Marketers & politicians have more in common than you'd think

03 April 2016 - 02:00 By Ndumiso Ncgobo

Being a fellow of slightly rotund dimensions is not good for one's self-esteem. It's extremely unpleasant to glimpse the bulge between your rapidly inflating mammaries and your groin. And this is why, when a friend's wife invited us on a 5km hike on Easter Saturday, I agreed enthusiastically on behalf of the family. Let it never be said that the Ngcobos are a portly bunch.In the interests of brevity I will ignore the fact that we discovered halfway through the "5km hike" that she actually meant 18km. Anyway, because it was sunny we stopped at Pick n Pay to get some sunscreen lotion. Ag, don't be daft, man. Even us dimmer chappies need sunscreen, okay? Black does crack in the blazing sun unless you're a SAMWU member spending the day toyi-toying in the heat.story_article_left1The sunscreen I finally decided on was a whopping R39 more expensive than the others on the shelf. This is because it was much better than all the other inferior brands. For starters, it had an "SPF" of 50, was "PABA-free" and offered both "UVA and UVB protection". Impressive, huh? I hope you won't judge me too harshly when I point out that I paid R39 extra even though I have no freaking idea what the hell any of the above are. It's just that I have noticed these names being bandied about on sunscreen labels. And they are so scientific-sounding and official. Not only that, I have also observed that "high SPF = good" and "high UVB and UVA = bad". And don't even get me started on PABA. Judging from all the labels, I'm pretty certain that PABA will make you dry up like a Kalahari gecko's turd at noon. Or so I think.And that's the point, isn't it? These bloody bastards in marketing departments across the land are squeezing us so hard we're bleeding through our wallets. They don't even seem to care that Finance Minister Nene... sorry, I mean Finance Minister Van Rooyen... ag, sorry man, what I mean is Finance Minister Gordhan already did some major squeezing of his own during the recent budget speech. Am I the only one who has realised that there is no such thing as "just eggs" on our shelves anymore? We apparently only have "large", "extra-large", "jumbo" and "Khulubusian"-sized eggs in this country.I bought a five-dozen pack of eggs the other day. They looked like they came out of a dwarf sparrow, so I decided to weigh 10 of them. All 10 were between 50 and 52 grams. Look, I'm no expert on what constitutes "large" eggs but there is no way that an egg that can fit in some folks' nostrils satisfies the "large" criterion. And yet there are no eggs on the shelves that are labelled as "pretty puny".My point is that marketers have, over the decades, managed to push us so hard we're like turtles on our backs trying to get up. They sommer put random, nonsensical claims on those labels in the knowledge that we, the sheeple, will fall for it. By show of hands, who doesn't use a moisturising lotion that isn't for "sensitive skin"? And again, by show of hands, who doesn't think that their skin is pretty sensitive? What does "sensitive skin" even mean? Is there anyone reading this who is thinking, "My skin is actually quite insensitive. I can smear any ole concoction on this here rough skin." Then there's the whole cleaning industry; everything is apparently capable of killing 99.9% of all germs. And this is always "clinically proven" versus - I don't know - unsubstantiated wild claims by the opposition. What I want to know is, which germs belong in the 0.1% that the antiseptic industry just can't nail? Who are these tough bastards?story_article_right2As part of my "research" for this column (read: going through Mrs N's toiletries) I discovered a pack of tampons whose major selling point is that they are "discreet". Now I'm no expert but are there tampon brands that are all "out there" for people to see? My research also led me to our extensive dispensary. Does the pharmaceutical industry make painkillers that aren't "extra strength"? What if I have just a mild headache? And why are all roll-on deodorants "long lasting" now? I saw one offering the promise of "48-hour protection". Whoa, hold your horses there, buddy. I personally have commitment issues and I don't want to go out for dinner on Thursday with deodorant from Wednesday morning under my armpits. Also, am I the only one who has noticed that every brand of toothpaste has "extra fluoride" and offers "maximum cavity protection"? If our teeth are protected to the maximum, would the toothpaste industry please explain the long queues at my dentist's rooms last Tuesday?But perhaps my favourite marketers' trick is the obfuscation that comes with the wonderful ingredients they list on the packs. I saw some ointment on our shelf proudly proclaiming that it contained Tahitian coconut oil. I didn't quite know how I was supposed to feel about this revelation. What exactly does Tahitian coconut do to my skin? The same goes for margarine that proudly proclaims it contains niacin and folic acid. 99.9% of folks don't have any idea what those are. (See what I did there?) But I bet that when marketers listen to politicians they take comfort in the realisation that they are in good company in the business of using important-sounding but meaningless words, such as "we condemn this cowardly act in the strongest possible terms and we will leave no stone unturned in bringing the perpetrators to book". And then we, the sheeple, sleep much better at night. Ah!E-mail Ndumiso Ngcobo at or follow him on Twitter: @NdumisoNgcobo

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