Why doesn’t the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) apply to election campaign messaging?

2016-10-11 15:26

For two decades now, the ANC has pretty much made its election campaigns about promises of free stuff being delivered and retribution for the injustices of the past.

While this tactic has certainly worked in terms of keeping them in power, the truth is that they haven’t delivered anywhere near what they’ve promised to people – and that’s actually a direct contravention of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

In a nutshell, the CPA says you can’t make a promise you cannot absolutely deliver on in any of your marketing… but for twenty years we’ve had nothing but empty promises from politicians, and it’s starting to feel like the country is hurtling towards catastrophe.

A crisis of governance and leadership

Our lives, well being, security, businesses, future and safety are all threatened by the continually growing unease in the country.

The problems we face are not economic though, they lie at a governance and leadership level, according host of the Justice Factor, Justice Malala, in his new book, We Have Now Begun Our Descent.

Watching Malala speak at his regular State of the Nation business breakfast with Clem Sunter, I couldn’t help but ask myself if South Africa’s dream of a Rainbow Nation is slipping away?

Malala’s view? The Rainbow Nation is far away, it is also still within our reach - as long we accept that changing the country is our responsibility too, and does not just lie in the hands of Government and the ANC.

And then I started thinking, could all this discomfort actually stem back to something as simple as well-executed election campaign marketing messaging?

The Rainbow Nation

If you don’t know the history behind the name Rainbow Nation, the truth is probably going to surprise you – it certainly did me when I first heard it.

The story goes that after Madiba was released from prison and we were heading towards the ‘94 elections, a specialist in human evolutionary development was brought in to help the ANC transition the country through this period of dramatic change, and help them align their political campaigns with the correct markets.

The specialist, an American by the name of Don Beck, had authored the work Spiral Dynamics, which simplifies human individual and societal evolution down to a set of 8 levels or memes, each classified by a colour.

Because South Africa’s population was made up of people at every level of development, they had to cater to messaging at every level, and thus the term Rainbow Nation was born.

A Campaign Message with Real Impact: Free Stuff for ALL!

As much as we like to purport the concepts of targeted marketing, the truth is that our budgets often don’t allow for it and so we usually land up going generic.

In the case of the ANC around the early 90s, the concept of “Free Stuff for All” seemed to be the idea that would hook the mass of people to them – and in fairness, the campaign was brilliant: you could target the first five memes with that promise alone.

  • White (basic survival) and beige (tribal community) memes would grab on to anything that would improve their current lifestyle.
  • Red (selfish, narcissistic) meme will take because taking is what red meme does best.
  • Blue (rules-oriented) meme was targeted with the concept in a very clever way: Apartheid broke the rules and now we will rectify the imbalance with Free Stuff for All – taken from the people who broke the rules and took it from you in the first place.
  • Orange (money, work & career) meme fell into line because you are naturally focused on wealth and attachments at that stage of development, and the naysayers shouting about future economic damage would be too few to really count at the polls.

If you look at it objectively, it truly was a brilliant strategy.

In terms of voter numbers, anyone in the higher-level green, yellow or turquoise memes is really irrelevant, so the focus needed to be firmly on the bottom five memes to get numbers in the polls.

The only benefit of targeting the higher memes would be to ensure that lynchpins and voices were in your corner - but these voices were already active in media outside of the ANC and so there were tactics in place to mitigate the messaging they brought.

It’s two decades later

Now though, it’s twenty years later and you really don’t have to go further than the front page of any news portal to see that the ANC is still singing the same tune - but they’ve been unable to deliver.

The messaging is surprisingly still popular with the masses though, which is why the ANC stills uses it, Julius Malema uses it, and politicians appearing in the media are quick to jump to comments like “We have provided so much” and “Apartheid is to blame”.

It is literally programmed into these politicians that this is the messaging to go with - and they use it purely for the selfish purposes of winning favour and bumping up numbers at the polls.

People are unhappy with the empty promises being made though, and after twenty years, I don’t blame them.

There’s nothing worse than waiting an unlimited amount of time for something that never realises.

The Waiting Game

How realistic is it really for people to be waiting though?

As it stands right now, there are universities shut down all over the country because the empty promises have made people so feel so powerless that they are moved to burn tyres and damage property to make the politicians listen.

The drive seems to be for people to push even harder for what they believe they are entitled to – and twenty years of rhetoric has led them to believe that they are entitled to a lot.

But honestly, what good is your university medical education if you can only work at a Government hospital, because all the medical services are now free?

How does it serve you to become a professor if you can’t work at a respected institution because all of the local facilities are Government-owned, offer free education and have not been able to maintain their rankings and standings?

What good does your degree do you if it’s degraded so much that it has no standing internationally if you want to travel and work?

And how does it help us to send school leavers off to varsity to gain the skills the country so desperately needs, but they don’t get skilled because the universities have become a mirror image of the overcrowded public school system?

Have we created a monster?

If we’re really going to fix this country, we need to get back to grassroots – and the blame game and entitlement are among the biggest scourges we face.

For nearly 25 years now, we’ve been telling people that their lives are not their responsibility, that their situation is not their fault. As a result, we have a nation of people who take no responsibility for anything that happens to them.

Complaints you see in media are things like ‘we have to work too hard’ or ‘we’re expected to be at work too many hours a day’ – and ‘transport is expensive’. ‘The company pulls in so much more compared to what we earn’ and ‘I am not happy with how much stuff I have’. ‘I have to buy the things I want on debt’, and more recently, ‘I’m drowning in debt’.

We’ve kept promising people free stuff and saying that the money is there and being held by the (usually Apartheid) bosses, and now we have retail clerks complaining in published online media articles where they compare the value of daily takings compared to their salaries.

Just think about that for a minute… these complaints are being published online in articles on respected news platforms.

Would you – as a foreign investor – have faith in putting your money into a country where this is publicly happening? Where every low-level employee becomes a potential Public Relations embarrassment? To be honest, it was cringe worthy just reading the article from a PR point of view.

Or taking the PR and communications one step further, where you have to dedicate a significant portion of marketing budget to educating your staff about how to survive and manage personal debt, as many of the mines are having to do now?

I understand that without the responsibility of running a business, as an employee you often don’t realise that monetary takings also have to cover rent, insurances, hardware, assets, admin staff, and all the other salaries around you too, but this is a missing layer of communication that we also have to address between management and staff in this country.

Sadly the ongoing messaging from our political leaders seems only to widen the divide between employers and employees, and unless we start to close that divide we are never going to fix the economic situation we face.

We have to change the messaging

We’re evolving into a world that is about more than just profitability and results – people want to see a change in their lifestyles and they want to be happy.

We can no longer afford to just look at the immediate short-term results that something generates, and we have to look at the long-term social impact as well.

It takes being brutal, and it takes being honest yes – but isn’t that going to be easier long-term than hitting the inevitable catastrophe we seem to be wildly hurtling towards right now?

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