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"power to the People"-Growth in Consumer Complaint Channels in Ghana

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Let me begin with a confession. I almost dropped this title for a less "controversial" one. I use the word "controversial" because as a citizen of a country(i.e. Ghana) where almost everything (including football) is politicised,

I was aware (and concerned) of the possibility of this piece, being subjected to the same "political scrutiny". In the end I chose to keep it, simply because I couldn't find an alternative that captured the soul of this piece quite like "Power to the people".

The concept, 'Power to the people" was made popular by ex-President J.J Rawlings in the early 80"s when

the then PNDC Govt came into power. The idea behind "Power to the people" was to develop and implement a decentralisation programme, designed to mobilise citizens to actively participate in the decision-making process.

Some 20 years on, a rapidly growing phenomenon across our airwaves can best be described as

a contemporary expression of this 'Power to the people' concept!

Over the last couple of months, I have observed -across various media channels-that there appears to be a growing number of complaints/concerns being levelled at consumer-marketing companies on a number of issues, ("bad adverts", product/service quality, etc) on a regular basis; and I have subsequently noticed that a few days or weeks after these complaints are aired, most of the affected companies take action.

It is this growing phenomenon-when consumers speak out on issues, and companies respond promptly-sometimes at a huge cost (millions of cedis) to these companies, which I refer to as "Power to the people".

There are several "complaint channels" open to the consumer today; you can "pick your choice", as they say.

For example, there are radio phone-in programmes like "Ka na wu" on Radio Gold and "Feedback" on Joy FM. And if you prefer to channel your views via TV, Consumer Watch (which has been off for a while now) on TV3 serves as a potent vehicle. On the other hand, if you are one of the estimated 500,000 internet users-who have access through shared Internet connections- homes, offices, through friends and cyber cafes you can log onto Ghana Consumer Complaints website to "download" your comments. And as I was researching on this subject,

I came across yet another "complaint channel" in the form of the Ghana Consumer Watchdog Organisation. The objective of the group, according to their advert is "to protect, advice and secure the interest of the Ghanaian consumer. Ghanaian consumers are certainly spoilt for choice.

The latest vehicle that is being employed by consumers in the "Power to the people'" age is the SMS text messaging facility. And with over 1 million mobile phone subscribers (and still growing) in Ghana, it is fast becoming a convenient weapon of choice for consumers. One radio programme that is fuelling this trend is "a piece of your mind"-an SMS text based programme on JOY FM.

This programme which has been on air for the past 6 months or so is hosted by the 2003 Ghana Journalist of the year, Komla Dumor. Listeners

are invited by Komla to send SMS text messages on "anything" to an advertised Spacefon number during the period of the morning show. The response, so far has been overwhelming.

According to Joy FM, over 300 text messages pour in daily. Listeners comments have revolved around both "hard" issues like the CNTCI loan, sanitation in Accra, the presidential debate as well as "softer "ones like Komla's beard,

President Kuffour's singing abilities etc

This rapidly growing trend has several implications for consumer-marketing companies. I will dedicate therest of this piece to this discussion.


Initiatives like "a piece of your mind" are already changing-and will continue to alter- the nature of consumer-brand interaction significantly. Gone are the days when a consumer had to take a pen and a piece of paper to write a letter of complaint, buy her own envelope and stamp, and walk to a post office to post this letter. And if she was lucky enough, the letter will be read and responded to by the relevant company. In today's digital age, all the consumer has to do is to pick up his/her mobile phone and either send a text to "a piece of mind"or call into one of the numerous radio phone-in programmes, and within a matter of seconds, millions of people get the opportunity to hear her story. If it's a case of a bad experience with a brand, you can be sure it will take a good slice out of long-built brand equity! There is a popular maxim, which cautions that when a person has a bad experience with a product or service, he/she is likely to tell 4 more people about it. Well, that was in the pre-'SMS text' era. Today, courtesy of programmes like "a piece of your mind" a bad experience could be

shared with millions of people in Ghana at once!

If you think the above scenario is scary, consider this. With the advent of SMS -text based radio programmes, consumers will no longer wait to express their feelings about your product/service to you "after the experience". Right in the middle of a "brand experience"(relaxing their hair in a salon, eating a meal at a restaurant, drinking beer at a bar, watching an advert on t.v,) in Bibiani,Akatsi, Ada etc the consumer can literally pick his/her mobile phone and text away his/her complaints. How about that for "instant feedback".

As I stated earlier, not only are consumers voicing out their opinions even more today, but more importantly, companies are responding swiftly to these complaints. Consider the following 2004 examples (names withheld);

A few months ago, a toothpaste advert was withdrawn shortly after consumers complained about the

"suggestive nature" of the advert. After consumers complained that an advert on a billboard near Opeibea House was "too elitist", the material was swapped for something else. In the "Power to the people" era, entire roads are rehabilitated at the behest



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