Creative promos that ‘backfire’

Personal care products manufacturer Beiersdorf and soft drinks maker PepsiCo are still reeling from public outrage after the two companies separately put out advertisements that were seen to be culturally insensitive.

Beiersdorf had developed an advert for a new Nivea deodorant and its marketing had a slogan that claimed ‘white is purity’ which was fast branded as racist.

PepsiCo had an advert for its flagship Pepsi-Cola that had a model give a policeman a can of soda, who drinks it and prompts protesters to cheer.

The ad was said to be looking down on social justice causes particularly Black Lives Matter.

The two multinationals have since withdrawn the adverts and apologised. Kenya has however ratified the Consumer Protection Act 2012 – a new law meant to safeguard the interest of local consumers.

Consumer Federation of Kenya CEO Stephen Mutoro said several marketers have resorted to carrying advertising content that is neither factual nor representative of the goods or services  advertised.

“It is important that consumers make time to plan for their shopping so that they can have ample time to scrutinise details and compare between various products before they procure any goods or service,” explained Mr Mutoro. Reported cases include misleading labels on packaging of products particularly some skin care products that are said to have vitamins or minerals but when tested fall short of the said minerals.

This is despite the fact that marketers use the vitamins and minerals displayed in the packaging to differentiate between other similar rival products in the market in a bid to gain an edge over the competition.

“We have cases in which unscrupulous businesses lure consumers to their shops on low prices for products which are out of the stock eventually selling what they have in stock,” says Mr Mutoro. Failure to read a market keenly and develop an advert that resonates with the masses is not new. It is also not unique to other markets.

Locally, numerous institutions and brands have produced adverts that have attracted reactions from the market and forced their makers to pull down the billboards and withdraw from TV screens.

This is despite companies having advertising agencies and creative directors of repute that have awarding wining advertising campaigns under their belts as well as ad pre-testing tools that enable them gauge how an audience would react to an advert before rolling it out.

One of such companies that has had to reconsider its messaging in an advert is Madison Insurance. The firm in a billboard advert early this month had a misleading message that insinuated there are no female neurosurgeons in the country.

The advert, which had already gone up on a billboard had a photo of model female students presumably on their graduation day and a caption that said, ‘I want to be the first female neurosurgeon’.

The advert was part of a campaign that the firm is currently running encouraging parents to save for their children’s higher education. It is aimed at selling its Madison UniPlan product.

The backlash that followed and the realisation by the firm that Kenya does in fact have a female neurosurgeon saw Madison pull down the advert and apologise. It said the advert was meant to encourage young Kenyans to pursue their dreams not demean achievements by women.

Korean Air is another firm that got its messaging wrong in advert promoting flights between Seoul and Kenya and faced the wrath of Kenyans online.

In 2012, the airline was hyping about its new route and posted a statement on its social media accounts that read: “Fly to Nairobi with Korean Air and enjoy the grand African savanna, the safari tour, and the indigenous people full of primitive energy.”

The statement attracted untold wrath from Kenyans on social media forcing the airline apologise.

The airline started operating three flights per week mid 2012 but suspended them in 2014 over fears of spread of Ebola virus, a reason that analysts then said was unfounded.

An advert on local TV stations by Jamii Unga showing ‘Wafula’ ‘eating Ugali in a manner that viewers felt it was stereotyping a particular community. The company had to remodel the advert.

The advertising industry in Kenya has also faced the moral cops who have pushed for the withdrawal of adverts especially those touching on safe sex.

A particular one was promoting use of condoms in 2013 that did not go down well with religious leaders.

The advert that aired severally on local TV stations was staged in a market place with two women talking about frustrations at home and extra marital affairs and one quips ‘usisahau kuweka condom kwa hiyo mpango’.

It had been produced by the Ministry of Health with help from UKAID and USAID for an anti-HIV campaign. In a classic case of a conservative society burying its head in the sand and in a community where open sex talk is taboo, Christian and Muslim cleric would have none of it, arguing it was promoting immorality.

Other brands that have faced it off with moralists include Coca-Cola, whose advert last year for the ‘Taste the Feeling’ campaign that had an ‘offensive’ kissing scene that did not measure up to Kenyan family values, according to Kenya Film Classification Board CEO Ezekiel Mutua.

The firm agreed to moderate the advert before continuing to air.  


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