Increasing competition: New communications platforms boost sector activity

Given Gabon’s small domestic market, a dynamic advertising sector has developed in the last 20 years as companies vie for audience share. Particularly tight competition in heavy-spend sectors, including telecoms, banking and agro-industry, has led some companies to communicate regularly and across a variety of national platforms. As Gabon’s economy grows – and, more importantly, diversifies into new sectors – the advertising industry will continue to expand to include new players and a wider variety of communications platforms.

MARKET PARTICIPANTS: Traditionally, the country’s advertising sector has been dominated by a few large communication agencies, some of which also own the media outlets in which they advertise. Major players include Publicom for print media, the state broadcaster Radiodiffusion Télévision Gabonaise (RTG) for TV and radio, Médiaffiche for public signage, as well as the Gabonese d’Edition et de Communication (GEC).

In the past, companies often developed their own advertising campaigns in-house and placed them in various media platforms, and many local businesses still follow this model. However, as Gabonese consumer culture has developed, advertising activity has increased across the board, with expansion in the number and type of outlets and more creative agencies in place than before.

Publicom, the advertising arm of Sonapresse, is responsible for all advertising placements in L’

Another well-established public signage network is managed by Médiaffiche, which is owned by the diversified media company BO Communications. Médiaffiche operates one of the country’s largest networks of billboards spread throughout Libreville and its periphery, including Owendo. The company, which has increased its stock in recent years, manages 133 billboards, or 204 total ad spaces, in a variety of formats ranging from 12 sq metres to 35 sq metres. The group’s broadcast advertising arm, Régie Africa Networks, places all of its advertisements on the two stations that are owned by BO Communications, TV+ and Radio Nostalgie.

As is the case in many African countries, advertising campaigns that are tailored specifically to the tastes of the local market – whether it means a television commercial in pidgin in Nigeria, or Kwaito music playing in the background of a South African radio pitch – often fare better in terms of audience response than do campaigns that are imported from the US or Europe, but Gabon lacks sufficient local production facilities to handle the creation of Gabonese-only broadcast advertising content.

GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: The National Communications Council (Conseil National de Communications, CNC) is the sector’s governing body, but the advertising market is more loosely regulated than that of regular media and for the outdoor segment, regulations and licensing for advertising generally fall under municipal oversight.

A draft communications code has been under discussion since 2011 and will eventually replace the current code, which dates back to 2001. It is possible that the new communications code may include more provisions for advertising oversight, but there is no definitive timeline for when the new code is expected. Little progress on this matter is expected until October 2012 once the new president of the CNC, Guy Bertrand Mapangou, has settled into his new role, following his appointment in May 2012. By the summer of 2012, CNC had begun to take a more ambitious stance in regulating certain segments of the advertising market, including certain providing restrictions on drug and pharmaceutical commercials on the television and radio.

BILLBOARDS: As is the case throughout the region, spend on out-of-home advertising is fairly robust. Demand for advertisement via billboards and other public signage has remained solid despite a diversifying broadcast and print media landscape in Gabon. Because Libreville is a small city, and cars and buses are the dominant mode of transport, billboards are a good way to reach a broad audience.

In recent years, a number of new advertising and media groups have made their way onto the market, many of which set up billboard networks in order to increase clients’ presence during the African Cup of Nations (Coupe d’Afrique des Nations, CAN) football tournament, which Gabon co-hosted with neighbour Equatorial Guinea from January to February 2012. To establish public signage networks, companies must register with the city of Libreville and pay an annual tax. A few of the signage networks established before the CAN were created on an informal basis, and city authorities are having some trouble with companies that fail to pay taxes.

NEW SERVICES: The number of traditional advertising agencies, which purchase advertising space on behalf of clients, develop communication campaigns and branding strategies, conduct public and media relations and organise events, is growing. GEC is one such agency that provides a variety of services, managing one of the few nationwide public signage networks, with a presence in Libreville as well as the provincial capitals Lambaréné, Mouila, Port-Gentil and Franceville. The company has installed three 40-sq-metre LED screen billboards in Libreville and expects to launch two more in the near future. GEC also produces an annual business directory, the Practical Guide to Gabon (Guide Pratique du Gabon), in which operators can purchase a featured advertisement in addition to their listing.

