Opinion

Let’s force advertisers to think twice before making false claims

Adverts are everywhere and in any one day we are likely to be exposed to hundreds of them. The purpose of advertisement is for potential customers to be made aware of a product, therefore we can expect adverts to focus on their desirable aspects. With so many adverts around, it is unsurprising that some cross the line and make false claims about what their products can do.

This week, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld four complaints I had made against a company who were advertising healthcare products online. This company have been ordered to remove those adverts in their current form and not to make claims about their products without robust substantiation.

One of the adverts I complained about was for the “Solrox massage and healing therapy stone” which included a testimony from a supposed beneficiary of its power. This person says they burnt themselves badly on a hot saucepan and applied the therapy stone to the burn, claiming that the burn was 98% better the next day. After obtaining a response from the makers of the product, Aromair Ltd, the ASA agreed with me that the therapy stone was not a suitable alternative to emergency medical treatment and breached two rules of the Committee of Advertising Practice Code.

This grassroots level of consumer protection is something we can all get involved with and doing so will make advertisers think twice before making false claims. I feel this is particularly important when it comes to healthcare as there is a real danger that desperate people will use unproven treatments for conditions which ought to have proper medical supervision, not to mention all the other ethical concerns.

Making a complaint to the ASA or to Trading Standards is very easy. I use a program called Fishbarrel, which you can download for free. With Fishbarrel you can highlight text in an online advert and the program will automatically place this information onto the relevant forms for submission to the ASA. If you have Fishbarrel installed it will also show you if a complaint has already been submitted for a particular advert, so that the ASA are not inundated with complaints. Use it sparingly and wisely.

Actively seeking out misleading advertisements and reporting them to the ASA is one of the best ways that you can help protect people from unscrupulous pedlars of unproven treatments. Let me know if you have any success.

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