In the relentless pursuit of a brand ambassador that aligns with the core values of hard work, acumen and women empowerment, Neway Megersa, the founding President of Siinqee Bank, discovered the perfect match—Olympic gold medalist Derartu Tulu.

"I knew she would be the perfect representation," he said.

According to Neway, her extraordinary journey seamlessly aligned with the strategic shift of Siinqee, which evolved from a microfinance institution. Derartu's brand, characterised by trust, passion and authenticity, played a transformative role, doubling Siinqee's appeal to a broader market. It was a vision that transcended the typical qualities of brand ambassadors in the country.

"She embodied the principles of the Bank," Neway told Fortune.

Nearly two percent of Siinqee Bank's recurrent expenses are dedicated to marketing, even though a pervasive challenge exists in tracking the contributions of brand marketing to the growth of the Bank's appeal.

The Bank President acknowledges the difficulty in quantifying the exact contribution of mass promotional campaigns but captions the impact of Derartu's household name and her status as a national icon in elevating Siinqee's image. Neway said the influence among other factors propelled the Bank beyond the minimum paid-up capital threshold of five billion Birr, a remarkable feat considering the challenges of an underdeveloped marketing apparatus.

"Our overall marketing capacity could be better," he said.

A noticeable shift is underway in Ethiopia's marketing sector, steering away from traditional advertising campaigns to individual-based strategies centred around influencers and brand ambassadors. Studies indicate a growing inclination among consumers to favour products endorsed by influencers, signifying a shift in business competition.

Recognised for countless commercials and as a brand ambassador representing diverse businesses for over two decades, Serawit Fikre, a pioneer in the movie industry, provides valuable insights into this evolution.

From the early days of celebrity endorsements to the present dominance of influencer marketing, Serawit traces the strategy over a two-decade span, arguing for its efficacy in promoting products significantly better than traditional advertisements. He recalls a time when only a few businesses endorsed their brands through commercials featuring celebrities from the film industry, to which he credits his success.

His initial foray into representing brands kicked off by promoting Ambassador Suits, which earned him 30,000 Br, a remarkable amount for the early 2000s. Over the course of his career, Serawit has been a brand ambassador for over 10 businesses, responsible for over 3,729 direct promotions.

Acknowledging the staggering growth in ambassadorial investments since the inception of this strategy, Serawit, currently representing four businesses, including KEY housing Financing and AMG Steel Factory, reveals that annual payments have soared past a million Birr for celebrities while lesser-known faces earn around a quarter of a million Birr.

"Movies are made out of passion, but ads are good for profits," he said.

Connecting brands with influencers and ambassadors are companies that create campaigns that resonate with the preferences of consumers.

The decade-old Berry Advertising has embraced influencer campaigns, promoting over 225 projects for businesses such as Dashen Beer, Abay Bank and Sinquee Bank engagements.

Average payments for brand advertisers range from 350,000 Br to 1.5 million Br annually, according to Melaku Bahiru, general manager. He acknowledges the effectiveness of brand ambassadors and social media marketing but emphasises a shift in consumer mindset; the generation actively engaged in cyberspace prioritises the process of content creation over an individual representing the product.

"There is a shift in customer psychology," he told Fortune.

The surge in internet access in Ethiopia has amplified the impact of social media. Platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube offer global stages for individuals to share content and build digital intimacy with followers. DataPortal reveals an increase in users reaching from six million in 2020 to over 20 million in 2023. Instagram generated an estimated 51.4 billion dollars in revenues in 2022, constituting 45pc of Facebook's total revenue.

As influencers become brand ambassadors, their contractual agreements involve promoting advertisements for companies on various platforms.

With over one million followers on Instagram, Selam Tesfaye, a prominent social media influencer and actress, exemplifies the impact of brand partnerships. Her brand ambassadorships with KesteDamena Foam and Infinix Mobile showcase the convergence of reputation, youth and beauty in influencing public opinion.

She landed a partnership with KesteDamena Foam three years ago. Founded in 1996, KesteDamena is a second-generation family-owned business and a veteran contender in the foam industry, under Yehedgo Abeselom (Bobby).

For the past eight years, the Company has changed its marketing horizons, ushering in new strategies to improve its market reach. General Manager, Daniel Gudisu, partly attributes the one million Birr growing sales to the company's innovative marketing campaigns, which include its partnership with Selam.

"We needed to combine her influence with the brand," he told Fortune.

While he acknowledges a marked growth in the company's revenue over the past few years, he has a hard time attributing the gains purely to the influence of their ambassador's appeal. With an annual renewal of the contract, KesteDamena makes two to three payments a year somewhere around a million Birr.

"Frequency of the payments of the contracts are negotiable," he said.

Ethiopian Media Authority, entrusted with regulating diverse media platforms, from traditional mediums such as television and radio to emerging entities in social media, plays a pivotal role in ensuring a balanced and responsible media space.

Yonas Fantaye, heading the advertisement monitoring and capacity-building directorate within the Authority, emphasises the contemporary challenge of swiftly transitioning advertisements from mainstream to social media. He said the Authority's proactive stance in addressing the unregulated online market by formulating a directive, implemented last year, to engage with promoters and advertisers.

"Anyone using an online media platform for commercial purposes is expected to register," he said.

The Authority requires online media outlets to register, aligning with a parliamentary media proclamation from two years ago. Currently, 200 online advertising companies are under its portfolio.

Yonas reiterated the Authority's approach towards administrative measures, specifying actions taken in instances where platforms are utilised for inciting violence, spreading false information, or deviating from societal norms.

The significance of brand image in consumer decision-making is acknowledged by Mesfin Workneh, an assistant professor of marketing management at Addis Abeba University. He recommends leveraging technology by introducing engagement metrics and conversion rates for companies that had difficulties in tracking customer increments due to brand ambassadors.

He urges companies to align product characteristics with figures and the need to balance reliance on brand ambassadors with a long-term business plan to avoid potential damage.

"It's not always sunshine and rainbows in this business," he told Fortune.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 07,2024 [ VOL 24 , NO 1236]

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