Companies are increasingly offering brand development, marketing strategy, event management and campaign services to clients, inserting themselves into the traditionally direct relationship between advertisers and media groups. In addition to GEC, a number of international agencies have established offices in Gabon, including Havas Media, AG Partners, Rackkham, McCann Erickson, Delfia and Ogilvy. In a trend seen across the continent, the growing number of operators is a testament to the potential for growth in the sector, although many advertisements in print and broadcast media are still placed directly by companies and media outlets. Global advertising giants have sought to expand their direct presence in Africa in recent years as the region’s purchasing power grows, often by increasing ownership and stakes in existing agencies – as WPP has done in Kenya – or buying out local partners – as Ogilvy has done in Ghana.

KEY PLATFORMS: The primary communication platforms in Gabon remain print media, public signage in urban areas and television. Most of print advertising goes to the daily newspapers L’Union and Gabon Matin, given their wide readership. L’Union offers a variety of print advertisements ranging from CFA70,000 (€105) to CFA300,000 (€450) for a black-and-white band on the front page and CFA1.8m (€2700) for a full-page colour ad.

However, the development of economic and business monthlies such as Economie Gabon+, Gabon Economie Magazine and Gabon Emergent News has created a niche market for companies looking for exposure within the business community. Companies in several industries that are tightly linked with the government’s Emerging Gabon strategy, including construction, public works, energy and transport, have increased their advertising presence in such economy-focused publications, in hopes of reaching both a national and an expatriate audience.

Television and radio, rather than the press, are the key media for reaching rural populations, as insufficient road networks, transport delays and a small rural market size make reaching the interior costly and difficult. The national press distributor, Sogapresse, manages 179 press sales outlets nationwide, 115 of which are located in the capital. Sogapresse directly distributes publications to 12 cities in other provinces: Port-Gentil and Gamba in the West; Lambaréné, Mouila and Tchibanga in the centre; Oyem, Bitam, Minvoul and Makokou in the North-North-east, as well as Franceville, Moanda and Koulamoutou in the South-east. However, the poor condition of roads remains an obstacle.

The RTG has traditionally received the majority of TV advertising traffic mainly due to the fact that it has the largest broadcast footprint. However, television viewership is changing as international channels gain ground vis-à-vis local ones. The market share for satellite television has increased steadily over the last decade and, as of 2011, CanalSat Horizons, the African subsidiary of CanalSat, held about 40% of the pay-TV segment. Gabon became the fourth country in sub-Saharan Africa to launch digital terrestrial television (DTTV) services in 2009, under a government-led effort to make the transition to digital television by 2015.

Digital TV was selected as the private sector partner to market digital pay-TV packages nationwide under the brand TNT Africa. DTTV bouquet prices are lower than those of satellite providers, and TNT Africa saw a rapid expansion in subscriber numbers following its launch in September 2009.

INTERNATIONAL FOCUS: A 2010 market study conducted by TNS Sofres indicates that while over 90% of television audiences in Libreville reported tuning in to the main public channel, RTG 1, every week, international channels have made significant headway into viewership with the spread of satellite and DTTV packages. Roughly 45% of audiences in Libreville reported tuning in to France 24 in 2010, including 93.3% of business managers interviewed. TV5Monde reached 35.9% of Libreville’s viewing audiences, followed by 34.3% for Canal+.

The entrance of a new actor onto the broadcast media market in 2012, CNBC Africa, may also provide a unique advertising opportunity for local companies. CNBC Africa established its Gabon bureau in April 2012 as part of an effort to launch 20 bureaux across Africa by 2014. The Libreville bureau is CNBC’s first in francophone Africa; Gabon currently contributes 6- to 8-minute interviews on the local economy and private sector projects.

The network has a relatively small domestic audience as all broadcasts are in English, but content reaches 4.2m subscribers in 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa via DS tv. As such, it provides a platform for companies looking to increase their presence in Africa or to encourage foreign investment in Gabon. Olam, the Singapore-based multinational developing the Special Economic Zone of Nkok as well as large-scale agro-industrial operations, has signed on as the network’s first local advertiser.

