When ‘advertising’ becomes litter

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An immaculately dressed Tonderai Mhaka hurries along the pavement in First Street, eager to beat the time as he is almost late for work.

Someone steps in front of him, literally blocking his path, brandishing a leaflet in his face and Tonderai takes the leaflet, briefly glances at it and realises it is a motor spare parts advert, before throwing it down, he’s not a motor mechanic. Neither does he own a car.

The advertiser, who does not seem bothered that the potential customer had ignored the leaflet, is the archetype of the new advertising agent in Harare.

The latest trends in advertising have seen businesspeople and entrepreneurs hunting for customers through innovative ways such as “street advertising” although this has courted the ire of the city fathers and professional advertising agencies.

For many years, street advertising through the use of flyers, leaflets and brochures was confined to churches, which used this strategy to advertise their programmes such as reach-out campaigns, conferences and miracle crusades as well as political pressure groups shut out from public space and musicians marketing their shows.

Yet now, almost every day, when one walks in the central business district, they are bound to come across these mobile advertisers, who also have to make sure that they do not cross paths with municipal police as they are not licensed to “advertise” in the city.

The manager of Click Internet Café, Davis Mtetwa, told NewsDay they resorted to using flyers for marketing after realising that, with the advent of satellite TV, most of their customers no longer watched ZTV, which for many years had been one of the most effective platforms for marketing services and products through advertising.

He said newspapers, which could have been an alternative platform for advertising, had also become expensive and that could have limited their access to more potential customers.

Although some people did not pay attention or give thought to the flyers, Mukwashu explained that there were able to measure their advertising success by merely looking at the increase in the number of clients they attended to on a particular day.

“We don’t usually give out the flyers every day, but we have realised whenever we give them, our daily turnover on that day increases,” he said, adding that some clients came with the flyers.

The dollarisation of the economy seems to have injected a new lease of life in business, and the stiff competition that arose from that meant entrepreneurs had to be more aggressive and innovative if they were to secure more clients and subsequently post significant profits.

A sales executive with a car parts manufacturing concern in Harare said they decided to use this form of advertising beginning early this year after realising that competition in the industry was getting stiffer.

A Harare-based advertising consultant, Martin Hokonya, said the nature of the advertising business was such that those who were “more creative in marketing their services and merchandise would naturally bite into the bigger chunk of the market” and shrug off competition.

But he observed the new trend had significantly contributing to the deterioration of professional advertising standards as the flyers were of “cheap quality”, itself a violation of professional advertising which he said had to be “artistic and eye-catching”.

“If you look at newspapers, their advertising has to conform to certain professional standards, something these other entrepreneurs don’t seem to care about anymore,” he said. “In the long term, it lowers the value of advertising.”

He observed that while these advertisers seemed to believe advertising through the media did not give guarantees that one’s potential customers would have access to those various media outlets, that was not necessarily the case.

“Using flyers does not necessarily give you access to a greater number of potential clients than a newspaper will avail,” he said. “In fact, any clever advertiser would go for a media product that is in demand.”

The latest form of advertising has also courted the ire of environmentalists and the city fathers who have over the years watched the formerly clean city reduced into an eyesore.

In July last year, Harare residents, in conjunction with local organisations and churches, embarked on a massive clean-up campaign to assist the capital regain its Sunshine Status.

The city council provided the necessary service vehicles and equipment including three refuse trucks, a front-end loader and a tractor for the exercise.

City spokesperson Leslie Gwindi said the initiative was welcome and hoped it would help the city restore its Sunshine Status.

Gwindi said: “It has to be everyone’s responsibility to make Harare clean and anyone who participates to curb litter and garbage is most welcome.”