Poor access stifles growth of on-line advertising


Women surf the Web. 20 years since the advent of the Internet revolution, online media is yet to catch the attention of Kenya’s advertisers. / Fredrick Onyango

Failure by the Kenyan media to develop creative marketing platforms is stifling the growth of online advertising in the country, analysts said.

Nearly 20 years since the advent of the Internet revolution, online media is yet to catch the attention of Kenya’s advertisers or shake up the stranglehold that print, television and radio have on advertising revenue.

This is despite the fact that rapid growth has left the Internet with nearly as large an audience as television, which attracts billions of shillings in advertising spend annually.

Global trends point to the fact that the Internet — billed as one of the greatest inventions in the last 50 years — will hive off a huge chunk of advertising revenue from traditional platforms as penetration increases and speeds improve with enhanced delivery platforms such as the fiber optic.

Statistics show that while print, television and radio still hold sway over advertising revenues, the Internet grew marginally by 1.2 per cent but the leap was still faster than that in other forms of advertising media in 2007.

Internet growth is expected to be particularly robust in Africa, a continent long shackled by poor connectivity and insufficient technological infrastructure.

“The largest online Kenyan sites are newspaper sites. However, if you look at the sites, they lack key tools such as search advertising — the largest and fastest-growing category of online advertising,” says Dr Gitahi Githinji, Nation Media Group’s marketing and circulation general manager.

Dr Githinji says news sites need greater improvements to offer keyword-driven ads that appear next to searches at Google, Yahoo and Microsoft and others. “We are largely dependent on traditional display advertising,” said Dr Githinji.

In advanced economies, the success of online advertising has been driven mainly by search ads (like the ones which appear next to the Google search bar), banner or display adverts like the ones on news websites and finally the classified sections.

Search adverts, observers argue, give the advertisers the opportunity to target as well as to measure ad effectiveness as opposed to non-interactive ads like in print and on TV, which are more difficult to measure.

Still, Internet penetration remains one of the largest hurdles for Kenyan advertisers, at least as far as advertising reach is concerned.

According to the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), the introduction of broadband services by mobile operators is spurring the demand for Internet services. But nonetheless, its penetration in Kenya remains low with a rate of only nine per cent as opposed to close to 25 per cent of newspaper penetration and 89 per cent of radio penetration.

This is, however, an already changing landscape at mobile-based access grows astronomically with mobile penetration. With the recent budget changes on taxation of mobile handsets, affordability of web-enabled handsets will obviously further improve access.

While fibre optic technology is expected to lower the costs of Internet charges and hasten the penetration of computers into rural Kenyan villages, the success of the mobile phone has been billed as the platform through which new forms of digital media will emerge.

Still advertisers remain reluctant to go online, opting for print, radio and television as the preferred advertising platforms.

“I think the big thing in Kenya is the lack of faith in embracing newer better ways of doing things,” says Emmo Opoti, the editorial director at Imagine Company, an online media firm that seeks to use cheap and simple technology to change how news is conveyed.

The fast and thrilling online world, long seen as unsettling to the old hands of the advertising industry, has suffered at the hands of marketing bosses for advertisers or intermediaries at the agencies.

Mr. Opoti says a lot of local organisations don’t have online media presence. And even where they do, the sites are more of information points rather than avenues that would be used to boost sales.

“So there’s no inclination for them to advertise online since they see no value in it,” says Mr Opoti.

There are as many web pages for advertisers as there are keywords that can be typed into a search engine, situations that game players might find themselves in.

Each one comes with its own context, and almost every context suits some product.

The second reason is that if you can track the success of advertising, especially if you can follow sales leads, then marketing ceases to be just a cost-centre, with an arbitrary budget allocated to it.

As such, advocates for online advertising say that advertising then becomes a variable cost of production that measurably results in making more profit.

According to the Economist, young people who tend to be adept at using media, constantly online and sceptical—are increasingly immune to the clichés of prime-time television and radio and mentally tune out these nuisances.

Market players believe advertisers have not been provide with targeted advertising options where they can specifically select who to target on parameters such as profile of age, income, lifestyle.

If addressed, these are the things that will really change the use of online and position it significantly differently from mass market mediums.