Thursday, May 16, 2013

RE: APCON LIFTS BAN ON GUINNESS ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES CERTIFICATES


The attention of the management of Guinness Nigeria Plc has been drawn to a press release issued this evening by the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) and signed on its behalf by one Nkechi May-Nzeribe. In that press release, Ms. May Nzeribe stated that APCON has, through its Advertising Standards Panel (ASP) Committee lifted the ban placed on Guinness Nigeria Plc because “Guinness complied by withdrawing all advertisements that had been scheduled to run and apologized over the broadcast of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout adverts on Digital Satelite Television (DSTV) outside the prescribed periods allowed by the APCON Code of Advertising and Promotion guidelines”. Nothing could be further from the truth!


Contrary to the claim by APCON in the widely circulated report, Guinness Nigeria Plc had withdrawn the advertisement in question before the meeting of the APCON Council which endorsed the recommendation of the ASP to impose sanction on the company. In fact, the decision by the ASP to recommend the withdrawal of the sanction imposed on Guinness Nigeria Plc followed a meeting between the management of the company, its marketing and media agencies and APCON in which the company established that it was not in breach of the relevant provision of the Code of Advertising Practice and Sales Promotion as of the date the decision by APCON was taken.

At the said meeting, both parties agreed the process of rescinding the withdrawal of certificates of approvals granted to Guinness Nigeria for the advertising of its alcoholic beverages including the submission of a letter by the company stating its side of the story. As a matter of fact, the draft of the letter was jointly agreed with Mr. Ade Akinde, who made input into it and explained that, in view of the fact that the Council of APCON had no scheduled meeting for another few weeks, the submission of the letter with part of the content provided by him was the fastest and easiest way of correcting the error which the ASP had misled the Council of APCON into by its decision to withdraw the certificates of approval earlier issued to the company. Following approval of the draft letter by Mr. Akinde, it was printed on the company’s stationery, signed and submitted to APCON.



To make matters worse, contrary to the assurances provided by the Chairman of the ASP, Mr. Ade Akinde, at the meeting with management of Guinness Nigeria Plc and its agencies that, in view of the fact that the company had complied with the directives of the ASP to withdraw the materials, it would not give undue publicity in the media to the decision of the Council of APCON to endorse its recommendations to sanction the company, the ASP promptly went to two media houses to publicise the erroneous decision!

Before the ASP recommended to APCON that the certificates of approval issued to Guinness Nigeria Plc be withdrawn, the company and the ASP had been in discussions in the past few months on alcoholic beverage advertising during the English Premier League (EPL) football matches on DSTV. There had been a difference of opinion between the parties on whether the watershed requirement for alcohol beverage advertising in the Nigerian Code of Advertising Practice and Sales Promotions affect terrestrial feeds from satellite television stations based outside Nigeria. Following the parties’ inability to reach a consensus position on this issue, Guinness Nigeria requested for a moratorium to run the advertisement till the end of the EPL having made substantial commercial commitments in relation to the broadcast sponsorship. The ASP refused to grant this request.

Once it became clear that the ASP was resolute in its position on the issue and would neither withdraw its opposition to the advertising nor grant the moratorium requested for, Guinness Nigeria duly complied with its directives without further prompting.

The medium on which the advertising materials in question were aired is one of the most popular in this country. The change in the materials placed by Guinness Nigeria during EPL matches from the end of March 2013 was quite obvious and noticed by millions of Nigerian viewers of the EPL across the length and breadth of Nigeria. We were therefore quite astounded that the ASP, which is tasked with regulating advertising on all media in Nigeria and had been in discussions with Guinness Nigeria on the issue for some time prior to that decision, failed to observe or notice the change of materials at the time it made its recommendations to the Council of APCON to sanction the company.

While the ASP was busy making unwarranted recommendations to the Council of APCON the “withdrawal until further notice of all certificates previously granted … until full compliance with the advertising laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria particularly as they relate to advertisement of alcoholic products”, it has continued to display willful blindness in relation to similar advertising during the EUFA Champions’ League which was placed by another player in the alcohol beverage industry before the watershed period for alcoholic products advertising on television. As of one week ago, this advertising still featured prominently during the airing of the European Champions’ League matches. Under the circumstances, can we genuinely trust the ASP and/or its Chairman, Mr. Ade Akinde to deliver unbiased decisions on matters within its remit?

While we recognize that the ASP and the Council of APCON have statutory obligations to enforce the rules relating to advertising in Nigeria, we respectfully submit that the obligation must be exercised fairly having due regards to the facts, must not be applied in a clearly discriminatory and vindictive manner and must be implemented with equal force to all players irrespective of relationship with chieftains of the ASP.

We find the content of the press release issued today by APCON as a face-saving attempt to turn the facts on their head and designed to further deceive key stakeholders and members of the public about the real motive of Mr. Ade Akinde, and his sponsors in this untoward aggression towards Guinness Nigeria Plc. Rather conveniently, the press release ignored portions of the letter where the company’s position that it was not in breach of any APCON regulation as of the date of the sanction was clearly set out and quoted other parts of the letter where the company purportedly apologized for its infraction out of context. Of course the small matter of the fact that the letter was drafted in concert with and with input from Mr. Akinde was lost in the hurry to rush to the public with a fabricated version of the facts.

The management of Guinness Nigeria wishes to use this medium to emphasise that, as a law abiding corporate citizen with due regard for all constituted authorities, it remains committed to responsible marketing of its products and strong self-regulation that aligns with the letter and spirit of all applicable national laws, local regulations and self-regulatory codes of practice to which it is a signatory. 

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