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There are flaws in alcoholic beverage advert regulation – Loremikan

By on June 8, 2013

Shina Loremikan is the National Coordinator, Campaign Against Impunity, and a member of the Consumer Rights Advocacy Network of Nigeria. He is also a member of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and immediate past Coordinator, Zero Corruption Coalition in South-West Nigeria.

In this interview with Saturday Vanguard Business,Loremikan urges advertising regulation agencies to treat industry players alike; while advising manufacturers to respect consumers’ choice. Excerpts:

What is the biggest challenge around the issue of consumer rights?

One of the greatest challenges  is the fact that some manufacturers of consumer products tend to take the average consumer for granted in the delivery of their products and services.This is equally linked to the fact that there does not appear to be a level playing field for consumers to be able to determine what is best for them, hence the consumer’s space is narrowed down since he or she is denied the full range of information necessary to make informed choices.

For some manufacturers of consumer goods, it is business as usual if they can muzzle their competitors and prevent them from gaining access to the consumer’s attention; thereby denying him or her the opportunity of making an informed choice. The ideal situation should be that the consumer is the king and his or her ability to make a choice is sacrosanct – but the opposite appears to be the case. Some manufacturers behave as if the consumer owes them an obligation to buy their products under any circumstance.So, what is responsible for the anomaly – are there any institutional flaws in the process?

Certainly. It can be seen that the regulatory agencies have not lived up to expectation. Those who are supposed to be on the side of the consumer and guarantee that the space for choice is wide and free give the impression that they are compromised. For example, one of the issues that have attracted our concern and for which we are currently running an advocacy campaign has to do with the way the advertisement of alcoholic beverages on terrestrial television (etc.) is being handled by the regulatory body. With the recent happenings in the industry, it is clear that the regulatory agencies are sleeping on their duties. The regulatory agencies have been turning a blind eye to some brands that are flouting the advertising watershed for alcoholic beverages in the electronic media; while bringing the whole weight of their sanctions to bear on others – this is selective justice. You can imagine a situation where two brands in the same sector err and only one is sanctioned.

As a group, we are not interested in big business in themselves, but on how their actions impact on the right of consumers. Why should leverage be given to one brand at the expense of its competition? This restricts the space for consumer choice and can almost be posed as a question of human rights. Remarkable instances in this direction invite the examples of the Anti-trust advocacy, which has led to legislation in the United States where big corporations seek to muzzle out their competition; this ultimately impacts on the consumer whose capacity to make a choice is infringed upon, and he can only consume what is visible to him despite the availability of better alternatives.

More precisely, there have recently been advertorials from your group on what you  described as double standards in the advertising regulation of alcoholic beverages. Are you advocating for a ban on the advertising of alcoholic products or that the Consumer Space should simply be widened to admit all stakeholders?

Well, to clarify things, we are not campaigning for a ban on the advertising of alcoholic products, and like I have also said earlier, what we are concerned with is having equity and fairness in the execution of the laid down rules of advertising governing all players – whether big or small. Recently there have been reports in the papers about one alcoholic beverage company’s flouting of the Advertising standards code on the advertisement of alcoholic products and the subsequent withdrawal of its advertising licence.

While we are not against the regulatory bodies carrying out their duties in seeing to the enforcement of the codes, it is disheartening to note that there are double standards in that one company is allowed to flout the advertising codes while others are punished for the same thing. This not only shows a skewed sense of justice but, more importantly, restricts the consumer’s space for choice, which is our main concern.

What we are advocating for is one standard for all players in the industry. Every organisation should have an equal playing ground to advertise their products and services and the system should not favour one over the other, as this also sends a very bad signal to the international community at a time when Nigeria is positioning itself for Foreign Direct Investment.

Can you expatiate on the issues involved here?

We learnt from our investigations that the brewery in question was sanctioned for showing an alcoholic advert on satellite television before the stipulated watershed period and was subsequently banned even after complying by taking down the said material, after being given a warning. On the other hand our investigation further revealed that a competitor brand also runs advert slots for one of their premium alcoholic brands at an even earlier time slot than the company in question.

Now why should there be this sort of disparity in dealing with two companies in the same industry? This narrows the visibility of all the information required by the consumer and I believe it sends out a very negative signal to foreign investors in that what we are telling them is that they may not be able to play on an even playing field when it comes to marketing their products and services. The sad thing about this is that it is the consumer who ultimately bears the brunt of the negative effects of this warped regime of information access.

Are you then campaigning for the other erring party to be sanctioned as well?

As a rights advocacy group, what we are after is fairness and justice. As it is said, “what is good for the goose is good for the gander”. We must be careful not to portray our society as selective in the administration of its rules and standards. We are saying undermining the code or giving preference to one company at the expense of the other does not encourage fair competition neither does it serve the interests of the consumer.

What we are saying here is that the consumers’ interest should be key and not allowing the consumer all the information he needs is tantamount to restricting the consumer space and is actually an infringement of the human rights of the consumer which is what the regulator is doing at the moment.

What do you believe are the issues at the root of the situation?

Naturally, the Advertising Standards Panel (ASP) makes the recommendation to APCON on who to sanction and without the suggestion of the ASP, APCON will not sanction any organization. Therefore it is pertinent to ask what the interest of the ASP is that would warrant them sanctioning one group but turning a blind eye to the other. Does the head of the group have any vested interests in the advertising success of any of the breweries? If these are not true, then the organization should show itself as an impartial regulator and take appropriate action against erring brands.

From our investigations we have solid evidence to show that the erring on the part of a particular brewery has gone unchallenged. Is the ASP trying to tell us that they have not noticed this? Or that they do not have the capacity to monitor what all players are doing in the industry. The advertising regulatory code was created to ensure that the promotion of alcohol is only viewed by the appropriate audience but what we see now is that the regulation is now being used as a tool for waging marketing warfare and this is a very unfortunate development.

Why in your opinion, do you think that a company would resort to such underhanded tactics in order to gain the upper hand?

It possible that the company in question feels threatened by the growth and success of its competitors and as such instead of focusing on developing a more effective marketing and sales strategy, it is becoming desperate even going to the point of resorting to these measures in order to achieve success in the industry. We the consumers are not oblivious of what is going on and as a vanguard for the collective interest of the Nigerian consumers we are taking a stand against these double standards in the industry.


So what are you doing to ensure that the double standards in the advertising of alcoholic beverage products is stopped in order for the field to be level to all the players?

That is the reason why we are campaigning. It is our civic duty to sensitize the public on the issues. First we are educating Nigerians on the reality of the issues so that they can understand and also demand for fairness on these issues. We want Nigerian consumers to speak out with one voice against injustice in whatever shape or form it appears. That is what we are saying. We are not against any brewery, company or operator in any way. All we are after is the welfare of the Nigerian consumer. That is what the Consumer Rights Advocacy Network of Nigeria is after.

Any last words of advice to the Nigerian consumers and the parties involved?

What I would like to say is that the Nigerian consumer should be vigilant. They should say no to unfairness in regulation and underhanded marketing tactics, especially when it comes to issues like this one. We also call on the leadership of the Advertising Standards Panel to exercise transparency and equity in dealing with companies that flout its regulation. There shouldn’t be any favoritism in handling these matters. Nigeria has come up tops on the list of corrupt nations in the world and this recent incident does not help our cause in promoting the virtues of this great nation.