Advertising and Consumerism in Nigeria: A Study of Unethical Promos by Telecom Operators

Advertising and Consumerism in Nigeria: A Study of Unethical Promos by Telecom Operators

Floribert Patrick C. Endong (University of Calabar, Nigeria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6120-0.ch013
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Nigeria-based telecom companies yearly generate revenues that surpass their returns in other countries due to their growing number of subscribers. In spite of this development, the consumer has, in various ways, remained exploited by telecom companies. Two ways in which such exploitation has been perpetrated include misleading promotions and unsolicited commercial calls. This chapter examines these two anti-consumer paradigms under three principal research questions: What is the state of consumerism in the Nigerian telecom sector? What are some of the anti-consumer cultures prevailing in this sector? And how do consumer protection associations come to terms with these anti-consumer practices? The chapter is thus divided into three main parts. The first part provides a conceptual definition of consumerism. The second part explores consumerism in the Nigerian telecom sector, and the last part deals with misleading advertisements and unsolicited commercial calls as forms of anti-consumer practices.
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It is an accepted premise that consumers occupy a key position in business. As a popular aphorism puts it, the client is boss or king in business; without him or her, there cannot be business. “The consumer supplies the blood line that keeps the [manufacturer, producer or entrepreneur] in business and churning out more service. If the consumer is satisfied, the revenue belt increases” (Danbatta in Folarin, 2017). The plausibility of this position is further revealed by the fact that effective demand is defined as desire backed by purchasing power. In view of this, most businesses have been compelled by governmental or other relevant arbiters to regard their clients and consumers as important social entities with rights which must be respected, notably in such areas as advertising and marketing campaigns. Some of these consumer rights to be respected by businesses or advertisers in their campaigns include (i) the right to choose from different brands of goods and services, (ii) the right (for the consumer) to be informed of important facts about products and services (notably durability and side effects) and (iii) the right to be heard by businesses, to ask questions or make complaints and suggestions. Despite modern and global movements to protect consumers, issues such as harmful or exploitative advertising continue to be observable – if not rampant – in most countries (Bishop, 1997; Endong, 2015; Najeeb & Mustansar, 2005; Radio Vatican, 2015). No doubt, many observers – particularly puritanical religious schools of thought – continue to arguably view advertising as a veritable art of deception, and a mere capitalist tool aimed at spurring consumers into excessive or inordinate consumption (Radio Vatican, 2015).

In recent times, Nigerian advertisers have been resorting to such exploitative advertising campaigns in a bid to increase sales or patronage. From religious institutions (such as churches) to video film marketers, some Nigerian advertisers have, of recent, circumstantially employed questionable communications to sell their products and services. The presence of advertising and communication regulatory organizations such as the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, and Nigerian Communications Council (NCC) has not really deterred the tradition of hyperbolic or harmful advertising campaigns by manufacturers and institutions in the country.

Some of the perpetrators of these questionable forms of advertising campaigns have been telecommunication operators which, through techniques such as advertised promotions and unsolicited commercial calls and text messages, have created potential sources of nuisance to consumers, as well as opportunities to exploit. Nigerian telecom operators have, for instance, entrenched the tradition of placing these unsolicited commercial calls and text messages at odd times of the day and at a high frequency. As reviewed by Oregbemhe (2015), such approaches may be frustrating and annoying to consumers. In some cases, many of the promises made by these telecommunications operators to their subscribers in the course of their promotional campaigns have turned out to be well-organized deceptions, scams or well calculated moves to exploit subscribers (Etukodo, 2008; Monye, Umoh & Chinyere, 2014; Piwuna, 2016).

This chapter critically explores the ways in which the Nigerian telecom operators often fail to give a modicum of attention to consumer rights and the extent to which advertising regulatory bodies and other consumer protection associations/initiatives operating in the country come to term with this anti-consumer culture. The chapter is structured in three principal sections. The first section provides a conceptual definition of consumerism. The second section explores consumerism in the Nigerian telecom sector, while the last section deals with misleading advertisements and unsolicited commercial calls as forms of anti-consumer practices in the Nigerian telecom sector.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Nigerian Communication Commission: Body responsible for regulating the telecommunications sector in Nigeria.

Do Not Disturb Code: A code designed by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) to enable the Nigerian consumer to unsubscribe from unsolicited commercial calls.

Unsolicited Commercial Communications: Commercial communications sent by an operator to its customers without their request. These communications include voice mails or SMS made via telecommunications service for the purpose of informing about, soliciting or promoting commercial transaction bordering on product, service, or investment.

Fluffing and Puffery: A relatively questionable—though not illegal—technique of advertising product which consist in making vague claims about a product or service which cannot be proved or disproved. By this technique, the advertiser “puffs up” its product or service, to make it appear more than what it is.

Consumer Protection Associations: Institutions or groups involved in the protection of the consumer’s rights.

MNO: Acronym used for mobile network operator.

Consumerism: Organized movement geared towards the protection and/or promotion of the interest of the consumer. This movement can be initiated or supported by government or individuals or groups.

Unethical Advertising: A reprehensible type of advertising which often distorts or misrepresents a product or service, and which used questionable (secretive) ways of influencing audiences or readers.

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