A Rhetorical Analysis of the Discourse of
Advertising Herbal Medicine in Southwestern Nigeria
The present researcher grew up in southwestern Nigeria, as
an elementary school pupil in the late 1970's, to the consciousness of the
advertisement of herbal medicine at strategic locations such as roadsides,
markets and motor parks in major towns and cities where the attention of
passers-by could easily be attracted. A major channel of reaching the
prospective consumers at such settings was the suspension of blaring
loudspeakers on the top of stationary vehicles. Although this advertising
channel still subsists, a new trend in the advertisement of herbal medicine in
modern times is the aggressive marketing drive in both the print and electronic
media. Commenting on this, Komolafe (1998: 71) writes:
In recent times, a lot of interest and attention have been
drawn to the curative claims and norms (ethics) of Traditional Medicine
practitioners in Nigeria. Curative claims by herbalists and Traditional Healers
have been headline news in our print and electronic media [...].
This innovation is remarkable in certain respects. First, it
resonates with the revival of interest in herbal healing in modern-day health
care delivery. Second, the choice of the mass media channels of radio,
television and news magazines as opposed to the traditional channel of reaching
only a limited number of audiences is a welcome development in the bid to raise
the level of awareness on the place of herbal therapy in modern health care
delivery. In the light of the foregoing, this study calls attention to a vexed
question that has generated so much interest among scholars (cf. van der Geest
1997, Offiong 1999, Olson 2006 and Iroegbu 2006). While these scholars, among
others, focus on the place of herbal medicine in basic health services, little
or no attention is paid to the rhetorical style of herbal medical practitioners
in launching their products. It is against this backdrop that this article
examines the deployment of persuasive techniques to launder the image of herbal
medical practitioners and affirm the efficacy of their products, on the one
hand, and to negatively label orthodox medicine and its place in the health
care system, on the other hand.
It is useful here to sketch out the rest of the study. After
this introduction, we provide information on the data sampled for the study. We
then proceed to give an overview of the art of herbal healing. Next, we
highlight the rhetorical principles that underpin the study. It is on this note
that we go ahead to exploring the rhetorical dynamics of the therapeutic
discourse of marketing herbal medicine. Finally, we give the concluding remarks
of the study.
The data sampled for this study span both the electronic and
print media. For the electronic media, we focus on jingles on radio and
television. Apart from such jingles, we also consider special programmes where
the advertisers buy airtime that covers at least a quarter-hour or a half-hour
slot. Such programmes sometimes involve interview sections where the
advertisers field questions from presenters and in some cases the advertisers
do the talk alone. The jingles and sponsored programmes are drawn from radio
and television stations based in the southwestern Yoruba-speaking states of
Nigeria. This delimitation is not an attempt to single out the healing culture
of a particular ethnic group for discussion or promote it over and above the healing
cultures of other ethnic groups in Nigeria. It is noteworthy that the
advertisers sampled in this study would rather pride on their products being of
African origin than attempting to whip up ethno-cultural sentiments within
Nigeria. Thus, the appeal to a larger trans-national (African) identity even in
the national news magazines where we have selected paid advertorials clearly
sets the tone for the rivalry between traditional African medicine and
conventional western medicine. In this regard, Kayode (2006: 44) posits: "Health
care systems differ from one society and from one age to the other. The most
obvious differences can be observed between the western health care system and
the traditional African system."
As to the sample data from the print media, we use select
paid adverts in national news magazines – Tell
and The News – where the advertisers of herbal medicine seem to have
preference for advertising their products. It is interesting to note, however,
that there is a considerable degree of overlap between the advertisements
across the print and electronic media so much so that focusing on one for
analysis would not detract significantly from the patterns of discourse
functions which generally characterize the data from the two media. On a final
note, we specify the range of the diseases which the herbal medical
practitioners claim to have cure for. Such diseases include obesity, diabetes,
asthma, arthritis, fibroid and low sperm count. Others are infertility,
sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), epilepsy, tuberculosis and prostrate,
among others. Having made these basic clarifications, we will have an overview
of the art of herbal healing.
Herbal healing is almost as ancient as history itself, as
the knowledge acquired in the field of natural medicine has been passed down
through the generations and survive to this day (Morgenstern 2002). Herbal
healing is a system of medical treatment in which various parts – leaves,
barks, roots, seeds, fruit, latex and resin – of different plants are
used in order to treat symptoms and promote good health.
