Of low-grade commercials and questionable product labels

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

In recent times, a number of television commercials, notably for food and drinks, have been airing with an endorsement which to me raises some questions.

The endorsement states: “This advertisement has been vetted and approved by the FDA (Food and Drugs Authority).”

I always wonder what exactly that means. Does the “vetting” and “approval” refer to only the product or it includes the method?

Judging by the kind of dialogue some manufacturers employ to advertise their products, I think that the FDA approval should state clearly what the Authority is endorsing, because the method of some of the commercials is quite problematic. Some of them are even irritating as the manufacturers seem to think that anything is acceptable to viewers.

Or, maybe the “approval” should be a collaboration of the FDA and the Advertising Association of Ghana – or whichever body is responsible for the content of commercials.

As indicated, some of the films have extremely implausible story lines. I know that the adverts are being used only to sell a product, but if a manufacturer or trader has gone to the trouble of getting an agency to use a film format, why can’t they insist on a logical plot?
Why can’t such a client insist that any approach used for advertising their product must make sense, must be credible to prospective customers?

Take the example of a current TV advert for a cream, supposed to clear pimples and the like. The commercial opens with an irate man, call him Mr A, with a woman, call her Ms A, supposedly his partner who has a skin problem.

A second man, call him Mr B, appears on the scene with a woman (Ms B), and enquires what the problem is. Mr A then declares: “I can’t marry this lady (Ms A) again!” (Or words to that effect.) Mr A’s explanation for his stance is that Ms A has terrible skin.

Mr B then advises Mr A to buy Cream X because his partner, Ms B, had the same problem until she began using that cream which has now turned into “an angel”.

Next scene: Mr A is entering his house only to find a ‘stranger’ seated there, a lovely, spots-free woman. He asks: “Who are you and what are you doing in my house?”

She reveals herself to be Ms A, now so beautiful, evidently after using the cream, that he doesn’t recognize her!

My questions: In the first place, what is the “I can’t marry this lady again” supposed to mean? That they have been married for some time and he now wants a divorce?

Or that they had planned to marry and he’s now had a change of mind? Furthermore, if he had ended their relationship, how did she enter his house in his absence?

Yet this advert is one of those that come with the FDA testimonial!

Another concern is about the subtle cheating of consumers as well as the English of the labels on some of the products selling in the Ghanaian market.

As I wrote in this space a couple of years ago, (‘Consumer protection, Blue Jeans in the spotlight’, issue of January 27, 2017), cheating of consumers takes many forms, including the market women’s clever trick of hammering in the bottom of the ‘American tin’ standard measure so as to reduce the quantity of, say, rice or garri they’re selling.

Anyway, is there supposed to be a standard weight and price for a loaf of bread? Not only is bread getting lighter, the taste these days is mostly bland, although there are pastry ingredients aplenty!

And it’s is very interesting that although butchers in our markets will dutifully show the scale to the customer as they weigh the meat, there is no guarantee one is getting value for money.

Isn’t it curious that more than 40 years after Ghana adopted the metric system of measurement (in September, 1975), butchers still sell meat by the ‘pound’ and not by the kilogram?

In recent years, powdered products have grown noticeably lighter, whether they’re in tins or sachets. Apparently the manufacturers long ago hit on the strategy of not increasing prices too much, for fear of losing sales. Instead, they subtly decrease the quantity while maintaining the same size of the packaging.

Then take electrical and electronic goods. Who is monitoring that electrical gadgets imported for sale in Ghana have manuals or instructions in understandable English?
Indeed, the issue of product labels and directions is quite a headache. A couple of recent examples I have come across:

A kitchen accessory I bought a few weeks ago, a plastic cutting board, had a label that stated, among other things, “Product feature: dry rapidly and operate it conveniently.

“Note: Please take it for (sic) away a fire and don’t put it on a hot pan.”

Then there’s the information on a shower cap label I’m still trying to understand, weeks after buying it: “ABSTERSION METHOD.

“Wash it by fancy soup (yes, “soup”!) prohibit wash it by complaisance.”

Needless to say, both items bear the now inescapable, proud assertion, “MADE IN CHINA”.

Of course in both the above cases the buyer suffers no harm, but what about when food or drink is involved? Or even medicines?

And yet the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) has very specific requirements about labels, including: “All information on the label in a foreign language other than

English shall be translated into English. Failure to comply may lead to (impounding) of such goods/products.”

So how do such goods enter the Ghanaian market, with labels in a kind of English that probably only the manufacturers in China, or wherever, understand? Why are products with such labels still on sale in this country in 2019?

It seems to me that what the GSA needs to emphasize is that the text must not only be in English, but it MUST BE COMPREHENSIBLE English!

But then maybe the GSA officials understand and can explain to buyers “operate it conveniently”, “ABSTERSION METHOD” and “prohibit wash it by complaisance”.

Clearly if Ghana had an effective, comprehensive Consumer Protection Law, these issues would not arise.

If sanctions were being strictly applied, every advertising agency and every manufacturer targeting the market here, as well as the importers, would bear it in mind that there are some discerning Ghanaians among their target market.

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