Unoriginally Ethiopian

Oct 31 , 2020
By Kidist Yidnekachew

It is not a secret that a lack of creativity in industries extends to their marketing strategies. Logos, slogans and corporate identities are shamelessly ripped off. It has become a common phenomenon.

While studying for my communications master's degree, I came into contact with many of the industry behemoths that are behind the larger advertising campaigns scattered across the country. The common consensus is that while there are agencies capable of delivering original branding and corporate identity guidelines, the market is just as well awash with freshman graduates of computer science looking to make a quick buck.

Proper branding is not some slapdash quickie logo that is put together from easily downloadable images and designs. It is actually a long process that involves - after client consultation - a team of experts working long hours together to develop a corporate identity that reflects the product or service.

An account executive, creative director, copy editor, art director, graphic artist,and general manager are just some of the people involved in this process. It is a lengthy process that involves a great deal of time, resources and energy. Typically, an agency can charge upwards of half a million Birr.

Some people may be utterly shocked by this figure: after all, it is just a logo, right?

This lack of understanding of the value of corporate identity and effective customer acquisition is why we are in our current position. It is more likely for companies to go to their neighbourhood computer whiz and fork out 50,000 Br and get their logo done with downloaded elements for subpar results than to pay the right people to develop a well-thought-out corporate identity.

It is then not hard to see why some of our most successful state and private enterprises, and even some political parties, all have logos that were copied. This cannot be completely laid at the feet of the companies but the individuals they hire. The problem starts mostly from the decision to be cheap on the section of the business that is integral to long-term survival.

The story does not end there. Many may look for cheap alternatives, forgoing the originality and enhanced performance market recognition affords them in taking the business forward.

Banks though are not cheap. They spend millions of Birr in brand redesigning, consulting fees and system upgrades. They have the money to spend liberally. But even they sometimes hit and miss. They end up with brand logos that bear too much similarity with entities outside of the country.

What is one to do when even reputable agencies fail to deliver?

This calls attention to the need for due diligence, which always falls to the company at the end of the day. Making use of test groups to screen new ideas, especially having to do with the image of the company, does not hurt either.

Indeed, it may be the case that the company’s intent is to bandwagon off another more reputable and successful international company. Some of the logos may have been intentionally copied as a marketing strategy aimed at getting customers to purchase these products by means of association.

This is probably most true of local fast-food chains that blatantly use logos and names of international restaurant brands. There is not even the effort to hide one’s intention in several of these cases. They plagiarise brand identity mercilessly out in the open to generate sales. These saves them time, energy and money, as building on an already known brand is easier than starting from scratch and building a new one.

This is not just a phenomenon in Ethiopia. Chinese companies are famous for playing the same game, which has led to the country getting major criticism from the likes of the United States.

There is an excellent lesson to take out of this. Indeed, China's manufacturing industry is something to be jealous of, but they have also become notorious for the questionable durability of their products, especially when they are on the cheap side.

There is even an Amharic saying, “Ye China iqa ayberkitim,’’ meaning that products made in China do not last long.

It is only ironic then that Ethiopia’s tourism motto is “the Land of Origins.” The intention is to convey the nation’s ancient natural and human-made riches. But the disparity that is felt is loud and clear. When it comes to present-day Ethiopia, there is little originality going around.

PUBLISHED ON Oct 31,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1070]

Kidist Yidnekachew is interested in art, human nature and behaviour. She has studied psychology, journalism and communications and can be reached at (

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