Advertisements: Beyond the limits?


Good stuff sells itself,poor stuff hawks itself around. This Swahili saying sums up the conventional attitude of most East Africans towards advertisements. If your product or your service is good, you do not have to make a song  and dance about it. In other words, let your product speak for itself. Indeed, we may have good reason to suspect what is overpraised/overrated.

Present-day marketing strategies, however, seem to hinge on advertisement. The word ‘hype’ used to have some negative connotations of drawing too much attention to a person, an object or an event.

Today, hype  seems to be the in thing. You have only to look at our social and mainstream media to appreciate this fact. Huge spaces in the daily newspapers and large chunks of prime time on our TV screens and radio waves are taken up by advertisements of everything from the newest mall in town to the modest mobile phones.

Indeed most bloggers/ vloggers, media companies, whether print or electronics, survive and thrive on advertisement. Even what used to be open spaces are not spared the onslaught of advertisement. The streets of most big towns, and even highways out in the countryside, are line with giant banners advertising alcohol and soft drinks, petroleum products, hotels, banks etc.

The tops and outside walls of skyscrapers are plastered with invitations to buy this lipstick, save with that bank or SACCO and drink that very fresh and creamy milk. Many of these panels are fitted with flickering neon lights, giant screens, which give the night city scape its tantalizing characteristics.

Walk into a sports stadium, a mall or a cinema house and the most glaring welcome you receive is a wilderness of advertisements. A knowledgeable observer indicated that literally billions of dollars are spent every year on the promotion of such words as fresh, new, natural, powerful and smooth in advertisements.

Advertisement is thus undeniable fact of our lives. Nor should this be surprising, since the twenty-first century has been dubbed ‘the age of communication.’ This means that the creation and transmission of messages is the most important activity in this century. The most powerful, and richest person is going to be the one who can package his or her message successfully.

But the importance of communication and of advertisement should not be seen only in terms of power and riches. It should impose upon its practitioners certain expectations of social responsibility and human decency.

Below is the banned condom ad that had sparked controversy all over. It had been featured on international media as well as dominated the social media conversations:

The public has the right to expect that advertisers are honest, safe and clean. The messages in the advertisements should tell the truth in both word and image; they should avoid obscenity. Maybe this is easier said than done!