GABRIEL ENRIQUE CASTELLANOS
Millward Brown, Andean Region
Colombia is still one of the countries in Latin America with the quickest growing GDP — an average 4.5% per year in the last 3 years.
In 2014, the Colombian economy enjoyed an overall healthy development. Aspects worth highlighting include high investment activity, a favorable macroeconomic environment, a more competitive exchange rate, a single-digit unemployment rate, and a controlled level of population in poverty.
However, we should also point out that this has been a difficult year, especially because of the uncertainties of the regional and global context. The international price collapse of products such as oil — with Ecopetrol the most affected company — the slowdown of China’s economy, and the weak recovery of the United States and Europe, are all alarming factors. In addition, the economies of some other countries in the region, including Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina, faced a critical situation.
GROWTH FOR SOME BUT NOT FOR ALL
Although Colombia achieved a positive growth rate, not all sectors participated in that growth. For instance, industry is still lagging behind other activities and in comparison to the total GDP. In fact, in the last 3 years industry’s average growth has been almost 4 points below the total GDP growth. This healthy GDP makes many of our clients wonder why their businesses are not going that well when the country seems to be thriving. The answer is that, while there is more money circulating, it has been used for other purposes, such as paying off more credit and debts. Also sometimes — even if it means sacrificing products in the basic market basket — it’s being spent on luxury products, entertainment or clothing. Such goods are being purchased as a result of the occasion’s emotion rather than of the traditional rationale behind buying necessities like food and beverages, for example. Thus, household consumption, leveraged by the financial sector, is one of the pillars of Colombia’s economic growth. Therefore, it is extremely important to pay attention to possible signs of household expenditure restrictions and to the development of political events, such as the local elections taking place next October, and the evolution of the peace process.
Taking all of this into consideration, Colombia’s growth for 2015 will probably be slightly above 3.6%. The current administration revised this goal around the end of this year’s first quarter on account of, among other things, the new circumstances resulting from the collapse of oil prices and the dollar’s rise —to almost $3,000 pesos, the highest exchange rate in the country’s history.
Colombia’s great challenges remain: to reduce poverty and inequality, to increase education opportunities and access to the local public health system, and to improve and enhance the country’s infrastructure so as to align with current productivity levels.
A RISING DIGITAL TIDE
Meanwhile, in 2014 the absolute growth of advertising investment in Colombia was about 8%. TV is still the medium with the largest investment, followed by radio and print materials. Even though investment in digital media represents less than 5% of the total advertising spending, in 2014 it grew over 18% against 2013. Furthermore, it keeps strengthening its position as the most important medium for some brands — including alcoholic beverages, in which it plays a more and more decisive role in media plans. It is also relevant to note that technology’s presence is spreading to everyday aspects such as transportation or basic household needs, and at all socioeconomic levels.
SIGNS OF PEACE?
With an estimated population of 48.2 million people in 2015, Colombia is still looking forward to the definite signing of the peace accord. If it were to happen, there would be more development opportunities for the country, for its economy, and for all the brands in the Colombian market. It would constitute a major change after 60 unfortunate years of violence and doubtless encourage an economic takeoff within foreign investment, accelerated household consumption, and regional leadership. This is what we Colombians largely hope for in 2016.