N25,000 Vetting Fee: Social Media Advertisers React as APCON Moves to Regulate Online Advertising

Ejike Kanife

Earlier in September, word started making the rounds that the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) will start regulating the online advertising space. The Advertising Standards Panel of APCON confirmed it in a release titled: Vetting of Internet-Based Advertisements

Social Media Advertisers React as APCON Regulates Online Advertising
Vetting of Internet-Based Advertisements

The document reads in part: Going forward, there will be zero tolerance on exposure of adverts on any social media platform including but not limited to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and websites without the prior approval of the Advertising Standards Panel (ASP).”

APCON is already enforcing its new regulation

While APCON was established by law and statutorily empowered to regulate advertising in Nigeria, questions, however, arose from this sudden move to venture into social media.

Geographic control

Several social media marketers who spoke with TechNext have expressed their displeasure at the development. Some of them pointed out the fact that social media is not a geographical expression and not restricted in terms of coverage. Moreover, most social media adverts are hosted on social media sites which so happen to be based abroad.

“They (APCON) know nothing (about) how digital advertising works,” John a Facebook marketer says. “How can you charge someone for an ad that is hosted outside your country? They have no right over digital property.”

Impact on SMEs

There’s also the important question of how this will affect SMEs that, given the harsh economic realities in the country, are already struggling to remain in business. Seeing as the free platform which social media offers has become their only means of marketing their goods and services, what does this mean for them?

“It is absolutely pointless in my view,” Damilola, a digital marketer and brand strategist says. “They just want to kill young Nigerian entrepreneurs and small businesses trying to make money legally.”

“I think it’s balderdash,” Olumide a digital media strategist adds. “A business that is still struggling to survive, expected to pay tax and still being charged as high as 25k per ad vetting. It makes no sense at all.”

What exactly is being paid for?

There’s also the valid question of what exactly APCON does to deserve such a huge sum in the name of vetting. Because if vetting is truly the aim, and if APCON is a government agency, vetting content shouldn’t cost so much.

What value is APCON giving for all that money?

“25,000 for what exactly?” John asks. People that don’t even know how servers work. People that have their own domain hosted outside Nigeria. And they want to collect money for doing what exactly?”

Ayobami a graphic designer echoes the same thought, insisting that APCON is of no use to the average SME.

“A body that has no single benefit to small business still want to snuff life out of us,” he says. “Of what relevance are they to small businesses?”

The scramble for new revenue sources

It is no longer news that as advert revenue for traditional media continues to dwindle, so does APCON’s fortune. President of the Advertising Agencies Association of Nigeria (AAAN), Ikechi Odigbo admitted to the fall of advertising revenues in an interview last year.

So, heeding the advice of some key players in the media marketing space like Algorithm Media CEO, Seni Adetu, and CEO/Chief Operating Officer, X3M Media, Steve Babaeko, APCON took action.

“I feel they are doing that out of the fear that they are gradually going into extinction,” Damilola says.

John agrees and likens APCON to a drowning man grasping at straws, except, for APCON, this is the wrong straw to grab.

“They should stick to radio and television. They should not go chasing waterfalls, better stick to the creeks they are used to.”

The small but relevant matter of timeliness

The nature of business in today’s fast-paced world is brisk and as such advertising ought to be instantaneous. For businesses used to making and placing ads online in a matter of minutes, waiting weeks for it to be vetted, after coughing out N25,000, is a disaster.

Social Media Advertisers React as APCON Regulates Online Advertising

Joseph, managing partner of Locus Promotions captures it thus: “This means that that nimble, quick to market SME business that relies on digital advertising to reach the market may lose time (and by extension money) in doing so, as they would now need to wait the number of days to get adverts approved before they can run them.”

In a society where time is generally accepted to mean money, APCON’s new policy spells doom for small businesses.

Going forward….

The tremendous impact of digital advertising on SMEs in Nigeria can’t be overstated. It has provided a much-needed, cost-effective and instantaneous means of advertising and marketing goods and services to SMEs. It is therefore easy to see why this new APCON regulation is causing this much outcry.

While we understand that discussions are currently ongoing between APCON by well-placed Nigerians, Joseph outlines some recommendation to the APCON.

“If APCON must regulate the online advertising space, they must ensure that approval costs should either be removed or reduced significantly.

“Approval times should match the channel. To achieve this, APCON may create a digital portal that allows people upload their adverts and have them approved within minutes.”

There’s absolutely no guarantee that owners of SMEs would accept whatever reviews APCON comes up with. And who would blame them? In a world where governments are encouraging the emergence of SMEs, stifling their growth in whatever guise should raise eyebrows.

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