Although there are no written records of the origin of
herbal practice in Africa south of the Sahara, there are several legends that
have been passed down from generation to generation primarily through oral
means. Different ethnic groups in Africa have their own legends about the
origin of herbal medicine in their own societies. Babalola (2003) draws on a
Yoruba legend which explained that the first man to practise the art of herbal
healing was Orunmila who was endowed with this knowledge by God.
The use of herbal medicine has reached an advanced stage in
Asia. In China, for instance, herbal treatment has attained a high level of
scientific and technological formulation
This is a great challenge to herbal medical practitioners in other parts of the
world, especially those in Africa. To this end, Olapade (1998: i) argues:
There has been a global resurgence of interest in
Traditional Medicines in the last ten years probably because many of the known
synthetic drugs in allopathic medicines for the treatment of various ailments
are failing or that the causes of these various diseases are developing
resistance to the known drugs.
Little wonder then that a new class of herbal medical
practitioners has emerged in Nigeria, professing to be well talented, educated
and versatile in formulating and modernizing herbal medicine. They also claim
that their activities have been under control and monitoring by relevant bodies
such as the Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency and National Agency for
Food and Drugs Administration and Control. With this background information, we
now highlight the basic tenets of the rhetorical theory that underpin our
Studies in persuasive speaking basically require an
exploration of the art of rhetoric. With close reference to the advertising
industry, we posit that the principles of rhetoric in persuading the audience
to act or think in the desired manner of the advertiser are noteworthy. Thus,
we explicate Aristotle's work on rhetoric which was a remarkable departure from
earlier works. Such earlier works had neglected the all-important subject
matter of proofs and confined themselves chiefly to appeals to the emotions and
things irrelevant to the subject. Aristotle's contribution to the art of
rhetoric marked a systematic and scientific orientation to the rhetorical
theory (Freese 1959).
Aristotle defined rhetoric "as the faculty of
discerning the possible means of persuasion". The speech, according to
Aristotle, can produce persuasion either through the character of the speaker
(ethos), the emotional state of the listener (pathos) or the argument (logos)
itself. Rapp (2002) explains that the persuasion is accomplished by character
when the speech is delivered in such a way as to render the speaker worthy of
credence. He further explains that the success of the persuasive efforts
depends on the emotional dispositions of the audience. Thus, the orator has to
arouse emotions because emotions have the power to modify our judgements.
Finally, the rhetor persuades by the argument itself when he or she
demonstrates or seems to demonstrate that something is the case.
Aside from the three means of persuasion, there are three
kinds of rhetorical speeches, deliberative, forensic and epideictic. In the
deliberative kind of speech, the speaker either advises the audience to do
something or warns against doing something. Rapp further explains that
accordingly, the audience has to judge things that are going to happen in the
future and have to decide whether they will cause advantage or harm. The
forensic speech either accuses somebody or defends self or someone. Naturally,
this kind of speech treats things that happened in the past. In the final
analysis, Rapp (2002) explains that while the deliberative and forensic species
have their context in a controversial situation in which the listener has to
decide in favour of one or two opposing parties, the third species does not aim
at such a decision. The epideictic speech praises or blames somebody, as it
tries to describe things or deeds of the respective person as honourable or
A persuasive speech, we must emphasize, always occurs in a
situation where two or more points of view exist. According to Lucas (1992: 309),
"there must be a disagreement, or else there would be no need for
persuasion". Given this viewpoint, persuasive speeches centre on four
types of arguments or propositions: propositions of fact, value, policy and
concern about a problem. O'Hairr et al. (1975: 581–582) explain that
propositions of fact assert that something is true or false; propositions of
value allege that something is or is not worthwhile; propositions of policy
recommend a course of action or policy as necessary and desirable (or
unnecessary and undesirable); and the speech designed to create concern about a
problem asks an audience to agree that specific conditions should be perceived
as a problem requiring solution. We must, however, drop the hint that the
classification into these categories is often eclectic as a topic in one
category could easily be made to fit into another.
Granted the sensitive and universal nature of the concepts
of health, disease and (type of) healing in human life, the propositions or
arguments described above predominate the persuader's intent to modify,
influence, shape and (if possible) change the beliefs, attitudes and behaviour
of the audience as we shall see presently in our discussion.
