Business is powerful. There are a lot of moving parts and getting it right can yield tremendous benefits. At the core of any business is the customer. Every business knows that satisfying the customer is a priority. You listen to their pain points, concerns, and feedback, then you take the learnings to create or improve your value proposition. If this is done right, you will continue to have a share of their wallet and heart. What else can a business wish for?

However, the customer is not static, so businesses are sometimes too slow to respond to (e.g. Blockbuster, Kodak, Blackberry, etc.) or are ahead of (e.g. Apple NewtonPad, AT&T Picturephone, etc.) the customer. At times, the customer doesn’t even know what they want and so taking what they say at face-value will result in yet another product they are not excited about. This means we need to listen deeply, sometimes beyond what the customer is saying. Henry Ford once said if asked, customers would have said they wanted a faster horse as they couldn’t have imagined a car. They knew they wanted something faster but delivering a faster horse to them would mean your business would die when cars eventually showed up.

So even though we know the customer is king and satisfying them is critical to business success, the art and science of doing this is not as straightforward as the saying. In some cases, you create a product to be used in a particular way, but then the customer chooses to experience it differently. You can choose to insist on your own way and likely die, or you can choose to be like Instagram and give the customer what they want, and flourish. It’s a dynamic game and it must be played right.

In this article, my thought borders around when it is ethically wrong to satisfy the customer. Can we satisfy the customer to the point where it becomes harmful to the customer? Should we care less if we are simply making good money as a business? This isn’t new as many products beg this question. What brought this question to mind again is a recent visit to the open market in Idumota, Lagos.

While with one of the medicine wholesalers there, a young lady walked into the store and asked for DIKONGA. When she left, I asked what the product was for, and the man said it’s a drug popular with ladies for increasing the size of their backside (Butt). He mentioned there are 3 popular ones – YODI, DIKONGA, and YOKEBE. For Yoruba speakers, the interpretation is obvious. For those who don’t understand it, the 3 names literally mean the same thing – GROW YOUR BUTT! I found it quite interesting, so I decided to take a picture of the products and research further into how these drugs do this. I know many ladies spend millions doing surgery for this, so if a medication this cheap can do the same thing, then the business is in money, or so I thought.   

As can be seen from the picture, the active ingredient in these 3 drugs is Dexamethasone. Dexamethasone is a type of corticosteroid (class of steroid hormones) medication used in the treatment of many conditions, including rheumatic problems, a number of skin diseases, severe allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease, croup, brain swelling, and along with antibiotics in tuberculosis. In preterm labor, it may be used to improve outcomes in the baby.

Now, this is confusing, how come a corticosteroid is being used by ladies with none of the conditions it is designed for and how come they are using it for something it is obviously not designed for – butt enlargement. It didn’t take long to understand why, and the reason is what I have termed the “side effect syndrome”.

Apparently, some of the side effects of using Dexamethasone includes weakened immune system, irregular menses, fluid retention, weight gain (especially in your face, neck, waist, and buttocks), high blood pressure, headache, muscle weakness, puffiness of and hair growth on the face, infertility, thinning and easy bruising of skin, eye problems and peptic ulcer.

Young ladies ignoring every other side effects of these medications including weakened immune system choose to buy it simply for the fact that it leads to weight gain in the buttocks. On speaking to a pharmacist, I realized this isn’t a strange phenomenon and Side Effects Syndrome is common among both genders and especially amongst the younger population.

A number of people use Anafranil, an antidepressant, to get high; Tramadol, a pain reliever for sexual performance; and Modafinil, used to treat sleepiness for sexual enhancement. These are clear cases of drug abuse. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S., the number of emergency department visits due to misuse or abuse of prescription drugs has risen 98.4% since 2004. They defined Prescription drug ABUSE as the use of a medication without a prescription, in a way other than as prescribed, or for the experience or feelings elicited.

In Nigeria, we saw how bad this got with the Codeine issue back in 2018. However, what is shocking for me in the case of YODI, DIKONGA, and YOKEBE is how these 3 brands have packaged a side effect as the main function of the drug. This is almost like Emzor changing the brand name Emzolyn with Codeine meant to treat cough to “Most High” because customers are using it to get high. 

This brings up many questions – is this a case of a business doing whatever it takes to satisfy the customer or is it a case of a business being ethically wrong in trying to satisfy the customer? Are companies responsible for ensuring they do no harm in the race for profit?

Since these drugs have NAFDAC number, who ensures companies cannot use a brand name that misleads the public, or should it be medical practitioners that ensure customers can’t access these medications without prescription, or maybe this is a policy issue on customer protection to be addressed by the government or it is the customer that is responsible for doing their own research and buying what won’t hurt them?

Adewale Osideinde, Head of Marketing A2W Group and can be reached via LinkedIn