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Advertising in Ghana: The good, the bad and the ugly

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An advertising image
An advertising image

It is the season of selling and buying. With so many brand choices in the areas of toys, food, drinks, clothes, shoes, electricals and many more, it has long become the buyers’ market.

Importers, manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers are all busy fighting for the consumer’s purse, some through convincing and amusing advertising.

By the way, it is also the season for breaking year-long dieting rules while getting deeply indulged in real feasting including wild innovations that can never be found in any recipe book. I was at a brunch on Boxing Day where the hostess decreed that only typically home-made menus were to feature as a departure from menus that have become the norm on festive occasions.

One such menu that appeared on the brunch table was the Ashanti specialty of fresh green ‘abomu’ sauce garnished with (zomi) red oil and steamed salted fish. The sauce was served with boiled plantain and yam. The dessert for the day, however, was imported Christmas pudding served with custard.

The yuletide and New Year seasons are also characterised by the exchange of gifts. As people search for one gift or another to show appreciation and/or love, many are those who have relied on recommendations from friends and families, media advertising, or personal encounters as a guide in the selection of that gift or the other.

These days where there are hundreds of corner shops, supermarkets, malls, boutiques and salons scattered all over, and the traffic situation getting so irritating, knowing where to go for your shopping is the ideal thing. Similarly, knowing the quality of what you are buying, and sometimes the brand attributes ahead of selection, is always a big headache solved.

There are also cases where sometimes the advertising jingles and the celebrity endorsements of the product act as inducements.

Media advertising, however, most of the time, tends to be the consumer’s best ‘adviser’ and selection channel for the simple reason that the product has been ‘publicly outdoored’. The refrain sometimes is — ‘oh, it was on television, radio or in the newspapers’.

I do not have a problem with selling through advertising. My problem is with the way some adverts appear or are given prominence in the media. Traditionally, we know that the media’s role is to inform, educate and entertain. To use the media, therefore, to advertise a product means informing, educating or even sometimes entertaining the public in order to solicit patronage for the product.

Unfortunately, some of the adverts we see, read or hear about have nothing to impart in terms of messages. Some are carried blindly with unacceptable errors which get repeated over and over again.

Do the powers that are responsible ever scrutinise media adverts before they are put in the public domain? Are there any regulations as far as advertising standards are concerned?

Every year at Christmastime, thousands of messages of the season in print and on the television are brought to our homes; many carry the wrong shortened version of the word Christmas. On many banners in town announcing an event or the launch of a product, and even on some corporate greeting cards, the word ‘Christmas’ tends to be shortened as ‘Xmas’.

Unfortunately, nobody seems to have noticed the wrong spelling of this shortened version. Long, long ago in one of my critique English classes, we were taught that ‘X’ stands for Christ. Once you put the apostrophe after the X, you are signalling that some letter(s) be skipped.

The word ‘Christmas’ therefore is either written out in full or if it has to be abbreviated, the proper thing has to be done by not using the apostrophe after the X. In effect, the shortened form of the word ‘Christmas’ when written is ‘Xmas’ and has no apostrophe.
Teaching does not only have to happen in the classroom. We learn from experience and what goes on around us. The least advertisers, advertising concerns and the media can do for us is to check and cross-check such errors before they become accepted as the norm.

Talking about teaching the right things at all times brings to mind an advert of milk running on television. This advert is one of the most disturbing I have seen in recent times with very little moral education for its target audience which includes children.

In the said advert, a young girl looks in the fridge for milk to make her cereal. Not finding any, she dashes into the living room with her bowl of cereal and finds her older sister (or is it her mother?) in a compromising position with a man who is holding some packs of the milk being advertised.

She asks for some of the milk but unfortunately does not get the attention of the sister (mother?) nor the boyfriend. The girl then picks up a phone purportedly to call her daddy to inform him about the presence of the man in the house.

When she finally gets one of the milk packs, she realises that it is not enough and, therefore, shouts for more, saying, ‘I want more!’ There are no manners shown here, no matter how natural the advert wants the mood of the girl to be. What is wrong is always wrong. The young girl could have asked politely: ‘May I please have some more?’

I have tried hard to see what the moral import of the milk advert is and I cannot find any. What is being advertised? that children can get what they want by blackmail? that we can teach our children to demand rather than ask politely for what they want? that when Dad is not at home, the unacceptable behaviours do happen in the full glare of the children? The moral lessons of the milk advert must be quite worrying to any parent.

Advertising companies should begin to put some of the advertisements to critical scrutiny before they are made public.

Indeed, revenue generation alone should not be the main concern of the media houses that show adverts. Advertising is a way of communication. If the communication, for example, is insulting to the intelligence of the same people it is supposed to be speaking to or if it leaves a sour taste in the mouth of consumers, then it fails to achieve its purpose.

Media concerns owe it a duty to their readers, viewers and listeners to contribute to the education process through advertising that imparts knowledge, builds credibility and shapes the confidence of the consumer. Indeed, we all owe it a duty to make sure that the general public gets a better deal and is not in any way misinformed, offended or cheated by an advert meant to offer a product or service.

From what we see, the gate-keeping at our media houses for the checking and cross-checking of advertising to ensure compliance before they are aired or published is slipping somehow. Otherwise what is the explanation for some of the laxities that we see in certain adverts?

The Advertising Association of Ghana, the Ghana Journalists Association, the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Ghana, are all respectable associations whose collective weight can be brought to bear on policing and enforcing the right practices in the advertising industry.

We have sat here in this country and watched all types of aphrodisiacs and dubious drugs advertised on our airwaves, newspapers and other channels with consequential damage to the health of the consumer. The regulators have always come in a little too late. We have been unconcerned while some foreign films have been allowed to invade our country, sometimes with the resultant surge in crimes and promiscuity in our societies.

Advertising is a very powerful communication tool and so its use must be carefully scrutinised and monitored. Professionalism must be enforced in the world of advertising and some decorum maintained.

At all times and particularly in this season of busy selling and buying, some eyes need to be focused on the moral import of some of the routes that carry messages that touch the consumer’s heart and mind. Advertising is certainly one such route. Let us encourage the right messages all the time and in all places.

Credit: Vicky Wireko

Source: Daily Graphic

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  1. Interesting content.

    Just wanted to share some information that I came across in a few articles discussing about recession and how we can adopt a different marketing strategy to promote our business. It’s quite eminent that most of the advertisers and businesses are taking to online advertising medium since the Internet has now become a necessity to reach global audience. However, even today there is still a huge chunk of people who do not access Internet and to reach this segment of the society; we can rely on the print media. This in fact would be a great choice for anyone whether they are looking out for global, national or local exposure.

    Since the economies are now at the bring of recession, it’s a good idea to consider print media as well in the marketing mix so that you can extend your reach further to get additional traffic to your website or business. You can try a blend of online and print advertising through a reputed ad agency that can help you professionally.

  2. Hope Vicky Wireko at the Daily Graphic has seen the new Red Dove rice commercial, I think on the Station of the Nation GTV.

  3. Vicky, you are right. I am researching into the impact of child ad in Ghana for my thesis and found your peice very useful. Have you also seen the ad, IT IS NOT MY FAULT! too where our children are being educated to tell lies to avoid punishment? And in many offices this stupid concept has caught currency with staff who report late for work proclaim IT IS NOT MY FAULT, THE TROTRO DRIVER TOOK A LONG WINDING ROAD?