ON THE WEB: At present, the online advertising sector in Gabon is limited by low internet penetration rates and slow connectivity speeds. According to the Ministry of Digital Economy, the total number of internet subscribers in the country stood at 282,776 as of the end of 2011, but fewer than 7000 of these subscribers benefitted from high-speed access. A project to introduce a second submarine fibre-optic cable stands to boost internet connectivity. As such, some advertisers are developing plans to move online in the coming years, but the market is not yet sufficiently developed to support major investment.

Several online media platforms exist, including Gaboneco, Gabonews, Agence Gabonaise de Presse and Economie Gabon+, which present a mix of domestic economic and political news. Gabonews and Gaboneco are largely dependent on advertising as they are privately owned, exist only online and access is provided free of charge. Gabon Review, a new website owned by the communications company ACI Gabon, entered the sector in 2011 and offers general economic news and analysis. Publicom may branch out into online advertising when its online subscription service is launched in the third quarter of 2012. L’Union content has not been previously been available online, and the paper is making an effort to move to the web in order to capture a broader international market.

SPECIAL EVENTS: A handful of major international events in 2012 helped to stimulate the advertising sector by drawing international attention to the local market. From January through February 2012, Gabon co-hosted the 28th biennial CAN football tournament with neighbouring Equatorial Guinea.

With increased tourist arrivals and coverage from the international media, the football tournament provided a temporary but significant boost to the sector. A report published in April by the organising committee of the CAN 2012 indicated that domestic and international companies together broadcast a total of 1500 TV advertising spots on 14 channels throughout the tournament, reaching more than 150m viewers. Many companies upped their advertising budgets to reach a broader audience during the tournament, although most media outlets have found that advertising levels returned to normal once the tournament ended.

REVENUE BOOST: Several local media outlets took advantage of the opportunity presented by the CAN to maximise advertising revenue. The main daily newspaper, L’Union, increased its publication from 24 to 32 pages and went to full colour during the tournament period, experiencing a corresponding 20% jump in advertising revenue. The newspaper also produced a CAN special edition magazine profiling the teams and the tournament history, which featured full-page advertisements from companies in a variety of industries. Similarly, Publicom upped the prices of billboard space in and around the Libreville airport to capitalise on increased traffic.

RTG also introduced a special pricing scheme for advertisements during the tournament. The resulting boost in revenue, although limited to the duration of the tournament, has helped support the organisation’s broadcasts while it awaits the green light for an internal restructuring. Since the telecoms company Orange was the primary sponsor of the tournament, local telecoms operators, Gabon’s most reliable advertisers, were excluded from advertising at official tournament events and in official materials. However, Cyr Nze-Menzü, the CFO of RTG, explained to OBG that “even without the regular advertisers, new companies stepped up to take advantage of the opportunity that the CAN presented and boosted the sector in January and February.”

FOREIGN INTEREST: Gabon also received a spate of high-level visitors and international media attention by hosting the New York Forum for Africa, a three-day forum focusing on development in Africa. Run by the US-based communications firm Richard Attias & Associates, the New York Forum is held regularly in the US, and this was the first such outpost of the forum to be held in Africa. From June 8-10, 2012, heads of state as well as corporate leaders convened in Libreville, garnering considerable media attention. The forum counts the Financial Times, France 24, RFI, Afrik.com, African Geopolitics, Canal+ Afrique, Euronews, Slate.fr, TV5Monde and VoxAfrica among its official media partners.

As Gabon’s national development plan, Emerging Gabon, and recent growth bring international media attention to the country, it is creating advertising possibilities for domestic and international companies alike. There has been discussion of repeating the Forum in 2013, which should help to solidify its impact on the advertising market.

OUTLOOK: While long-established outlets maintain their strong position, new actors on the market – which were attracted by the opportunity presented by the CAN as well as a growing consumer culture – have increased the advertising offer and made the sector more competitive. The development of new business-focused publications in Gabon that reach a niche audience is highly valuable to companies in industries that will be critical to the nation’s development projects. Gabon’s growing presence on the international stage through high-visibility events like the New York Forum Africa should allow firms to reach a broader audience of foreign investors.

The sector also stands to benefit from a positive outlook in the global advertising industry. Advertising spending is on the rise in the emerging markets of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. A study by US-based Nielsen showed that annual ad spending increased by 11% to $20bn in Africa and the Middle East in 2011, compared to stagnant growth in Europe. With its upper-middle-income economy, expanding international presence and diverse media market, Gabon is well positioned to take part in this growth.

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