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Advertising and Business

March 17, 2010

Advertising in Kenya is done much differently than in the United States. Where we would have endless television commercials, radio spots and billboards littering the landscape, Kenyans have parades and banners. Let me clarify – there are billboards, but their usually confined to the major roads and are few and far between, only highlighting those well established businesses that can afford long-term advertising (the billboards don’t seem to change that often).  And there are TV commercials – but MUCH fewer than in the States – usually a product/company will “sponsor” a show/segment of time and then have 1 or 2 slots devoted solely to their products.

However, in the last week, I’ve seen a full-fledged parade complete with marching band and rally advertising the opening of a new bank in Kakamega. The new bank building was resplendent with balloons and banners enticing customers to enter and open an account. The new Nakumatt in  KK was announced using banners above the roadways – and primarily, by word of mouth. (Allegedly, Naku was supposed to open several months ago, but kept being delayed, so the general populace was very keen to see when/if it would open).  Interestingly, and I find oddly, the Nakumatt opened before being stocked, so many of the first time customers didn’t have a full picture of what products they would carry. I went almost a week after opening and there were still several empty shelves and workers everywhere with big boxes of product trying to weave around eager customers. Despite the un-stocked-ness, Naku was a piece of “Western Heaven” in little Kakamega, Kenya. It looked almost like a small-sized Wal-Mart/Target and was shiny and clean! It will be interesting to see how long  it will maintain its pristine state.

Back to advertising, the major competitor of Nakumatt (and one of the only large supermarkets in Kakamega) is Yako. In what I suspect was an attempt to remind customers of their loyalties, Yako advertised over loudspeaker… via back of a truck that was driven around town blasting the news and music. (I say suspect – by Kiswahili isn’t good enough to discern exactly what comes through garbled, moving speakers.)Despite being very annoying, this is probably a very good method of letting ordinary citizens know what’s going on – especially as it reaches out to the illiterate portion of the people. I wish I could see what the cost and benefit differentials are for these “foreign” types of advertising… but that’s just the economist in me talking.

It is encouraging to see new business emerging in Kakamega – especially as Western is considered a poorer (and more “backward”) part of Kenya by some. Kakamega certainly doesn’t have the size of Nairobi, the port and beach of Mombasa, the tourist attractions of Kisumu & some of the other regions, or the classic “big game” safari appeal. Yet, this little city/big town located just north of the equator and not too far from Uganda has at least the external appearance of growth. I hope that in the next 9 weeks I can figure out some of the reasons why this might be.

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