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Advertising ethics Can a Nigerian brand directly call out its competitor like Samsung did Apple?

What does the advertising practitioner council of Nigeria say about ''politely criticizing'' a competitor directly in its ad.

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Can a Nigerian brand directly call out its competitor like Samsung did Apple in an ad? play

Can a Nigerian brand directly call out its competitor like Samsung did Apple in an ad?


Samsung has been in the news with their interesting ad directly targeted against bitter rivals Apple.

In the ad, the Samsung Galaxy was portrayed as a superior choice, emphasizing on all the flaws the range of iPhones have had over  the course of 10 years.


And as you’d expect, it has trended worldwide, with contrasting reactions trailing the ad.

That aside, this is great for advertising and healthy competition amongst businesses like tech companies and their products.

Bringing it back to Nigeria, we’ve seen ads like this where shades and subs are thrown at competitor brands.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) under the Minimum Standard and Requirements for Advertisement has laid down guidelines on advertisements and promotions to regulate how adverts are put out.

This is explained under the concept 'Comparative advertising', which says:

“Advertisements must not unfairly discredit, disparage or attack other products, services, advertisements or companies, or exaggerate the nature or importance of competitive differences.”

We’ve seen a video ad like Airtel throwing a shade at MTN without mentioning brand names or display of logos. All that pointed to the shade being at MTN was the yellow bag color that turned red. That could perhaps be best described as a subtle shade, and a healthy one. Hence sticking with the guide of comparative advertising.

play Saka as Etisalat ambassador and the subtle MTN shade (YouTube)


Etisalat shaded MTN in an ad featuring popular comic actor ‘Saka’ endorsed by the company. A guy with the yellow cap holding up a goat was the subtle representation of MTN.

play Saka the comedian actor in an advert where he proudly announces porting to MTN, a subtle shade at Etisalat. (Nairaland Forum)


MTN responded in style by snatching up ‘Saka’ in a twist of events as the company’s new ambassador. He was showcased as lead character in an MTN advert that had a jingle singing along the lines of the words ‘’I don port ooo’’, a direct diss at Etisalat.

'Porting' which has since been adopted to a large extent by Nigerians, involves a subscriber moving completely to another telecom network if unsatisfied with the current service of a particular network, and still retaining his mobile number.

All these examples show healthy competition that help to keep everyone on their feet and gives customers options.

What does the Nigerian advertising industry say about direct calling out of competition?

Benjamin Onwe, a Pulse Nigeria staff who's worked in advertising says direct calling out is not exactly permissible in the Nigerian ad space, with ad campaigns going up being vetted by the responsible agency to ensure adherence to the guidelines.

"Some of the more radical in-your-face competitor advertising being practiced abroad are not permissible in Nigeria. You cannot call out a rival brand/product/competitor directly here in Nigeria, but you can make reference to their brand elements like colour, for instance. Some telecoms commercials that I know have taken advantage of this several times.

Then of course, every advert: commercial, artwork, radio jingle etc are sent to APCON for vetting before the campaign breaks. In the course of vetting, they will most likely turn down such adverts if it violates such codes. So the ad won't see the light of day." Ben explained.

A staff at Nigerian ad agency X3M ideas Laide Bello also spoke on the issue saying:

Direct call out’ is against the professional ethics of advertising and clearly highlighted on APCON code,”  

However, we are in the age of smart and subtle advertising where some ads do not pull down competition but put them on their toes, MTN and Etisalat did that recently with no direct shade but rather a subtle one."

So going by these two comments it’s not likely you would see a Nigerian company directly call out its competition like Samsung did Apple, even if the ad does not come off as disrespectful and critical.

According to NCC guidelines as well, instances where a company uses race, sex, gender, age, religion, or any prejudicial content to taunt its rival in an ad will not be tolerated.

In the end, ads are meant to foster healthy competition and this can be encouraged without direct calling out of competitor brands.

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