9 November 2012

Uganda: Evolution of Outdoor Advertising


At every junction and roundabout in Kampala billboards in different sizes and shapes stand out competing for attention. They also adorn some stretches on major roads announcing different products.

In Kampala, billboards are now part of the city landscape, an indication that something healthy is developing in the economy. It means there is competition and there are a range of products being announced.

Big towns like Jinja, Mbarara and Mbale are also seeing the introduction of billboards which previously were predominately a Kampala phenomenon.

In Uganda's 50 years of independence there were eras when there was nothing to advertise. During the days of black market in 1970s billboards were not needed because items smuggled into the country were sold in secrecy. In addition there were also days when industries had collapsed with nothing to put on the market.

Even in the 1960s there were hardly any billboards to rival today's. At the time the economic activity of a country that had just gained independence was still low to warrant billboards.

Father Damien Grimes, the former head teacher of Namasagali School says that during the 1960s-1980s black and white posters, leaflets and fliers were all that outdoor advertising entailed. During this period the Ugandan consumers were less sophisticated and exposed that they needed simple messages. In addition competition among brands was not stiff.

In the 1970s there was hardly anything to market and in the early 1980s the country was trapped in a war and business was low. When the war ended in 1986, new businesses started emerging. Even then it was not easy. There were hardly any foreign investors.

"Business in the late 1980s was not like it is today. Back then, most service providers were monopolies. We did not have big shopping malls, or supermarkets that needed to be advertised," Boney Mubangizi, a Vision Group senior sales executive.

Mubangizi explains that the span of advertising bloomed in the late 1990s, especially with the coming of the telecoms that are today credited for having revolutionized, not just billboard adverts, but the entire advertising platform in Uganda.

From simple and plain billboards, new trends have come up like electronic billboards, news bulletin billboards, wall branding, mobile branding and ornament branding.

Just like the economy is growing so is the advertising sectors. Not only is it raking in billons but also keeping pace with modern advertising. A wide range of billboards are in use.

Traditional billboard advertising

It uses canvas print outs, stretched out on square shape metal, supported by an iron cylindrical pole. The early years were not as good as it looks today. In the 1990s to early 2000s illustrations or graphics used in marking out the advert were written in art painting. When it rained, all the contents of the adverts were erased.

This persisted until the late 2000s, when new technology was introduced. Canvas printing from South Africa and Kenya became trendy.

Wall branding

In 2002, wall branding became the newest trend though it was not really that new way of advertising. Small shops or stores used to brand their doors or part of the shop walls with their names and the items they offered.

James Kiwanuka, the managing director of Capital outdoor advertising agency says that there was always an inconsistence in the finished works, but when they invented a new work stencil that was carved out of wood, used it on our first assignment at Unilever, it produced tidy work.

"When other advertisers saw this, they were amazed, they also started running to us to have their company logos branded on commercial buildings," he says.

Today, wall branding is common and has spread to other African countries like Nigeria, and South Africa.

 Electronic billboard advertising

It is just four years old, and there are four electronic billboards already placed around the city. The first of its kind though was at Entebbe road, near Conrad plaza in 2009.

Ornament branding

A good example of this type of advertising is the branding of sections of the road or roundabouts. When Uganda hosted CHOGM in 2007 Kibuye and Jinja Road roundabouts were branded.

Today the two roundabouts are draped in white, red, and blue colour.

Mobile branding

It came into the country in the late 2000s. Lately, many private and public companies, or organizations are fully engaged in it, they have their company or public vehicles like buses, taxis, trailers, and motor bikes covered up in their brand names.

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