I have always wondered why pharmaceutical companies consistently hold the record of producing the poorest television commercials. Think about it. The most annoying television commercials you’d ever see on television are those marketing over-the-counter drugs. It was not always so. At least, remember a lot of memorable and well-produced drug commercials from when I was young.
I remember how good adverts for Phensic were. I remember the one for Cafenol. What about the one for Multivite? There are many of them so memorable we enjoyed the jingles as children growing up. In my young adulthood, Panadol was there with its great commercials. “If e no be Panadol, e no fit be like Panadol” still evokes memories of an era long gone.
I think the industry eventually fell into a “template trap.” Everybody began to copy what they felt was the winning messaging format of the other, with little or no attention to creativity. Things got worse with the proliferation of antimalarial drugs and their counterparts for cough. Anybody who had some money to spare would just invite his friends to produce something that is thrown at us on television and radio.
Remember that one where one voiceover artist was screaming, “malaria own don pafuka! Malaria own don pafuka!!” Such was the widespread slide in quality. Propositions were poorly and hurriedly thought-out, where they existed, and for a long period, sitting through an advertisement for drugs became a painful attack on my time.
But then, Lonart came along with what looked like a breadth of fresh air into a polluted ecosystem of annoying and boring pharmaceuticals marketing. It is bad enough that someone is battling an ailment, enduring an unconvincing advert conspires to worsen the situation.
Launched in 2006 by Greenlife Pharmaceuticals, Lonart has been around for quite a while. After the World Health Organisation, in 2001, proclaimed the artemether-lumefantrine combination as replacement for chloroquine for the treatment and control of malaria, pharmaceutical companies all around the world, especially those targeting malaria-prone tropical Africa began the race for who will be the market leader in a continent that has 190 million cases (89% of the global total) and 400 000 deaths (91% of the global total) annually. Lonart was one of those that thronged the market for a piece of the pie.
We have long accepted exaggeration and associations of all kinds as core ingredients of the advertising story but should outright falsehood and factually impossible stories be tolerated?
Being around for all of 16 years must have left its lessons on Greenlife Pharmaceuticals, the reason why, it went for stylish footballer, Jay Jay Okocha to headline its most recent campaign. Besides the sterling records he left as an ex-international footballer with those magical skills, Jay Jay appears to be one of the few former football stars whose ambassadorial value kept growing long after they had stopped playing. There are at least four major brands currently using him in their television commercials. I am not sure he got as many endorsements during his playing days as he has been getting after, and this speaks of his impressive residual value. But that is by the way.
The point to note is that whoever handled the production of the commercial for Lonart did an impressive job if the viewer does not go into the fine details. The storytelling was great. Strong in emotion and nostalgia, it was told in a way people will connect with. Lonart, summing up Jay Jay’s life as a footballer, right from his days in Enugu to his exploits as a professional footballer in Europe. Mention must also be made of how it was always Lonart that the mercurial footballer relied on in the frequent periods that he had bouts of malaria.
Excellent storytelling! Best of all, it was simple. It was just Jay Jay telling his story. No drama, no crowded cast to distract from the message; it was just him and the viewer. This method made it look like it was an interaction with each individual member of the public. I have watched the advert time and again and I have not been bored, even with all its flaws.
The first flaw had to do with Jay Jay’s rendering of the script and this is where attention to detail, the minutest of it, let the producers down. To properly establish his background and situate him in the real Nigerian experience, the script had to accommodate stories about Okocha’s growing up days in Enugu. I do not know whether it was an error in the script or Jay Jay’s poor rendering, but one could clearly hear the ex-footballer say something like;
“…in those days while I was growing up in the COLD city of Enugu…”
I have listened to the ad countless times to be sure my ears weren’t making mistakes but each time, the same thing keeps registering.
Deceptive ads harm consumers by causing them to have false beliefs about the nature of the products being advertised and thereby causing them to make different purchasing decisions than they would have made otherwise
Geographically and ecologically, Enugu cannot be said to be a COLD city. Enugu and Jos are not the same. The moniker for Enugu, which is written on the number plate of every vehicle that is registered in the state is, “COAL CITY” and not COLD CITY. Whether it was Okocha that mispronounced it or an error in scripting should not be an excuse.
The other major flaw, which I cannot tell the extent that advertising rules should tolerate, is the error in situating the brand and its endorser properly within time and space.
Confusing? Well just follow this explanation. As I have stated earlier, Lonart was launched 16 years ago, on November 16, 2006. That is a long time to have been in the market, isn’t it? Now Jay Jay Okocha retired from active professional football in 2008, just two years after Lonart was launched. In fact, by the time Lonart was launched, Okocha had rounded his term at Bolton Wanderers in England and was probably on his way to a Qatar for his short spell in the oil-rich Arab nation’s league.
What this means is that it was impossible for Jay Jay to have used Lonart while he was “growing up in the cold city of Enugu because Lonart was not in existence during that time. In fact, by 1990, 16 years before Lonart was born and 11 years before the World Health Organisation approved artemether-lumefantrine for the treatment of malaria, Okocha had left Nigeria and was already playing in Germany.
Campaigns such as this continue to raise the issue of lies, falsehood, and deception in advertising messages. Why should an ambassador be hired to claim he had used a product that was not in existence at the time he claimed he was relying on it for whatever utility? We have long accepted exaggeration and associations of all kinds as core ingredients of the advertising story but should outright falsehood and factually impossible stories be tolerated? In these days when storytelling has become the easy claim of brands and their agencies, to what extent should a story be considered unacceptable?
In a book, Deception in Advertising, published by the Oxford Scholarship Online, Thomas L. Carson had held that “Deceptive advertising harms people in much the same ways as deception in sales and tends to be wrong for the same reasons. Deceptive ads harm consumers by causing them to have false beliefs about the nature of the products being advertised and thereby causing them to make different purchasing decisions than they would have made otherwise.”
It can be argued that whatever Okocha said about the time he began using Lonart has no material relationship with the drug’s active ingredients and curative potency. But the relationship between how many consumers that patronised the brand because they believed this falsehood, and the number that would have AVOIDED Lonart, had they found out that Jay Jay wasn’t telling a true story would go a long way to determine the extent Lonart had benefitted from this at the expense of consumers.
I am not a neophyte in this business; I know that advertising is not all about telling the truth. Marketing is not piety, and we have increasingly witnessed religious organisations whose callings demand them to be pious adopt a number of marketing-like methods, some of which involve being economical with the truth here and there, in growing their ministries.” But I will wish for the industry to ask themselves moral and ethical questions about brands making claims of solving a problem during a material point in time that available evidence shows it has not come into existence. …something like Elon Musk, Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos claiming their rockets took Neil Armstrong to the moon in 1969!
I know the answers might not be easy to come by, but according to the moniker given by my brothers in automobile sales, to that Honda Accord car brand, the “discussion continues.”