One of the rhetorical strategies employed in advertising
herbal medicine in the discourse is source credibility. The advertisers appear
to be credible by displaying practical intelligence and knowledge of herbal
healing. While attempting to propagate their credibility, they reel off the
symptoms of diseases, while on air, in such a clinical manner that the
viewer/listener cannot but marvel at the depth of their erudition. Worthy of
note is the way the herbal physicians pontificate, giving the impression that
they are well versed in pathology and could, therefore, diagnose the patients'
diseases even before interacting with them one-on-one.
This is a rhetorical strategy geared not only at convincing
the audience of their competence but also at refuting the perceived opponents
or critics of herbal medicine who negatively label herbal medical practitioners
as local, shallow and illiterate. In fact, some of the advertisers refute their
opponents by claiming that they embark on research activities before
formulating their drugs, that they possess certain specialized equipment and
other laboratory facilities for diagnosing patients' diseases and that they
repackage their products in form of tablets, capsules and syrups. These claims
have some rhetorical effects. First, the advertisers seek to emphasize their own
methods of herbal healing which are backed by scientific proof and, therefore,
have diverged from the traditional methods of herbal preparations such as
concoction, decoction, infusion, powder and dried herbs mixed with food.
Second, they serve to demystify contemporary herbal healing as being devoid of
ritual/occult practices and divination. Finally, the advertisers try to strike
a parallel between the practices of herbal healing in Africa with advances in
Asian countries like China and India, on the one hand, and with western
medicine, on the other hand. This is an example of a parallel case
argumentation in which comparisons are drawn between two entities to underscore
areas of similarities or dissimilarities.
In order to further make themselves worthy of credence, the
advertisers try to appeal to wide geographical spread. Those with limited
airtime on radio and television may not be able to read out where all their
offices or clinics are located. So, they use such spatial deictic forms as
"different locations in Nigeria" or "across the nation",
"worldwide", "within Nigeria and overseas". In the news
magazine, however, there is the display of plethora of addresses that span
major cities and towns in Nigeria. In some cases, some of the advertisers claim
to have offices/clinics in London, the United States of America, Switzerland,
and so on. Moreover, some claim to have been connected to the global village by
displaying their websites on the Internet. All of these claims tend to
underscore the herbal practitioners' quest for acceptability.
Besides the strategies above, the advertisers attempt to
establish credibility by answering such appellations as "Dr",
"Prince" and "Chief". As regards the use of "Dr",
the advertisers try to draw a parallel between themselves and the practitioners
of orthodox medicine, particularly in Nigeria, who are identified with the
title 'Dr'. The use of this title generally suggests that the bearer is
competent in the diagnosis and treatment of ailment. Therefore, the title
confers legitimacy on the herbal medical practitioners as specialists that have
undergone training in the art of herbal healing and can, therefore, be
entrusted with human life. On the contrary, the use of "Chief" and
"Prince" in a traditional society has some implications. Chiefs and
Princes are supposedly men of honour and integrity who can be entrusted with
great responsibilities in society. The rhetorical factor that is brought to
bear here is 'character' which is described by Lucas (1992: 326) as
"how an audience regards a speaker's sincerity, trustworthiness, and
concern for the well-being of the audience".
In some instances, the use of the titles is closely linked
to the advertisers' pride in their pedigree in the art of herbal healing. The
advertisers usually claim to have inherited the art from their grandfathers or
fathers whose healing artistry was extolled as being unrivalled in their days.
This is a case of rhetorical appeal to "hereditary endowment" for any
trait that is inherited is generally believed to be more enduring than that
which is learnt.
All in all, the trail-blazing or landmark efforts that the
advertisers claim to have made in their own rights in the bid to chart a new
and noble course for herbal therapy is summarized in slogans and catchphrases
that are attached to their herbal homes. The following are examples:
Yemkem International: The Pathfinder and Leading Name in Curative Medicine
Ayodele: The Pioneer in African Naturopathic Medicine
Kolaq: The Pacesetter
Rhetorically, the use of the nominals
"pathfinder", "pioneer" and "pacesetter" suggests
that herbal healing has been transformed and that some personnel is in the
vanguard of the innovation. In addition, the use underlines the kind of rivalry
that thrives even among the herbal medical practitioners and the attempt made
by each of them to project self as "first among equals".
