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Advertising & The Consumer



Self Appraisal: Advertising practice is enjoying a cloud of darkness that shields it from reckoning, such that gives it the undue advantage over other offerings when it comes to value consideration. Whereas its engagement is predicated on value rating and proposition, it does not go through critical scrutiny for real value, as performance indicators are shrouded in glamour, to a very large extent. Over time, and in the name of innovation and creativity, advertising has evolved into varying offer rating, further casting shadows over those critical value rating, especially among non-practitioners. Whereas some refer to its entire process as integrated marketing communication, some simply refer to it as brand management. In the interest of our consumer public, however, we shall rest it at Advertising.

As with every commercial offering, advertising is about creating (adding) value; a commercial engagement that is value-based, as with any given brand. Advertising should be rated for the quality of offering and the extent to which delivers on its promise. Unfortunately, however, its nature and characteristics keep it away from direct impact assessment…because it is ‘invincible’. Interestingly, advertising is structured to question values. The modus for ideal professional advertising practice, structures its entire process towards seeking answers to question of value, starting with own-brand. That explains the place of SWOT analysis in advertising (creative) process. Advertising asks all the questions in the process of engagement…starting from the Who for own-brand’s offering, market expectation, size of market in view of the rated offering or proposition, etc. The missing question is what is advertising offering? What is the value of its proposition; how does its value offering compare with a competitive offer; what is it contributing in real sense…so many questions. The Consumer in this case, is split in two: advertisers and the public to whom advertising messages are directed. From its base position as a form of communication, the parameters for value assessment for advertising products & service start from Information.

Advertising is about information, hence the standard curriculum of mass communication as a study discipline, subsumes it; Advertising is commerce-based communication, patterned to stimulate market growth and economic development by facilitating consumer-brand (notso-branded offerings) interaction. It enables commercial interface by information. However, advertising, as a pattern of communication, is in itself based on value. Broadly, the critical considerations are efficiency and effectiveness at delivering valuebased information. As a profession, it is structured to deliver on value, such that its efficiency and effectiveness are by themselves demonstrative of the systematic application of set rules leading to operative standard. Therefore, among others, value expectations from advertising practice and products must deliver on clarity of message, credibility of information, dependability of source of information, and instructional guide. As with standard information, advertising messages provide answers to the classical ‘5Ws & H’ of mass communication (as with news dissemination).  Advertising messages must engage stakeholders on the very critical value touch-points of credibility and reliability.

It is on the basis of credibility and reliability that a consumer can assuredly make rewarding buying decision at the market place. Therefore, advertising messages must be clean of deceit, misrepresentation, sincere persuasion, healthy competition. Advertising messages should not communicate promise(s) its brand(s) cannot deliver on. For an example, advertised Recommended Retail Price must be same with that which obtains at place of purchase. Use of models must be true and appropriate; claims about quality and value must be sincere and deliverable…and so on. It is on the basis of set-standards that we seek to evaluate the contribution of Advertising practice and product offering to consumers’ wellbeing. So, it is critically important to ask – what does Advertising really add? To advertisers (investors in advertising):  it must deliver on the promise to effectively and efficiently engage the target market in such a way that will help the Client/Brand’s competitive advantage. The problem with critical evaluation at this level is that majority of those who should ask questions don’t know the parameters for evaluation. Every advertising investment should be guided by specific objective. In most cases, objectives are either not established or misplaced. In the face of either situation, the glamour of advertising dazzles in form without substance.  If for instance, an investment in advertising is targeted at image management among identified target group, there must be agreed parameter to measure the return on that investment.

By reason of statistical data, the effectiveness and efficiency employed in the management of that investment will reflect on the final appraisal. Interestingly, advertising process appreciates that level of responsibility with practitioners, and has established a careful systematic approach building up to its service or product delivery. The entire strategic and creative process (with the backcheck mechanism) is self-critical on propriety. A practitioner must determine the destination of every such engagement from the startpoint. The process must identify the marketing or communication objective, the target audience, cost of engagement and anticipated result. A culmination of the above makes up the parameter for value appreciation of advertising expenditure and Agency, for the advertiser (investor). To target audience for advertising (messages) service and product, they must deliver on useful information, persuasive message, and exciting enlightenment. It must contribute to consumers’ profitable buying decision-making process.

What is the benefit of an advertising message if it is deceptive? Of what value is an advertising message accentuating the promises of a pharmaceutical product by a deceptive use of human model kitted in the costume of a medical practitioner (when that amounts to deception)? Such deceptive use of models distorts the target consumer’s sense of judgment because of the natural believability attached to the person of a medical practitioner for such messages. As a rule, such deceptive use of models are forbidden in advertising.  But today, we see them being used, breaking a major ethical rule established to guide the profession. This practice compromises consumer’s safety and rights. What is the value contribution of advertising practice and product to Consumers’ wellbeing? Brand owners must ask questions, institutional stakeholders must take responsibility towards protecting the consumer against bad quality advertising, and consumers must protect themselves against bad advertising messages and products. Every advertising message must be put to the test to ascertain its level of credibility.

For instance, there are several consumer-reward promotion campaigns going on across our media space presently, but our fear is that many of them are not delivering on their promises. The Advertising Practitioners’ Council of Nigeria (APCON), the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), National Food & Drugs Administration Council (NAFDAC) – and I dare suggest the Standards Organisation Of Nigeria (SON) should set certified advertising practice standards  to guide consumer reward promotion – should find a way to determine the sincerity of such promises, for the interest of Consumers. Advertising should be called to accountability. We know disrupters have spurned  so much wool around, coursing dizziness in all directions, and among all stakeholders (including regulatory institutions and bodies), all in the guise of ‘thinking outside the box’. But the fundamentals are enduring and cannot be replaced. Disruption does not reinvent the wheel, but add value in innovative ways.

We must hold on to the fundamentals for value-based advertising services and products, with a sense of responsibility. APCON and AAAN must rework themselves, starting with self-evaluation on the basis of competence and closing up on knowledge gaps (as evident), to effectively promote adherence to established rules, ethical standards and quality control. Until we achieve the above, we shall all continue to share in collective losses, decline in productivity and decline in essence and responsiveness. We, at MC&A DIGEST, shall continue to point in the direction of professionalism over glamour, because we know the over-riding objective for professional Brand Management is creating wealth and generating revenue. Selfdeceit will not do it for us.