APCON and war against false adverts

ONYEKORMAKA ASABOR writes on APCON’s attitude towards the implementation of rules against false advertisements

False adverts

False advertisement is any advertising or promotion that misrepresents the nature, character, quality or geographic origin of goods, services or other commercial activities. A false advert contains false statement about the advertiser’s product or another person’s goods, services or commercial activity. Such advert deceives and has the potential to deceive a substantial portion of its target audience. The deception in the advert is also likely to influence the purchasing decisions of its audience. False adverts contain statements that either result in or are likely to result in injury to the consumer. The most heavily important factor is the advertisement’s potential to injure a customer.


APCON’s attempts to protect consumers

The leadership of Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria has been at the forefront of ensuring that the retrogressive trend among manufacturers and service providers are regulated. For instance, in 2019, the Acting Registrar of APCON, Ijedi Iyoha, urged media outfits across the country to assist the council in addressing misleading adverts to guard against exploitation of the consumer. The council derives its mandate from an Act 55 of 1988 (now consolidated with amendments and cited as Advertising Practitioners Registration, etc. Act, Chapter 47, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2007)

While addressing journalists at the time, ahead of the National Advertising Conference, in Lagos, she noted that the media must ensure that the adverts they put out have the clearance of APCON.

Her words, “Advertisers must vet their commercials and get clearance from APCON before placing their commercials.”

In the same vein, then Chairman, Conference Planning Committee, Joe-Eugene Onuora, noted, “One recurring area of conflict is the granting of credit on transactions and the burden of indebtedness arising from prolonged payment defaults. There is also the issue of huge advertising briefs going to non-advertising professionals as well as foreign agencies and consultants.

“Many public sector organisations do not appear to appreciate that advertising is a professional practice, reserved for persons, who are qualified and registered as advertising professionals. Thus, there is large patronage of contractors by public sector organisations resulting in very poor and unprofessional execution of huge-debt campaigns and consequential stultification of growth of the Nigerian advertising profession. “


Social media

If there is any aspect of protection from misleading or deceptive advertising that consumers urgently need more than ever, it is that of protecting them from becoming victims of unscrupulous sellers of goods and services that are ubiquitous on social media platforms.

This category of advertisers resort to vending fake and substandard products and services, purporting them to be genuine and of high quality to the detriment of unsuspicious buyers, and even resorting to posting non-existent goods and services to hoodwink unsuspecting social media users.

Without doubt, the preponderance of advertisements for fake, substandard and non-existent products and services has, unarguably, added to the challenges faced by APCON, the body involved in regulating advertisement in Nigeria.

Given that APCON has not rested on its oars in ensuring that Nigeria’s consumer market is sanitised from false and misleading advertisements, the council, in May 2022, concluded modalities for the control of advertising contents going into the social media space.

Placement of adverts in Nigeria has taken an amorphous form for years, with many advertisers flouting the laid-down rules and regulations for advert placements and exposure in the public space, especially the digital media. For instance, how will a mother feel seeing her 10-year-old watching adverts on breasts and organ enlargement on social media through their phones? Or a traditional medicine advertiser claiming his drug is capable of curing over 200 kinds of diseases.

These are the claims of APCON through its Registrar and Chief Executive, Dr Lekan Fadolapo, when he addressed the media in Lagos on APCON’s resolve to regulate advert placement in the digital media space.

Interestingly, while product advert placements in the digital media may not be the only focus of APCON, political adverts in the coming electioneering will also be monitored on the social media to eradicate placement of campaigns of bitterness and foul languages that were the norm in 2015 and 2019.

No doubt, the advent of the Internet and new media, characterised by social networking sites such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp etc., has revolutionised communication globally. This has enabled the giant tech and primary digital media owners, including Google and Twitter to explore Nigeria’s digital media space with all sorts of advertisements, some of which violate the Nigerian Code of Advertising Practice.

Fadolapo disclosed that the position of APCON about indiscriminate advert placements in the social media was to sanitise the system and make advertisements conform to the laid-down rules and regulations. He said APCON had received many petitions about the type and nature of advertisements in the social media.

“Many people are bloggers and influencers offering themselves and their media handles as tools for advertisement, without recourse to accepted principles and ethics of advertising practice. The sharp increase in the violation of the Nigerian Code of Advertising portends danger.


Cause for concern

Without doubt, false advertising has remained a cause for concern to many people across professionals and non-professionals. In fact, among the seven consumer rights listed by the federal-backed Consumer Protection Commission’s efforts to give consumers the Right to Information, and which constitutionally backs consumers to be provided with information to enable informed purchase decision.

Christopher Odebode said, “The houses or land they post to their friends on social media do not belong to them. How can the team in APCON regulate the advertising sector of the economy under this kind of rowdy advertising atmosphere? The challenge is too enormous for the council to bear; it surely needs the cooperation of everyone to succeed in the war against misleading advertisements.”

Another stakeholder, Abel Olayiwola, said, “In the face of the world of commerce undergoing changes each passing day, particularly in the last couple of decades, it is expedient that social media users, who are invariably consumers, are protected from scammers posing as sellers.”

He explained that before the advent of the Internet and electronic commerce, transactions were carried out one-on-one and in close proximity; in some cases by post. However, it is no more the case, and consumers are, in that light, fast becoming vulnerable.

According to him, it is necessary that APCON takes the bull by the horns, before one would start talking about the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC). “If possible, they can collaborate in this enormous task,” he added.

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