Appeal to motivational proof also serves some rhetorical
functions in the discourse. O'Hairr et al. (1975: 585) argues that
"at the heart of persuasion is the ability to adapt a message to the
feelings, needs, and values of an audience". Advertisers create some needs
that the audience would certainly like to meet. In the present discourse,
playing on the audience's emotions, especially the desire for things as they used
to be is apparent. The advertised herbal product is usually presented as
capable of restoring people to their former state of health. This is
particularly the hub of the advertisement of herbal medicine when we consider
the inevitable transitoriness from sound health to a diseased condition for
which the patient would naturally desire healing.
The advertisers' bid to launch herbal medicine as an
antidote in restoring normal health, especially where conventional medicine has
supposedly failed is interesting. Consider the following excerpts:
Many victims complain of having visited several hospitals
and clinics yet could not get cure for their staph. The reason is that they did
not use right medication in the first place. Such people use antibiotics and
injection which can hardly cure staph aureus but suppresses it because the
herbal medicine is the best for it.
(The News, February 14, 2005: 9)
Herb and root are the best treatment to avoid re-occurrence,
[sic] because it cannot be cured with ejection [sic] or any antibiotic only.
Because this bacteria's [sic] called staphylococcus have developed resistance
to all form of western antibiotics.
(The News, July 25, 2005: 9)
In the above extracts, the advertisers use the "We are
different and unique" claim which, according to Schrank, "states that
there is nothing else like the product being advertised". Schrank further
explains that the claim is supposed to be interpreted as a claim to
superiority. Here, the advertisers juxtapose both orthodox healing and herbal healing
methods and ascribe a claim of superiority to the efficacy of herbal therapy.
This attempt lends credence to the spirited touting of herbal products as
'alternative' therapy to orthodox medicine. This claim brings to bear a
dominant propaganda technique in advertisement known as 'compare and contrast'
where the viewer/listener is led to believe that one product is better than
another although no real proof is given.
One would expect that the present discourse that makes
health or safety claims would be supported by competent and reliable scientific
evidence that has been evaluated by certain personnel or bodies qualified to
review it to prove where, how and why orthodox medicine has failed, on the one
hand, and where, how and why herbal healing makes up for the inadequacies, on
the other hand. That the advertiser in the first extract above draws on the
statements of patients dissatisfied with orthodox medicine – "Many
victims complain of having visited several hospitals and clinics yet could not
get cure for their staph" – is not sufficient to support a health or
safety claim that requires objective evaluation. It must be hinted, at this
point, that Nigeria is such a society where people abuse drugs a lot by just
walking up to a chemist to buy drugs on self prescription and even when medical
assistance is sought, quacks could have been consulted. Statements obtained
from such patients would not be sufficient, therefore, to disprove the efficacy
of orthodox medicine. The claim that herbal medicine is the best treatment is
not convincing moreso that the word "best" belongs to the class of
words referred to as 'glittering generalities' commonly used in advertisements.
Glittering generalities are important-sounding 'glad words' that have little or
no real meaning and when they are used, they demand approval without thinking
simply because such an important concept is involved. This takes us to another
common propaganda strategy used in advertisements referred to as 'assertion'.
An assertion is an enthusiastic and energetic statement presented as a fact,
although it is not necessarily true. So, by claiming that herbal therapy is the
best without providing evidence for this, the advertisers are using an
assertion, in the hope that the subject would simply agree to the statement
without searching for additional information or reasoning.
Apart from labeling orthodox medicine negatively, orthodox
medical practitioners are also sometimes portrayed in inhuman and
unprofessional images by the advertisers of herbal products. Consider this
utterance culled from a herbal home's advertisement: "From now on, no
doctor can sentence you to death". Naturally, a doctor supports life as a
demonstration of his/her human feelings and professional ethics. But since doctors
that do not use herbal products supposedly find it difficult to cure certain
diseases, the advertisers of herbal products malign them in a most disparaging
image of sentencing innocent people to death in the hospital (a place where
life should be saved as opposed to a law court where convicted criminals are
sentenced to death by the judge). This apparent transposition of actions across
divergent fields makes the attack message a forceful one. This is a propaganda
technique known as 'name-calling', as negative words are used to create an
unfavourable opinion of orthodox medical practitioners in the audience's minds.
Meanwhile, the herbal medical practitioners put up a messianic posture in
expressions like: "There is permanent cure for your diseases"; "Fibroid.
No operations simply take our herbal products"; "All treatments with
natural herbs without side effects." These utterances also bring to bear
another propaganda technique called 'euphoria'. It is the use of an event to
generate happiness or euphoria or to boost morale.
