The Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA) sent a warning letter concerning brewery advertisements and sponsor credit to five broadcasting media outlets on 30th March, 2016. These included the giant state-owned Ethiopia Broadcasting Corporation (EBC), Fana Broadcsting, EBS, Sheger FM and Bisrat Fm.
The memo was regarding the breach of a legal provision in the law to determine the conduct of media advertisements and sections dealing with alcoholic drinks, by way of protecting young from the promotion of such goods.
The writings on the wall are visible.
Meetings that bring together media leaders should not avoid debate around the nature of commercial advertising, particularly with respect to alcoholic drinks, senior management at one the broadcasters addressed by the letter told Fortune.
“Extreme calls for a ban on alcohol drinks advertisement are increasingly supported,” said the Manager. “But the best way out is to find a middle ground, as the industry is too big to drop altogether.”
Alcoholic drinks with a 12pc level of alcohol or more are legally banned from being advertised in mass media, while others, with lower alcohol content, are allowed. There are, however, some conditions in order to protect minors.
“The impact of advertisements on my son is huge,” a mother of a six-year-old told Fortune. “My son thinks the actor in one of the beer commercials is actually Menilik.”
She also says that challenging that perception has been difficult for her, as the packaging and format of the advertisements is so appealing to her son.
Background music, colours and composition in advertisements is increasingly improving. Repetition in prime time slots and the parallel release through different medium – broadcast and print media – is common.
Currently, seven commercial FM radios, soon to become ten, and close to six TV channels, all in Amharic, are operational in the capital and surrounding areas.
Despite the tremendous shift in production quality and quantity, the industry is still bearing a scar from the way the industry has evolved in the country.
An assessment carried out in 2010 on the impact of advertising, which focused on alcohol advertisements, highlighted traces back to the earlier periods of the post-1991 emergence of private businesses followed by floods of unchecked product advertisements. There was no legal framework or designated body to regulate and guide the sector, but it was marginally addressed by the then Ministry of Information.
The same study, by Yemane Birhane (prof.) and his colleagues, founder of the Addis Continental Institute of Public Health, then concluded that alcohol advertising was contravening with principles of marketing.
“Questionable legal ages and the use of imagery particularly appealing to young audiences are principal misgivings,” reads the study.
The letter from the Authority pinpointed specific advertisement content lines resounding with the study’s findings.
In a nutshell, it criticises phrases and the presentation of consumers and non-consumers, elaborating on some. Metta Lanbesochu, according to the Authority, is alluring for children, but not the targeted adults. It also said that it is exclusionary to look down on those that do not. Habesha and Walia Beer’s advertisements, on the other hand, are criticised for their close association of the brand with the essence of ‘Ethiopianess’, misrepresenting the diverse society, the letter reads.
Each of these three breweries joined the sector in the last decade, swiftly winning a significant share of the growing market.
The British multinational alcoholic beverages major producer, Diageo plc, the owner of Meta Abo Brewery, joined the sector upon buying the 42-year-old state-owned enterprise for 250 million dollars, followed by Heineken, the Dutch giant that took over the Bedelle and Harar beer factories for close to 180 million dollars.
Unlike the two international actors, Habesha, founded by local investors, later welcomed Bavarian – peer to the other two in the global competition of breweries, which owns a 40pc share of the company.
The race to get hold of the emerging market was soon transformed into a marketing campaign. The sponsorship of events, books and movies began, including the huge campaign by Heineken under the Walia brand, which is also the brand of the National football team, outside of the country. The cost has escalated too, with the average price for a one minute advertising production having reached 250,000 birr, while prime time slots have become multimillion birr transactions. A month for advertising and promotion is no unique tactic in this respect.
The fierce competition will continue, analysts agree.
Projected robust growth will continue to rise the disposable incomes of such companies, pushing private consumption up 6.5pc until 2019, according to BMI research – a Fitch Group company doing food and drink insight analysis.
Despite the huge amount of revenue from advertising in the sector, some of the broadcasters stopped airing the commercials.
“We have formed a company that is committed to revising their advertisements,” Siefu Alemseged, promotions and marketing department representative, told Fortune. “It is in their hands now”
The Brewery companies, however, could not disclose the monetary and business impact, saying it is too early for them to calculate the cost. None objected the stance of the authority, however, nor the broadcaster’s decision to temporarily cease to air the controversial ads named in the letter.
As for the broadcasters, failure to respect the order might result in facing criminal, civil or administrative liabilities, the letter warns.
“A long-term solution should emanate from within,” the senior manager of one of the broadcasters told Fortune. “Professional associations and the council’s role in setting ethical standards is the best way out.”
All are on the same page when it comes to accepting the Authority’s decision to raise the flag. The best solution, however, is yet to be decided.