The effort to regulate Ghana’s advertising industry

Even as Ghana’s advertising industry counts its achievements and celebrates its most outstanding achievers, it continues its lobby for a formal regulatory framework that would ensure professionalism and integrity in an industry that is crucial in influencing purchasing decisions at the household, enterprise and public institutional levels alike. Toma Imirhe documents the inordinately delayed new legislation and the advertising – and advertising industry practitioners - that have been adjudged as most outstanding in Ghana most recently.

Last weekend, the Advertising Association of Ghana held the 13th edition of its professional industry awards, the Gong Gong awards in a plush event at the Kempinski Gold Coast Hotel in Accra. But even as the industry celebrated the deserving winners who had shown exemplary creativity and ingenuity over the past year, it did so in the shadow of widespread criticism as to the industry’s perceived shortcomings with regards to professionalism and integrity.

This however did little to mute the justified enthusiasm of industry practitioners during the award ceremony. Indeed, the award winners not only reflect the quality that Ghana’s advertising industry is capable of delivering to significant effect on consumers and therefore the financial fortunes and corporate reputations of clients; they show why the country’s industry has become so highly respected across Africa and indeed around the world that it now regularly hosts the global industry and is represented at its highest levels.

The awards were on the theme: “Creativity is the business growth engine”

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Nash Advertising Limited, Mr Nash Mike Feneku, was adjudged the Advertising Personality of the Year 2018.

The cinematographer, photographer, film producer and director who has served the advertising industry with dedication over the past three decades has produced over 100 television commercials, documentaries and radio advertisements.

The association also conferred special awards on five business executives whose brands and communication strategies have made an invaluable contribution to the growth of the industry over the years.

They are the Managing Director of the Graphic Communications Group Limited, Mr Ato Afful; the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Touch Media Limited, Mr Thyron T. Adusu; the CEO of the Food and Drugs Authority, Mrs Delese Mimi Darko; the Executive Secretary of the National Media Commission, Mr George Sarpong, and the Managing Director of Omni Media Limited, owners of Citi FM, Mr Samuel Atta Mensah.

A similar award was given to the La Dadekotopon Municipal Assembly for its diverse forms of support to the advertising industry.

Innovative DDB Ghana won Platinum awards in the Television and Radio categories for ‘MTN Thank God It’s Friday’ and ‘IFEST Pledge’ adverts, respectively.

Press-corporate Service Category and Integrated Corporate Services Category awards went to Now Available Africa for its ‘Sky Girls Gh’ magazine and ‘Sky Girls GH’, respectively.

Interactive Digital was adjudged the winner in the Digital-entertainment Category for its ‘MTN Hitmaker Karaoke’ advert, while the Activation-financial Services Category went to BTL Marketing Solution for its ‘SC Mobile’ activations.

Interactive Digital won gold in the Entertainment Category with its ‘MTN Hitmaker Karaoke’; Insel Communications Limited received awards in the Financial Services and Telecommunications categories with its ‘Ecobank Nigeria Dom Account’ advert and ‘We’re here to Airtel’ thematic campaign.

Innova DBB Ghana won in the Activation Channel Entertainment and the TV Channel Telecommunication categories with its ‘Are you ready’ and ‘MTN TGIF’ adverts; while Rezultz Advertising Limited received awards in the Outdoor Channel Health and Press Channel Food and Confectionary categories with its ‘Kiss condom’ and ‘Frytol Christmas’ advertisements.

Rezultz Advertising Limited also took home the Radio Channel Insurance Category award with its ‘Hollard Life’ campaign advert, with Dentus Aegis winning the Outdoor Channel in the Alcohol Category with its ‘Guinness new bold look’ advert.

Now Available Africa received the CSR Category award with its ‘Sky Girls magazine’ advert, with Insel Communications Limited taking the Press Channel Financial Services award with its ‘Ecobank Dom’ advert, while Innova DDB Ghana also won the Radio Channel Corporate Services and Telecommunication categories awards with ‘Momo bells’ and ‘Infest pledge’ adverts.

Insel Communications Limited also won the Financial Services, Food and Confectionary and Insurance awards with its ‘Ecobank xpress account’, ‘Cowbell energy for pilots’, and ‘The Mensahs’ adverts, respectively.

Amid the publicity and public attention that the latest Gong Gong awards has generated, the industry has renewed its calls for formal regulation of advertising practice in Ghana.

To be sure the industry has kept up pressure on government in this regard over the past few years, both in private discussions with the executive and legislators and at public events and forums during which industry leaders have tried to churn up public support for the initiative which has found form in the Advertising Bill which has been before cabinet for an inordinately long time now.

The Advertising Association of Ghana has kept renewing its calls for regulation of advertising practice in Ghana to protect the interest of consumers and to ensure sanity in the industry.
Executive Director of the AAG, Francis Dadzie has been at the forefront of this concerted advocacy.

“The Advertising Bill is the panacea for most of the challenges plaguing the industry today such as the indiscriminate siting of out of home advertising structures and will also lead to licensing of practitioners, professionalism, consumer protection, and growth of the industry”, he asserts..
He notes that the bill addresses all the key issues facing advertising practice in Ghana such as consumer protection from deceptive advertising, gender stereotyping and exploitation of children in advertisements.

He confirms that the association is still engaging the Ministries of Trade and Industry, and Communications to ensure the draft bill is passed by parliament but laments that the sense of urgency shown by government up to last year has since diminished.