In doing so, the advertisers employ the advertising trick
called the black/white fallacy. According to Taflinger (1996a), a
common way in which this trick is used in advertising is by presenting two
situations, one with the product and the other without. The one with the
product shows circumstances that the advertiser presumes the target audience
would like to be in, and vice versa for the situation without the product. For
instance, in the above extracts, the situation with the herbal products promises
relief from the worries and pains of perceived incurable diseases and gives
hope of cure. In particular, the claim that the advertised herbal products have
no side effects is not medically convincing. Speaking generally, every drug
that is exogenous to the body system has the tendency to cause certain
reactions in the system. There have been reported cases of people reacting to
'ordinary' food such as beans and maize, and even vegetables. By genetic
variations, there could be some idiosyncratic reactions; what patient A does
not react to may cause adverse reactions in patient B. Therefore, the claim by
herbal practitioners that their herbal medicine has no side effects may not be
true if the particular drugs about which the statement has been made have not
been put to clinical trial and subjected to peer review whereby feedback from
patients would be objectively considered. Even the medical parlance 'side
effect' among experts is no longer popular, as the expression 'adverse effect'
is more scientifically defensible; for every drug has side effect(s) but there
are degrees of the effect(s) up to the level to which some could be described
Evoking pride in one's origins or cultural heritage is a
strand of the motivational strategies in the discourse. The advertised herbal
products are usually identified as indigenous African products and they need to
be so patronized to affirm the consumer's sense of pride in locally made
products. This is a solidarity-engineering technique to bolster up the feeling
of in-groupness in the Us (African) group while trying to stir up feelings of
disenchantment with the Them (Western) group. Let us consider the following:
It's a new dawn in Africa [...] Times have changed. Africa has
come of age. With Ayodele Clinics and the power of African medicine, there are
no mysteries about ailments anymore in Africa.
(Tell, August 29, 2005: 15)
Here, there is the use of the propaganda technique of appeal
to prejudice, as emotive terms are used to attach value or moral goodness to
believing the proposition. The sense of pride evoked here is tied to the
origins of the products. In fact, in the extract above, the herbal medical
practitioner has to coalesce his own identity (personal) with that of a larger
cultural (African) identity for acceptability. The advertising strategy used
here is called genetic fallacy. It makes a prediction about something based on
where it came from or its origins.
We must, however, be wary of instances of the abuse of this
strategy as evident in the following extract:
African ailments are born out of African
problems which need only African solution.
(Tell, March 7, 2005: 17)
The extract above, though found in an advertising discourse,
bears a striking semblance of claims in postcolonial writings in African
Literature where postcolonial writers strive to debunk Eurocentric universalism
which takes for granted both the superiority of what is European or Western,
and the inferiority of what is not. Such a statement would then be made in an
attempt by the colonized people to find a voice and an identity in an attempt
to reclaim their own past and then erode the colonialist ideology by which the
past had been devalued. However, granted the cross-cultural interactions within
the contact zone of the now globalised world, 'cultural polyvalency' would be
more beneficial to humanity as opposed to the politics of polarity. This takes
us to the concept of 'hybridity', one of the most disputed terms in
postcolonial studies. The term 'hybridity' has been most recently associated
with Homi Bhabha. In his piece, "Cultural Diversity and Cultural
Differences", Bhabha argues that all cultural systems and statements are
constructed in what he calls the "third Space of Enunciation" where
claims to the inherent purity and originality of cultures are
"untenable". Thus, Elizabeth Laragy argues that "Bhabha urges us
into this space in an effort to open up the notion of an inter national culture
'not based on exoticism or multi-culturalism of the diversity of cultures, but
on the inscription and articulation of culture's hybridity'"
2. Thus, claiming
that African problems require only African solutions is in furtherance
of the racial practice of cultural exclusivity.
With close reference to the argument put forward in the
extract in question, there is the error of hasty generalization in lumping
together all ailments as African here. Come to think of it, are obesity,
hypertension, fibroid, diabetes mellitus, infertility and the like which the
advertisers claim to have cure for really African ailments? Medically, it has
been proved that ailments which can be said to be truly African are malaria
which is commonly found in the tropics and sickle cell anaemia which is
typically African by genetic composition. Thus, if these diseases have been
specifically mentioned as African ailments and, therefore, African problems for
which the herbal medical practitioners are proffering solutions in the African
way, the argumentation will be quite valid.
