Sunday, October 11, 2009

Exploiting gullible South Africans (BPSDB)

Over the past month or so I’ve published brief accounts of a series of what I’ve called mad ads. There’s a full list of links to the ones I’ve written up so far at the bottom of this article. These are mostly simple and naïve looking pamphlets handed out at traffic lights and stuffed into mail boxes. A few appear in the print media, and so far there’s also been one web site. All of them offer a range of treatments for genuine medical conditions (including diabetes, HIV infection, fertility, sexual function). Almost all offer to effect anatomical changes, including penis enlargement, vaginal reduction. A very high fraction claim to be able to help influence events in the world at large, including finding employment, finding love, achieving business success, winning court cases, preventing or effecting divorce, winning lotteries.

The supposed means of achieving this impressive range of services varies in detail, but is always some kind of mish-mash of divination and magical intervention, and often involves herbs.

I admit that these adverts are, to a critical and naturalist eye, pretty funny, which is part of why I scan them and write them up. The typos and spelling mistakes and bold claims are easy to laugh at. (‘Dr Raju’ apparently ‘has the power to sit on a crocodile & lion skin while floating on water and communicating with the dead’.) The clearly naïve presentation encourages finding this amusing.

This is also rather serious stuff. Almost all of the claims are close to guaranteed to be false. None of them are supported by anything that looks remotely like good evidence. For this reason I expect that most or all of them would be found to be in breach of advertising standards regulations in South Africa.

Even so, they keep on being produced and distributed. I’ve mostly described ones from Durban, which is where I live. But similar material can be found elsewhere in South Africa. It has been like this for some time. The most obvious explanation for this is that enough people are willing to pay for the bogus services. Why else would those who try to sell them keep on promoting them? How else could they afford to keep on advertising?

It would be surprising, therefore, if there weren’t some people with genuine and sometimes serious medical conditions (diabetes and HIV among them, damnit) who were wasting their time and money, and harming themselves, by responding to these adverts and being charged for rubbish instead of seeking proper medical care. That's not acceptable. It also seems likely that there are people wasting their time and money trying to get semi-magical solutions to problems at work, or in relationships, or in efforts to make money. These people are being shamefully exploited, and that’s not acceptable either.

I will, I promise, get around to reporting at least some of these adverts to the Advertising Standards Authority in South Africa, and I’ll report on the results of those reports. In the mean time, please keep on sending me additional examples, and try not to forget to be outraged as well as amused.

The list of mad ads (to date):

Professor Madu. I kid you not

Brown-nosing

The less awesome Dr Jadhu

Study in Brown

Dr Jose Buba - all the way from Mauritius

But still, they come: Dr Mama Hafisa & Dr Hashiraf...

The incredible 'Dr Maama Mzei Ndimungoma'

The amazing 'Dr Mama Simba'

The amazing 'Dr Raju'


1 comment:

MattB said...

Did you ever get around to reporting any of these?