With the support of BUSAC Fund, the association has since 2012 been advocating for an Advertising Bill which will establish a legislative framework leading to the set-up of an Advertising Council to regulate the industry.
The bill made it through parliament for a first reading in 2016 but could not be passed before the mandate of the fourth parliament of the fourth republic expired in December 2016. This means the whole process for passing the bill has had to be restarted.

BUSAC Fund Manager, Nicholas Jorgensen Gebara explains why the Business Sector Programme Support continues to partner the AAG in the advocacy for the advertising bill. “We have been encouraging AAG to push for a bill to uphold ethical standards for the advertising industry and we’re by a new agreement (signed in 2018) following up for the association to push for the bill to pass through parliament. The funds will be used to sensitize the parliamentary select committees on Communications and Trade, Industry and Tourism as well as other stakeholders on the need for the Advertising Bill.

For a long time, Ghana’s advertising industry has been a free playing field in terms of regulation.

Only recently the Food and Drugs Authority was granted the power to vet and approve certain kinds of advertisements; i.e. prepackaged foods, alcoholic drinks and energy drinks.  But this does not cover all the other types of  goods and services advertised daily on television, radio or in the print media and the internet.

“Who controls what kinds of advertisements our children and little siblings see on television?” laments Sedinam Botwe, a final year law student at the University of Ghana who is also an exemplary writer researcher and blogger.. “Is there anyone who cares about the quality of information being disseminated in advertisements? How are we sure that companies are not fraudulently making certain statements in the form of advertisements just to attract potential customers?”

The Advertising Association of Ghana is not a government body, but merely one that represents main stakeholders in the advertising industry. It is a non-profit organization, funded by member subscriptions. Over the years, it has tried to regulate the advertising industry through voluntary compliance and moral persuasion. However it is acutely aware that regulations require legal backing for them to be adequately enforced,.

This Advertising Council Bill (“the Bill”) has been before Parliament since 2016. For one reason or the other its enactment as law has been delayed. This baffles stakeholders , most of whom see it as an exceptionally well-written piece of legislation. It is very detailed, prescribing guidelines for how virtually all types of products and services should be advertised.

The Bill establishes the Advertising Council of Ghana, as the official government body charged with the duty of regulating advertising, registering practitioners in the industry and licensing advertising companies. The Bill further defines what activities constitute advertising and sets out a Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics which all practitioners are required to observe in the conduct of their business.

This Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics (“the Code”) is an extensive document, contained in the First Schedule of the Bill. It is a set of rules, taking into consideration a wide range of products and services to be advertised and the implications they are likely to have on matters suited to Ghana’s cultural and social background.

The Code sets out general principles that advertisements must abide by, before going further to prescribe specific guidelines for advertisements for specific products. These general principles border on decency, sexuality, gender discrimination, superstitious beliefs, gender discrimination, religion, and children.

Interestingly, the Code actively encourages advertisers and advertising agencies to indicate the prices of the products and services being advertised.

Also, Article 20 of the Code prohibits an advertisement from attacking, discrediting or disparaging other products, services, ideas, personalities or organizations unfairly. It also prohibits an advertisement from exaggerating the nature or importance of competitive differences

The Bill also makes it compulsory for every advert to be presented to the Advertising Standards Committee for vetting and approval before exposure. In relation to alcoholic beverages, one interesting clause is Article 43 which deals with the sexual indulgence of an advertisement. stating that “an advertisement for an alcoholic beverage shall not…claim or suggest that alcoholic beverages can contribute directly to success in sexual behavior.”

The hitherto unsavory situation seems to have gotten better since the FDA began vetting and approving these advertisements. But the Bill is necessary to further enforce the standards that the FDA applies in its vetting and approval process with regard to alcoholic beverages.

Even advertisements for condoms are regulated by the Code. The Code in Article 49 makes it compulsory for an advertisement for condoms to bear the following words, “Be Warned: The Condom is not 100% safe. Total abstinence from pre-marital sex or faithfulness is the best option.” The other guidelines on how condom advertisements should be structured paint an interesting picture of the future for these advertisements.

Regarding advertisements targeted at children, the Code provides, among others, that such advertisements should not exaggerate the effect of the product or induce children to pressure their parents, guardians, other adults, or any person to purchase the advertised product.

The Code also attempts to cater to local content participation in the industry. It requires that models used in advertisements should be citizens of Ghana except where the concept of the advertisement specifically requires a non-citizen. Non-citizens wishing to set up advertising agencies are required to satisfy the legal requirements in respect of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre Act, 2013 (Act 865) and the Immigration Act, 2000 (Act 573). The Code also prescribes that the majority of the content of an advertisement should, as much as possible, be Ghanaian.

Francis Dadzie is at a loss to why the bill is not being given the attention it deserves, but hopes that government will put it back on the front burner as soon as possible.

With advertising  having a much greater impact on consumers than ever before, due to the rapid expansion in media channels brought about by digitization and intensified competition among traditional media genres such as print and free to air television, the need for formal regulation of industry practice in Ghana has become absolutely crucial. Consequently, even as the most outstanding adverts in Ghana, and the creative companies behind them are celebrated as the latest set of Gong Gong award winners, the country’s advertising industry is looking ahead to a direly needed new era of formal regulation of industry practice, aimed at ensuring professionalism, fairness and integrity, the ingredients for sustained confidence in the adverts being presented to influence purchasing decisions among Ghanaian households and businesses alike.