Graphic Business News

Creative disruption: How Insel is making waves in Ghana’s ad industry

By: S. Kwame Appiah
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Advertising has been a handmaiden of commerce for as long as products have been built and sold. The best advertising campaigns do more than sell you a product; they change your habits and, in the process,, insert themselves into the culture, sometimes birthing movements that last beyond the product itself.

In the 1920s, Listerine transformed itself into an indispensable staple of personal hygiene with its “Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride” campaign. More recently, Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty,” which sought to challenge “traditional” notions of beauty, has changed the ways in which women view themselves and led to other companies and agencies responding by casting women with more “regular” looks in their campaigns.   

 As the media through which we interact with each other and with companies have evolved, advertising has also evolved to keep up. From the etchings on the caveman’s walls, through the first mass print publications made possible by the Guten

The advertising scene
Over the years, the Ghanaian advertising industry has seen some remarkable campaigns turned out by its big companies working with some talented agencies and individuals. The Pioneer Nails advert, which saw a rapping Ekow Blankson bemoaning the lack of good nails; the Key Soap advert in which Kofi Middleton Mends mistakes his wife’s approving comments about her detergent to be about him; and the Club beer ad which declared that “beer di3r, enoa ne club” are some that come to mind.

These ads did not only influence spending decisions but became integral to the cultural conversations of the time, birthing references, catchphrases and repeated in varying forms across the country. Such creativity was also an affirmation of the genius of the companies that worked in the industry. At various stages, creative houses such as AP Lintas; Origin8; and MMRS, under the leadership of Reginald Laryea have dominated and shaped the industry.

Not even political processes are immune from the influence of advertising. Dr Kobby Mensah, a lecturer at the University of Ghana Business School and an authority on political marketing, conducted extensive research into the 2000 General Elections and concluded that advertising played a significant role in influencing the eventual results of the election. It is no coincidence that the victorious party, the New Patriotic Party, had as its Campaign Manager, Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, a consummate ad man. Since then, election years have seen the major parties attempt to outdo each other in producing the catchiest adverts and refrains. E dey bee keke, right? 

Industry growth
As the Ghanaian economy has grown, so has the advertising industry. With more companies, more competition, more revenue and a growing and sophisticated consumer class, the need for companies to create iconic advertising that defines their products and services as well as their corporate character and image is greater than ever. With a plural media and the rise of the internet and social media, there are no limits on the platforms through which companies can interact with their customers – real and potential. This has created enormous opportunities for firms to express themselves and for creative firms to make a mark and take a bigger share in the industry, which is said to be growing at around 25 percent a year. In 2014, Ghana’s advertising industry was valued at an impressive 50 million dollars.

If the plurality of businesses and media and hyper-competition are headaches for businesses, it is probably more so for the agencies that they rely on to craft their messages. The modern consumer, bombarded with messaging at every turn, is predictably weary, even suspicious of advertising. This means that only the most compelling messages can cut through the fog and make an impact. 

  The Insel model
One agency that seems to have mastered this art of turning out creative pieces that connect with critical audiences as much as they do with mass audiences is Insel Communications, an agency led by the energetic and engaging Russel Kofi Eni.

If you’re not familiar with the name of this award-winning house, you will be at least acquainted with their work. On behalf of Tigo, they convinced you to “drop that yam”. For Ecobank, they advised that you “bank like a boss”. And with Ghana Post, they got you to download the GPS Addressing mobile application by asking “Jack, where are you?”

These campaigns are good examples of the firm’s work and demonstrate, well, its ethos that has seen it turn out, in music parlance, hit after hit. Insel can tap into the zeitgeist and produce campaigns that resonate with not just popular culture, but our aspirations and anxieties.

Great advertising is about story telling. As Randall Beard, Global Head of Advertiser Solutions at Nielson says, “great ads have cogent, understandable and entertaining storylines that engage the audience and pull them into the world of the advertised brand”. And this is what Insel excels at.

Take the “Drop that Yam” campaign. In it, a mother is seen berating her about-to-be son-in-law for using a feature phone – the yam – instead of a smartphone. There can be no doubt that while a mother-in-law is perhaps unlikely to be this forward, many of us would be feel slightly uncomfortable with wheeling out a feature phone in certain social situations. Indeed, most people that pull out a feature phone to make a call or take a number would accompany it with an explanation as to the whereabouts of their smartphone, even without anyone asking. As any iconic cultural product would do, “Drop that yam” did not only demonstrate but it also reinforced the phenomenon. If feature phones were not known as “yam” to most people before the ad first aired, they are seldom referred to by any other name now.

There’s also the #JackWhereAreYou campaign for the new national digital addressing system. Using the refrain from a Ghanaian childhood game where a blindfolded player had to find and tag other players from the sounds of their voices, Insel created a campaign that saw the words re-enter the cultural lexicon. That campaign also demonstrated Insel’s keen understanding of the changing habits of consumers.

Jack, the eponymous character, was not only sought for on TV, Radio and in the newspapers, but also on social media and in the google ads that peer out at you as read your preferred web pages. Jack achieved renown and drove social media conversations, well ahead of app’s launch. When it was eventually launched, it hit its target of 300,000 downloads at least five weeks ahead of schedule - a truly remarkable result.

The fresh and unconventional approach that is favoured by Mr Eni and his team is producing results that belie its age and size. Its approach is nimbler than its bigger competitors and that means that clients can get results quicker. A closely-knit team is on hand to extract results even if it means working well into the hours when others are resting or relaxing.

An informal approach that encourages new and original ideas means that the creative process is unhindered and free-wheeling.  — GB

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