Why Nairobians no longer look at billboards

General Election Campaign season sees the biggest boom for outdoor advertising
General Election Campaign season sees the biggest boom for outdoor advertising firms.

Walk into any Matatu (public transport) in Nairobi’s CBD ‘waiting to get full‘ or into any public space where Kenyans are waiting (passing time) and you will notice a growing trend. Kenyans are staring at their mobile screens more than ever before oblivious to many things else around them.

In my daily commute, the first thing I do when I take a seat is to instinctively take out my phone and go online. I only look up to pay my fare and when I need to confirm that indeed I am close to my destination. This is the same routine for thousands of Kenyans nowadays thanks to the increasing number of low cost android powered smart phones that enable Kenyans to spend hours on end staring at them.

So what are Kenyans doing on these smartphones to the point where even when guys have gone out to clubs, they will take time off the dance floor to check who is being roasted by KOT for twitpic’ing out of shape chapatis.


Most Kenyans regardless of generation (ok, maybe not past 50 years) are reading and sending whatsapp media.  I hear this is how short porn clips are being shared nowadays, but like Kermit the frog says “That’s none of my business”.

I have several friends who, without fail, send me the very same Memes I get on twitter or short videos of aromat on rats, kids crying for beer etc.

The recent Communications Authority (formerly CCK) 3rd Quarter report confirmed that the number of SMS messages have drastically reduced and the number of data usage has increased, do the math.

kenya_billboard200x240Social Media
I am a recovering addict and thus I can speak with confidence when I say that a lot of us bloggers are always on twitter if not MKZ (Facebook) looking for stories following gossip, Subaru fests and new standards being set. I am informed that out of the millions of Kenyans online, only about 2% create content, the rest just consume it.
We have blogs we love to visit, people whose TL (Time Line) we follow closely and WE LOVE NOTIFICATIONS of retweets, mentions, follows, etc. Heck, some of us even retweet our mentions in a retweet.

So you can see that, when  most Nairobians are busy checking which bigwig re-twitted their tweets, checking out AVIs, Instagram images and Vine videos. They are no longer looking at billboards or any other form of outdoor advertising.

The only problem is, very many companies are still pouring millions of shillings into outdoor advertising yet very few Kenyans especially Nairobians are actually looking at them. Unless the billboard has Sheila Mwanyigha naked on it, few Nairobians will notice or even discuss it online.

Wouldn’t it be worth something if research companies like Ipsos Synnovate carried out research on whether Nairobians are actually paying any attention or even noticing outdoor advertisements. I bet companies promoting brands targeted at young people would love to know how much time the target market actually spends on their mobile phones vis-a- vis, seen a road side bill board.

Maybe then we will have more adopt – a – blog campaigns as opposed to adopt- a light..


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  1. Bankelele Reply

    To things that take away from billboards (i) There are so many road distractions to watch out for while moving e.g. pikis overlapping, pedestrians – that you only notice billboards if traffic has stopped (ii) There are too many billboards on the road – that they become noise that motorists blur out of mind

    • admin Post authorReply

      I have even forgotten about the many other distractions especially with the Matatu and boda boda menace. I’d love to hear from these companies if they still draw value or its become a tradition.

  2. Major Janyasore (@OnegeB) Reply

    I tend to disagree with your opinion about billboards, It’s still the 3rd most effective form of advertisment after TV and Radio not necessarily in that order. Its not that these companies aren’t taking up digital but its very low, and a majority would buy a full app just to get rid of the ‘annoying’ ads. Still it’s under 30% Kenyans have access to smartphones or are digital and note not all these make purchase decisions.

    • admin Post authorReply

      My case is for 2 things based on observations.
      1. The need for research on the if Nairobians actually notice billboards
      2. The need for companies to rethink use of billboards as the only, and most effective way to market products in comparison to online advertising. Apps is one online platform. Social media however offers better potebtial.

    • admin Post authorReply

      Hi John,

      Quite interesting. So whats the way forward? Native advertising? I was watching John Oliver’s HBO show on Native advertisiing. Scary stuff on the future for advertising. Watch it and lets compare notes.

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