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For as long as they have existed, businesses have sought ways to reach out to  their potential patronizers. The oldest were the cries and howls of merchants from their storefronts inviting the passing public to explore and purchase their products. When radio and television arrived, they presented an unprecedented opportunity for businesses to reach larger audiences over longer distances at once. Today, the internet has stepped up this evolution several notches. In the place of marketplace merchants’ shouts, we now have automated bots suggesting and selling products to us online that they ‘suspect’ we’d like (based on our own online browsing habits). There are also several more advertising channels to use. Traditional media – including newspapers and journals, television and radio – are still widely used. Social media platforms and websites of various kinds have become major spaces through which companies, big and small, pitch their brands to the world. Billboards and display trucks are among the favorites for businesses looking to advertise outdoors. If you’re thinking about putting up an advert on any medium, you should know the advertising practices the law permits and prohibits. It would be a huge setback to brush against authorities over an ill-advised advert that could end up costing your business its very existence. We’ll give you a fair roundup of the rules pertaining advertisements in general, as well as for specific products.
“Advertisements should be legal, honest, decent and truthful.”

The regulators

The responsibility of regulating advertisements in Nigeria is borne primarily by these bodies: the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON). In addition, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has advertisement guidelines for telecommunication companies, and several states within the federation have a signage and advertisement agency that oversees outdoor advertising issues.

The rules

  1. General Rules
The Nigeria Broadcasting Code (1996) sets out the general principles that advertisers are expected to adhere to. Apart from the customary demands made of advertisements (for example, that they should be “legal, honest, decent and truthful”), the code also forbids broadcasters from airing advertisements that are “offensive to public feelings,” use falsified or misrepresented data to make a product appear more effective than it is, or unfairly attacks and discredits competing products and businesses. Other general rules include:
  • Adverts should be distinguishable from regular programmes aired by the broadcaster, and should not be presented as programmes.
  • The maximum amount of time any advert should take is 15% of the duration of the programme around or into which it is featured. For example, adverts within the schedule of an hour-long programme should take up a maximum of nine minutes.
  • If the product or service being advertised has a nationally standardized price, that price should be stated in the advert.
  • Businesses aren’t allowed to use adverts that take advantage of people by exploiting superstitions.
  1. Advertising to Children
The rules of advertising to children as prescribed in the National Broadcasting Code appear to be geared towards ensuring that advertisements don’t take undue advantage of children’s impressionable minds. Particularly frowned upon are adverts implying that children are obliged to buy a certain product, claiming that children are not doing their duty if they don’t purchase that product. Businesses are also barred from making adverts targeted at children that bring about “physical, mental and moral harm” to them.
  1. Medical Products
The National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) regulates the advertisement of food, drugs, cosmetics, bottled water, and chemicals; the National Broadcasting Code also has rules covering publicity for pharmaceuticals on various media. Here are some of the rules for advertising medical products, as contained in the broadcasting code and NAFDAC regulations:
  • All products which fall under NAFDAC’s regulatory sphere – including drugs – must be registered with the agency before they can be advertised. Permission should also be sought and obtained for the advertisement from the agency.
  • Adverts should not describe medical products as “safe”, “without risk” or “harmless” unless they have been certified as such by the appropriate authorities.
  • Adverts containing claims of a cure for diseases which require the attention of a medical doctor or may not, in fact, have a known cure (e.g.: AIDS, cancer), are also not to be broadcast.
  • No consumer promotions are allowed for medicinal products, including herbal remedies.
  • Prescription-only medicines can only be advertised in medical journals. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can be advertised on the various legally recognized mediums; such adverts should include the warning, “if symptoms persist after three days, consult your doctor.”
  1. Food and Drinks
The law stipulates that nutritional claims in adverts for food products comply with the labeling requirements in the Regulations of Prepackaged Food Regulation (1995). They should not contain false or misleading information, half-truths, data misrepresentations or claims of the advertised product’s superiority over its competitors. These regulations also apply to bottled water. It is expected that adverts for packaged water to be broadcast on radio or television, or contained in print (newspapers), should receive preclearance from NAFDAC (such preclearance will only be given for products that have already been registered by the agency). Advertisements for wine and spirit drinks are not permitted on children’s programmes, and should not have children, sportspersons or expectant mothers as models. In addition, no health claims are allowed in them. Find out more There’s more information about the rules governing advertisements in Nigeria under the ‘Advertisement’ section of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code. NAFDAC’s general guidelines for the advertisement of food, drugs, and cosmetics can be found here.

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This article was first published on 19th February 2018


Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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