Undoubtedly, it has been discovered that there could be some
ailments in the African environment that have proved resistant to synthetic
drugs. The success of African Traditional Medicine in such areas where the
orthodox medicine has failed has been emphasized by Olapade (1998), Babalola
(2005) and Kayode (2006). This is a much-touted opinion in the discourse of
advertising traditional medicine in the bid to underlie its place in making up
for the so-called inadequacies of orthodox medicine. The way such an argument
is generally advanced, however, more often than not tends to discard orthodox
medicine as a viable therapy for other ailments. This is an error of attack in
propaganda known as 'poisoning the well', where a speaker is so committed to a
position that he/she explains away absolutely everything that others offer in
The way the advertisers stir up nostalgic feelings in the
audience is also noteworthy. Consider the following:
Since the dawn of time, man has understood which leaves,
fruits, seeds and roots of plants around him were beneficial for the
maintenance of health and effective for the remedy of different ailments that
he suffers from.
(The News, April 11, 2005: 15)
The trick of advertising here is referred to as argumentum
ad vercundium. It is an appeal to tradition
and authority in support of some contention. According Taflinger (1996b),
the use of the fallacy is suggestive of the popular saying: "As it was in
the beginning, is now and ever shall be". This is an appeal to the
earliest beginnings to counter Eurocentric claims, for example, that Africa had
no past, no (healing) culture and therefore no civilization before the
introduction of western (healing) culture.
The place of evidence, that is, information used as logical
proof by a persuasive speaker also deserves careful analysis in the discourse
of advertising herbal products. According to O'Hairr (1975: 594),
"Evidence in whatever form it takes, increases the persuasiveness of a
message [...] highly credible evidence sources are more persuasive than less
credible sources." For our present purposes, we shall focus on examples,
statistics and testimony as forms of evidence.
The use of examples creates vivid images in the minds of
receivers. Lucas (1992: 122) argues:
Research has shown that vivid, concrete examples have more
impact on listeners' beliefs and actions than any other kind of supporting
material. Without examples, ideas seem vague, impersonal, and lifeless. With
examples, ideas become specific, personal and lively.
One kind of example recurrent in the discourse is extended
example which involves the use of anecdotes. Recounting an anecdote falls under
the rhetorical strategy known as 'narration'. Let us consider the following
There have been bizarre cases in our clinics recently which
I know no foreign products would have been able to handle. Take for instance a
woman who suffered what was diagnosed in the hospital as kidney problem. After
a protracted battle using synthetic drugs and those foreign stuffs, the lady
was confined to hospital bed [...] We gave her some herbal preparations which made
her belch and this cleared all the impurities.
(Tell, March 7, 2005: 17)
By presenting this anecdote, the advertiser is able to keep
the hope of the audience alive, giving the impression that if others got healed
by using the advertiser's herbal products, the audience could also experience
the same. Using such an appealing event to boost the morale of the audience, as
we pointed out earlier, is a case of the use of 'euphoria'. But we should
quickly note that the advertiser may just be saying what would interest the
audience in order to sway them. This is because examples are either factual or
hypothetical. They are factual if the incidents they refer to really happened,
while they are hypothetical when they describe an imaginary situation. In view
of the fact that the goals of seeking popularity with the people and achieving
specific commercial objectives cannot be completely ruled out in the external world
of reality, the anecdote the advertiser uses here could be hypothetical just to
defraud the audience. As a matter of fact, one must not gloss over the use of
the rhetorical strategy 'absolute certainty' in the expression "[...]
which I know no foreign products would have been able to handle" which
gives the writer's statement an indisputable air. We have to emphasize the fact
that knowledge is relative; what the advertiser claims to know here within the
limits of his knowledge and exposure may not be tenable when subjected to
The advertisers of herbal products also employ testimony.
According to Lucas (1992: 135–136), we could have expert testimony,
that is, testimonies from people who are acknowledged authorities in their
fields and peer testimony, that is, opinions of ordinary citizens who have first-hand
experience on the subject. We shall consider an excerpt here on expert
Tens of thousand who have suffered acute obesity, diabetes,
rheumatism, high fever, anemia, fibroid, skin disorders, peculiar ailments,
etc., have always attested to the efficacy of these drugs which have been
certified by NAFDAC.
