When it rains in Nairobi, all hell literally breaks loose. In the last month many hapless residents of the city spent several hours in traffic. I recall sitting on Waiyaki Way for two hours and the bewilderment of the people I was meeting when I told them I was a few kilometers away two hours before.
When you are stuck in traffic, your entertainment options narrow down to what is in your immediate surrounding and the radio in the car. And thus a people who at 7pm are glued to a television set sat impatiently in front of a billboard and the car in front. Thus happened the elevation of outdoor to an important medium for marketing people advertising in Nairobi audiences.
Kenya is served by more than 120 radio stations with many broadcasting in Nairobi. A population of just under four million has more than 40 radio stations beamed at it, while there are less than 10 main roads to the most important places in the same geography. Fragmentation makes it harder to reach the majority of people in a short period unless an advertiser uses several radio stations.
New roads have also created new opportunities in formats. Road gantries, a new format that traverses the entire road is set to be soon rolled soon providing even greater visibility to outdoor campaigns. The cost of these will however challenge many advertisers especially when compared to road bridges signs that have been around for several years and cost way less .
The other challenge with outdoor revolves around industry regulation. The root challenges here have to do with ownership of roads, definitions of road reserves and general regulatory attitude. Our roads are generally defined as owned by one of several bodies, central government or county government and the people who manage parks. Many of these have different attitudes and approaches to outdoor.
Expect each county to bear its own ideas and approaches too. Regulatory attitude has to do with regularly changing policies that are often not properly complied with or enforced. Nairobi's billboard clutter has been helped by poor enforcement of billboard distances. Standardization of ad formats remains the other challenge. For a while the authorities prescribed allowable formats, these have changed in the last few months and while the evolution may be normal, compounding complexity in new roads and enforcement issues creates a chaos that renders the industry weak.
While we rate most industries in Kenya rather organised, our outdoor industry could learn from Nigeria and South Africa. The important issue to remember about this industry though is that it bears the industry DNA of the real estate industry, and Kenyans are historically chaotic about matters land and housing. The industry is larger than the music industry and possibly several better-regulated industries. Adding proper structure to the sector will unlock value to advertisers and the economy.
Frank Maina is lead consultant at FMC and CEO at mobile agency Sponge.