrivals on the market like Iveco trucks and Canon office equipment. Even Ethiopian Airlines’ sleek in-flight magazine, Selamta, carries a prominent page in the November/December 2013 issue from Lifan, the Chinese motorcycle manufacturer, seeking agents in Africa.

At first gasp it’s extremely refreshing to read ads which could actually help change people’s quality of life. At second gasp excitement palls. Not only are the ads poorly designed and ridden with typographical errors, the on-page combination with government-approved news (censorship, or most often self-censorship, is the order of the day) provokes an overwhelming urge to join the crowd at the nearest happy hour bar and sample the country’s excellent beers.

The Herald is, however, a great source of information about Ethiopia’s current position on the cusp of East African progress. Not just the industrial side, either. The Wednesday November 13 issue carries a top-of-the page ad placed by the Ministry of Federal Affairs:

“Bible for Eternal Life Ministry has applied to use this name as a religious institution. Any individual or organization opposing this name is hereby requested to report to Ministry of Federal Affairs of Religious Organization and Association Directorate. On November 25 2013 at 9:00am.”

The bottom of page 1 in the same edition carries the strip slogan “Meles! Your promises will be kept; the GRD will be realized through public participation” (Meles Zenawi being the former prime minister, who died last year; GRD stands for the controversial Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam of the Upper Nile, being cast as a memorial to Meles).

Stirring stuff, but at the bottom of the Op-Ed page, underneath an article entitled “Towards ensuring food security” (Part 2), lies an apology: “We humbly inform our readers that the name Jacques Diouf on part 1 of this article which was carried on yesterday’s issue should have been read as Jose Graziano Da Silva.”

Well, an article headed “African media: Challenges, opportunities in transforming continent” Part 1 by Meskerem Lemma, filling much of the Op-Ed page on Saturday November 16, began this way (sic):

“True to its name as emerging international conference city, Addis Ababa hosted a series regional designated as ‘African Governance Week’ and international conferences that range from African Health Journalists Association (AHJA), African Media Leaders (AMLF), Mo Ibrahim’s Africa 2.0: ‘A business plan for Africa from vision to execution’ to African women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMENT), to the 2nd Int’l Population, Health and Environment Conference (PHE) to the International Conference on Family Planning which lasted four days and ended yesterday. The conferences gathered about 5,000 individuals from all over the world.”

I can attest to the high volume of delegates flooding hotels and monopolising road space in their delegate buses that week. I can’t attest to the number of readers who made it to the second paragraph of the above report.

Robert Waterhouse is a British-born journalist who lives in France. He writes NYTX’s “International AdWatch” column.


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