(Tell, September 5, 2005: 14)
In this testimony, two salient issues are brought to the
fore. First, the reference to the numerical strength "tens of
thousands" invokes the propaganda technique of 'bandwagon' which is an
attempt to persuade the target audience to join in and take the course of
action that everyone else is taking. Calling on the audience to join the crowd
reinforces people's natural desire to be on the winning side. Thus, crave for
herbal therapy is presented here as an irresistible mass movement and it is in
the best interest of the audience to join. The use of statistics in the
discourse creates a definite rhetorical effect. No doubt, we live in an age of
statistics but we must be wary of its use for there is usually more to
statistics than meets the eye. Darrel Huff cited by Lucas (1992: 128)
argues that although numbers do not lie, they can easily be manipulated and
distorted. In the extract above, the advertiser's reference to "tens of thousands"
who have attested to the efficacy of the advertiser's products sounds rather
dubious moreso that there is no way the audience could test or confirm the
Other examples of the ab/use of statistics in the discourse
include "Our guarantee is 100%", "100% herbal ingredients",
and "The medicine will increase sperm count from zero to 85 million".
By projecting such staggering figures, the advertiser is trying to give an air
of scientific precision that the audience cannot judge for themselves. We have
to point out here that the advertisers of herbal medicine seem to borrow the
style characteristic of orthodox medical discourse that thrives on scientific
proofs based on tests and studies that are statistically driven. But where it
can be said in orthodox medical discourse that adequate surveys and tests must
have been carried out not just by an individual but in most cases a team of
researchers before arriving at statistical data, this cannot be said of herbal
medical practice which thrives mainly on idiosyncratic strides, the processes
of which are not readily amenable to empirical verification. However, the
technique of using statistics here can be linked to the concept of
'intertextuality' which reminds us that each text exists in relation to others.
According to Allen (2005: 1):
The fundamental concept of intertextuality is that no text,
much as it might like to appear so is original and unique-in-itself; rather it
is a tissue of inevitable and to an extent unwitting, references to and
quotations from other texts. These in turn condition its meaning; the text is
an intervention in a cultural system.
The second interesting issue that their drugs have been
certified by the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control
(NAFDAC) needs to be critically examined. It is interesting that most of the
advertisers of herbal products claim that their products have been certified by
NAFDAC and, therefore, carry NAFDAC REGISTRATION NUMBER – a semiotic
label that has become a stereotype in Nigeria's food(drinks) and drugs
industries. The word 'stereotype', according to Quasthoff (1978: 3), could
mean "something like 'constantly repeated', 'meaningless' with respect to
verbal clichˇs". This is the sense in which we treat the constant NAFDAC
REGISTRATION NUMBER in the present situation and in wider national discourse.
In this situation, we do not intend to discredit NAFDAC whose achievements
under the leadership of Professor Dora Akunyili have been unprecedented:
The achievements of the agency under the dynamic leadership
of Akunyili are outstanding and encouraging. NAFDAC is now a household name, as
her aggressive crusade against fake, counterfeit drugs and unwholesome
processed foods has reached the grassroots. Consumers now scrutinize regulated
products for the manufactured, expiry dates and NAFDAC registration numbers.
(The News, August 22, 2005: 9)
It is against this backdrop that manufacturers (not only of
herbal products) in Nigeria now attempt to legitimize their products by
attaching the ritualistic NAFDAC REGISTRATION NUMBER as the seal of
marketability and attendant consumption to them. Although NAFDAC has a
directory of certified products, desperate manufacturers could still fake the
NAFDAC REGISTRATION NUMBER to deceive the consumers.
Another kind of testimony employed in the discourse is the
celebrity testimonial. This is in tandem with the 'Endorsement or Testimonial
claim'. According to Schrank, "a celebrity or authority appears in an ad
to lend his or her stellar qualities to the product". For example, popular
musicians, actors and actresses are used to advertise herbal products. Obesere,
a popular Fuji musician in Nigeria, endorsed 'Energy 2000' prepared by Yemkem
Herbal Home. What is interesting about the use of this claim is that the celebrities
usually claim to use the product but we know very often they do not. The
reality of the situation is pictured by Lucas (1992: 139) that the
celebrities must have been paid "large sums of money to be photographed
with the product in hopes that their popularity will rub off on the
The perceived status of the celebrities and the kind of
environments/settings where they are photographed serve some rhetorical
functions. In the advertisements, especially on television, men dress
corporately in shirt, tie and suit while women dress corporately as well in
skirt(suit) and blouse/shirt or in trendy native wears. To complement all of
these, the setting or environment where they interact is usually a banking hall
or an office space. The dress code and the setting are semiotically deployed to
give the impression that herbal products are not consumed by only rural
dwellers; the elite in the cities also use them.
