I see Ads, Ads everywhere

About Eritrea - Art & Sport

Today, the craze of advertisement is on the increase. The art of advertisement is, in fact, a modern development. It has revolutionized the modern trade. Nowadays we have newspaper advertising, magazine ads, radio, television, online, Direct mail and mobile ads.

Advertisements have now developed both as art and science. Several countries across the globe now have universities with academic courses leading to some degree or diploma in the art of advertisement. No wonder these graduates from the universities are coming out with newer ways of advertising.

Red Bull gives you…….

Now, most of us know the next word that comes after that. That is the power of creative advertising. “Red Bull gives you wings” has been the trade mark advertisement slogan for Red Bull energy drink for quite a while.
Advertisement is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. Fancy a load of green bucks to pocket? Advertisement is your answer, goes a saying.

Mankind must have begun to advertise his wares or even services while still living in caves. At nights, he slept well, tucked under a warm blanket made of bison’s hide, and if his wife, lying by his side, shared warmth, then she must have gotten up early next morning and went about telling the unfortunate neighborhood wives that her husband was the best tanner (Or blanket maker) in the village.

In the middle-ages, inns and taverns were packed with people probably because the beer or wine knocked the customers flat, and the good news was noised among the scoundrels and crooks of the village. Let’s drink and be merry, for tomorrow we might die, they sang. And the song attracted more and more hooligans. That’s what we call free advertisement.

But real business advertisement had to wait for the advent of the industrial revolution where things were mass produced and had to be sold fast. The emergence of the consumer society was an indirect result of mass advertisement.

In traditional Eritrea, modern advertisement techniques were introduced by the Italians who sold everything from guns and cigarettes to wines and automobiles to people and tried to attract customers through flashing sign boards and blaring loud-speakers. But Eritreans, with their low living standards, were more interested in trifle things that glittered and gave them a sense of temporary wealth and well-being and in liquors and alcoholic beverages that helped them to forget the presence of the invader.

This writer found out the local beer factory of those days (1950) used all kinds of cheap advertisement to promote its products: Chi Beve Birra Melotti, Campa Cento Anni (Drink Melloti Beer and live to be a hundred). In those days businessmen misled people with impunity. People thought that only by respecting one’s parents (referring to the Ten Commandments) was one’s life prolonged in this world. If drinking beer could do as well, it did so with pain and misery.

The Pandora box of misinformation was now open. Cognac 44 cleaned blood. Araqi (anis) neutralized the malaria germ in the blood. Marsala wine reactivated the failing heart, and Cognac all’uovo restored active sex life.
What about Fernit? It was a cure against all types of stomach pains. And Vermouth? It helped increase the red blood cells, etc. All this was in newspapers or magazine. So I have been told. There was also an advertising agency in Asmara by the name, Agenzia Regina which took care of such matters.

In the absence of radio and television in the early 1960s and due to the fact that many Eritreans could not afford to buy radio, much less TV sets, the usual practice of publicizing one’s wares was through the use of bullhorns carried by ambulant advertisement men. “Today Tarzan, king of the jungle will be screened in Cinema Dante…..etc.” and there were moments when some enterprising restaurant owners commissioned these men to holler their foods and services to the public.

My granddad tells me that most of the time the advertisement said nothing about the nature of the film, much less about the contents. If the film in question was Indian, then they liked to tell about the number of songs it contained. Fourteen songs, each ten minutes long and you’ll feel like singing mechanically at the end of the movie. Indian films were not known as musical at the time but for all intents and purposes they were.

Cinema halls themselves were also centers of advertisement. At the beginning or at the end of a feature film, 2-3 minutes long advertisement footage was screened for the spectators with samples of the product in question distributed to the viewers as they left the movie house.

In the print media, a picture (usually with Caucasians’ features) was the preferred announcers for new products. They would tell you to buy such and such brand of hair cream, such and such type of wrist watches and car tires. As there was no harsh competition in those days, people simply bought the advertised product whatever the inherent defects or side effects.

I have the impression that Eritreans have not made much headway in advertisement skills. Whenever I see the pub-signs and shop-signs in Asmara, I always feel that there is much room for improvement. Most shop-signs are badly written and the color, mostly violent, makes the shop look very cheap. If the sign is in English, that’s where the problem lies.

Let’s begin with barbery. What on earth does that mean? Well, it has nothing to do with North Africa or with the pirates who frequented its shores. It simply means barber shop. How is that? Well, if one can say butchery, grocery and pastry, why not barbery?

Okay, how about mini-supermarket? It means that although my super market is small, it is still a supermarket. Get it?

I get it. But this one, what does Welcame mean? It means “you are already welcomed” and therefore don’t hesitate to enter the house. By the way, to many novice advertisers the present tense is wellcome not welcome and congratulations is mistakenly written without ‘s’ at the end…..

And the way the words in some wedding cards are composed makes you feel like reading the message over and over again just to be quite sure who is really getting married and what your real purpose is in going to the feast. Speaking of local shops, most conduct their business using very dim lights. I once asked a shop owner why he used 25 volts lamp when he could have used 90 volts to light his window display and attract more potential buyers.

Rising electric bill was his problem. I am sure that with a dimly lit room that looked like a tavern, he must have lost a lot of money by mistakenly trying to save some.

And when you buy a gift item, many shopkeepers don’t gift wrap it for you. They could have advertised their merchandize by such means as using papers printed with the name of their establishments, but they seem to have misunderstood the secret.

Telephone advertisement is one thing that most Eritrean business men are overlooking. Companies with prestigious names are hiring secretaries who answer the phone in the rudest manner.

You dial a number trying to contact such and such company. Riiing! Riiing! And then on the other end of the line you hear the most absurd reply ever uttered by a human voice: who is that?

When one day I got such kind of reply, I said to the secretary on the other end of the line to first say good morning or good afternoon and then mention the name of the company. In fact I told her that by repeatedly mentioning the name of her firm, she is inadvertently publicizing her company without spending a single cent. The more the name of the firm is said on the phone, the more the firm will remain in the unconscious mind of even the people who call by mistake, people who may one day be led unconsciously to that firm to buy products and services.

Advertisement is an art. It is said that the French are very much skilled in this type of art. So much so that at one time they used to give French schools in Asmara videocassettes with nothing else but business ads collected for comprehension lessons.

The old type ads that tell you that you will fly like superman if you eat this type of banana or you will turn into a superman if you eat this brand of canned spinach is now over.

After independence, a certain Eritrean business man, who was obsessed with the 1950s- type of advertisement, tried to promote his imported powdered milk as a source of tremendous energy comparable to that of the elephant.

He must have watched a lot of Popeye re-runs in his life.

Luckily for the public, he was asked by the concerned authority to stop such kind of cheap advertisement and to use more creative and original ideas instead.