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“The advertising war: sex and more sex”. Daily Post,12 November 1998


Who would have thought after Jonah Lomu had spoken, and Fijians and Samoans had pulverised the Japanese and Koreans in rugby, that dalo would take a beating from skinny noodles.


But then, when it comes to a free market consumer choice between traditional products (like dalo) and introduced competing products (like noodles), you just don’t have a “level playing field”.


The Advertising Knockout Punch


Advertising experts know that consumers buy not for usefulness, but because of perceptions of satisfaction and the socialaspects of buying the “in-thing”.


The knockout punch is given by a barrage of advertisements- cleverly designed to appeal to human wants (physical, social and psychological), not just our needs.


Through sparkling images and music, fizzy drinks (including beers) and modern snacks are associated with active youth (usually sexually attractive, often famous), national athletics and sports events, or extraordinary activities such as sky-diving on skateboards or surfing wild rivers.


To consume fizzy drinks, noodles or modern snacks means sharing in magical events like flying, obtaining knick-knacks associated with TV heroes (Lion Kings, Superman, and Batman), and being like the sports heroes.


Some ads even appeal to the desire to do well academically, by encouraging children to effectively enter a lottery in which buyers of products, if they win, will get necessary school equipment (also covered with advertisements).


Advertisers know that consumers do not even have to consciously associate the ads with the products.  Who would associate a car with a woman’s bottom, or cigarettes with coolness or sports?


But if the message is hammered enough- through TV, radio, newspapers, bill-boards in the countryside, and sign-boards for villages or shops- the effects on consumer choice continue long after the advertisements have been seen.


The companies paying for the advertisements are probably not doing anything illegal (as far as the current laws of the country are concerned) and their strategies are understandable, from a profit point of view.  And the massive amounts spent on advertisements are proof that advertisements are extremely successful in selling products.


But should society worry about the nature of the advertisements, especially those directed at children, and when excessive consumption is made to appear an acceptable norm?


Children As Targets


Recent TV and Radio ads seem to have gone over the top. Ads have targeted impressionable children by appealing to their psychic needs for teddy bears.


Cupboards are shown totally full of packets of noodles, as if this were an acceptable fact of life in theFijikitchen (however undesirable nutritionally and financially).


Ad for an ice-cream product present sounds and images more associated with sex than with eating.


Children are hammered with the message that a snack food (with minimal nutritional value) is good forFijiathletics and “is good for sports kids”.


While parents would be extremely concerned if any stranger tried to speak to their children in person, nevertheless freely allow the world’s strangers to speak to their children through a TV box in their living room, or through sports sponsorship.


The Sports Trojan Horse


National athletics and other sports are extremely high profile, desirable activities involving children and youth, at their most impressionable ages.  These are precisely the activities which are targeted by advertisements, often highly misleading.


The corporate sponsorship even ensures that the games themselves are called after the products- such as the Coca Cola Games, the Twisties Games.


Stadium goers also find that drinking water fountains are not freely available all round the National Stadium.  While small Fijian vendors selling boiled corn and other local foods, are kept outside of the Stadium area.  Is it just an accident that thirsty children just haveto then buy Cokes or Twisties from the shops inside?


Even USP, which one would expect to be more enlightened, succumbed to a small fee, and allowed a soft-drink company to have special rights on its campus.  Can one blame sports administrators for allowing such undesirable product association with their sports?


Whatever the cause, entire generations of children and a sports-mad nation are now associating their healthy sports activities with nutritionally undesirable items.


More tragically, the corporate sports sponsorships, indirectly foster cancer-causing cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption (with resulting lifestyle diseases, traffic accidents, domestic violence and work absenteeism).


The pity is that the sums made available by the companies probably do not amount to much, given the likely impact of the advertising on their profits, and given the economic value of all the costs.


But then, how does the public answer school athletics organisations which argue that in the absence of adequate funding from Government, they do not have any other source of funds that will keep their sports alive?


Especially when Government argues that they are too broke to find extra money for sports (forget the HK Sevens)?


More basically, would finding extra money for sports encourage consumers to buy traditional products?


Can a Dalo Ad be Sexy?


Let us be honest with ourselves.


Turn on the TV or radio, read a newspaper, magazine or book, and Cokes, Big Macs and French Fries, jump out at you- images of sophistication, “coolness” and the “modern” way of living.


When was the last time aFijiviewer saw a TV character eat bele or palusami, drink a coconut, or chew on beans or sao?  When did a TV cartoon character eat dalo or roti, or have a bowl of dhal?  Indeed, when was the last time you saw or heard such products being advertised?


Unfortunately, the traditional products cannot even wage this battle, on commercial grounds alone.  There is little likelihood that any coconut planter, taro or bele farmer, or cottage industry fried bean producer will advertise his product.


Not only would the costs deter them, but they are unlikely to see any increase in their own profits even if they advertise, because most traditional products are not differentiated: anyone can benefit from the ads, not the advertiser.


Of course, many nutritious products, such as sao or beans, are probably suitable for mass-produced quality, packaging and product differentiation, and therefore amenable to advertisement.


But it seems that the firms are simply too small to engage in the necessary investment that would be required to ensure the product differentiation, and subsequent advertisement.


Or such product differentiation would be well nigh impossible for dalo, or bele.


How therefore does Government ensure that the traditional products, do genuinely sell on a “level playing field” given the effect of advertisements on consumers?


Can Government, given its lack of funds, even think of funding national advertising campaigns for dalo or dhal?


Even if it could, would we see the usual dull boring reading out of nutritional sermons, destined to turn off most or us?  Or would the ads have to have the same undesirable flavours as the commercial ads?  [Cartoon]


Regulation of Advertisements?


From the many public protests over recent advertisements, government clearly needs to reconsider regulation of advertisements.


There may be a need for a “watchdog committee” with representatives from Chambers of Commerce, advertising agents, the Consumer Council and office of Fair Trading.


Actual regulation will not be easy, since there is a fine line to be drawn between regulation and freedom of choice of consumers.  But the existence of such a Committee will itself give a greater incentive to advertisers to regulate themselves.


But then, solving the advertisement problems will not solve our nutrition problems.


The next instalment tackles the failure of producers of traditional products to evolve to meet the needs of modern-day consumers and workers.


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