On a final note, the deployment of temporal deictic forms in
the discourse is rhetorically compelling. Consider the following:
From now on no doctor can sentence you to death.
Time past, it was unending confinement to hospital
bed [...] But now times have changed.
[...] Get ready for a unique experience of the power of African
medicine as never before.
It's a new dawn in African medicine.
All of these underlined expressions and others such as
"before", "now", and "over the ages", are used to
capture the transitional phases in the development of African medicine, on the
one hand, and the supposed displacement of orthodox medicine by herbal therapy,
on the other hand. Time, therefore, becomes an important variable in the
discourse. In some cases, advertisers seem to abuse such temporal deictic forms
while attempting to underscore the efficacy of their products. The following
examples will suffice:
Lose 10kg in five days.
Treatment for diabetes under one month.
Penis enlargement within one month.
We have herbal supplement that reduces blood sugar in two weeks.
Gonorrhea: This disease is cured within 24 hours with
our herbal solution.
Increase in sperm count could be attained within 72 hours
after proper medication has been administered.
Given the amazingly short time frame within which the
advertisers promise to heal diseases and the attendant tone of finality even
when the state of the patient has not been determined, we are compelled to call
attention to the exaggerative power of the advertisers in the discourse. Thus,
we comment on the role of hyperbole as a pragmatic strategy in advertising
herbal products. Leech (1983: 145) explains that hyperbole 'refers to a case
where the speaker's description is stronger than is warranted by the state of
AFFAIRS DESCRIBED [...]' To Swartz (1976: 101) "[...] hyperbole
provides a means of focusing on specific aspects of reality (whether social or
physical) in such a way as to bring about awareness of values and norms
associated with those aspects in an emotionally charged way."
The use of hyperbole would normally violate the maxim of
'quantity' in Grice's cooperative principle. According to Grice (1999), the
category of Quantity relates to the quantity of information to be provided and
under it fall the following maxims:
||Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current
purposes of the exchange).|
||Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.|
|(Grice 1999: 78)|
As seen in the way herbal medical practitioners advertise
their products, they flout the maxim of quantity by sounding rather hyperbolic
in their claims. This lends credence to Komolafe's (1998: 71) view: "In
a state of professional anxiety and insecurity, the Traditional Healers
ignorantly and at times intentionally make sensational or headline news with
wrong unproven claims of curative ability." This is why critics of herbal
medicine have descended heavily on the practitioners that they sometimes claim
feats beyond their capabilities, a disposition that can make the unwary patient
complacent until more damage is done. Giving herbal practitioners a hard knock,
the critics see some of them as charlatans who do not have knowledge of
effective treatments they claim they can cure (Danesi 1998).
We have hitherto examined the persuasive techniques employed
by medical practitioners in advertising their products. The discussion focuses
on the deployment of propaganda techniques such as bandwagon, testimonials,
assertion, euphoria, and narration, among others. Besides, the discussion
touched on certain rhetorical strategies that make the characters worthy of
confidence, and also appeal to the emotions of the audience. Generally, the
discussion reveals that the discourse dwells essentially on the four types of
arguments or propositions we highlighted at the outset. In the main, the
advertisements reflect a general description of a state of affairs in which
health matters have truth value (proposition of fact) though ridden with
controversial issues. In doing so, herbal healing and orthodox medical practice
are evaluated (proposition of value) and the advertisers consider the so-called
inadequacies of orthodox medical practice a problem requiring solution (concern
about a problem). This informs the projection of herbal therapy as alternative
therapy to orthodox medicine (proposition of policy). In advancing these
arguments, however, the advertisers have largely engaged in marketing hype. It
is interesting that herbal medical practitioners never present their products
as those that can control, manage or suppress (symptoms of) diseases. It is
permanent cure all the way! Besides, their products are never presented to the
consumers as having any side effects. There is, therefore, the overriding
effect of the rhetorical strategy of 'absolute certainty' that pervades the
discourse. On the contrary, the advertisers embark on the spirited effort at
challenging the efficacy of western medicine, thereby creating discontentment
with the conventional products that the audience already knows.
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