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ADVERTISEMENTS: Who Should Be Held Accountable For Failed Promises?

By on December 12, 2011

A couple of years ago, I attended a course in the Enterprise Development Centre (part of Pan African University). We often used the case study method to illustrate the theories we were being taught. One case study in particular left a deep impression on me. It was based on an event that really happened somewhere in the United States decades ago. I cant remember all the specific details but the long and short of it was that a company had made promises in the promotion of one of its products. A consumer who purchased the product demanded to be given what had been promised but was told that she had misunderstood the actual offer and was not entitled to anything. She sued them to court, won the court case and the company had to pay her much more than what she originally asked for.

This case study came to mind recently when I bought a certain toothpaste which, according to the adverts was supposed to make your teeth become whiter immediately. I don’t know what I was thinking but I rushed to the shop and got myself one tube thinking that this was the key to the dazzling smile I had always wanted to have. Needless to say, after using the toothpaste for 3 weeks, my teeth were not any whiter (don’t start thinking that they are dark brown or something like that. They are perfectly normal teeth just not as white as I would have liked). I asked myself who was to blame for my spending money on a product I might never have purchased if not for the advertisement. Was it a deliberate act of deception by the company or were my teeth just an exception to the rule? There comes to my mind, a whole list of other advertisements which promise heaven and earth. For many of them, the promises are ridiculous and anyone who believes them needs to have his or her head examined. To think that you would start flying after you take a bottle of a certain brand of soft drink; or that your children will start dancing around you in the kitchen because you use a seasoning to cook their food. I don’t think people will expect those veiled promises to be fulfilled. In these cases, the advertisements are playing with our minds. They leave pleasant sensations in us and that could encourage us to buy them later.

But there are times when very concrete specific promises are made. Lets take 2 brief examples; an internet provider that tells you that your internet connection is going to work at the speed of light. A telecom company that offers free calls at certain times of the day. These are examples of some serious offers given by companies. The aim is to get people to spend money on their products and they often succeed. The question now is what happens when those promises are not fulfilled. I remember the frustration I felt when using an internet broadband company which was supposed to have very fast connection rates turned out to be agonizingly slow. When we complained to their customer service they apologized profusely but did not seem to think that the fact that their bosses had paid an advertising agency to tell the whole world that they could provide extremely fast browsing speeds made them obliged to try and fulfill those promises.

The case of the telecom companies is even more pathetic. It is true that many times they deliver the services they promise to deliver but it is also a fact that often these services suffer technical hitches or are stopped altogether and the company does not bother to offer any explanations. In one particular very annoying case, the company’s free calls services lasted for only a few months yet the advertisements kept running for over a year.
I think this is gross exploitation. People take decisions on how to spend their money based on promises made. If these promises are not delivered someone should be made to pay. If not it becomes very easy for a company to make an offer it never intended to deliver or planned to deliver for only a short period of time. Meanwhile they would have generated lots of income from the unsuspecting consumers. Consumers should be protected against such acts. I rest my case.