Posted 01 June 2012
A breach complaint was laid against the Repcillin’s website, www.repcillin.com arguing that through the testimonials on its website, the respondent continued to make claims that give the impression that the product is effective for a range of skin conditions, and some contrary to the ASA regulations governing testimonials.
The breach allegation was upheld, with no additional sanctions imposed on the respondent other than the immediate withdrawal of the offending material.
| Repcillin / HA Steinman / 19382
Ruling of the : ASA Directorate
In the matter between:
Dr Harris Steinman Complainant(s)/Appellant(s)
Repcillin cc Respondent
31 May 2012
In Repcillin / H Steinman / 19382 (23 January 2012) the Directorate accepted the respondent’s voluntary undertaking to withdraw or amend its website advertising in a manner that addresses the concerns raised, the undertaking is accepted without considering the merits of the matter, on condition that the claims objected to were removed with immediate and permanent effect.
In addition to this, the Directorate drew the respondent’s attention to the fact that the undertaking would have to be effected on ALL advertising, irrespective of whether or not the complainant specifically referred to it. Finally, the respondent’s attention was also drawn to the provisions of Clause 4.1 of Section II (Substantiation).
The complainant specifically provided the following URL when lodging the complaint:
The claims complained of were:
“Indications: Repcillin Balm may be helpful in offering relief from itchy or painful skin conditions such as allergies, eczema, insect bites, sunburn, abrasions and skin infections. It may be helpful in preventing wrinkles”;
“MCC (Medical Control Council of South Africa) Registered”;
“Pharmacological classification: A34”;
“Other (Western Complementary Medicine)”;
“This product is safe for use in children”;
“Can be covered with a gauze or bandage to ensure full absorption”;
“Crocodile oil is obtained from licensed CITES registered farms and is registered with the Medical Control Council for medicinal use in South AFRICA”;
“Its use for beautifying the skin has been known since the days of Queen Cleopatra two thousand years ago”;
“Dermatitis eczema … is more prevalent in cities and places where there is low humidity”;
“Dark Circles under the eyes are more common especially with Indian people”.
The following disclaimers also appear:
“The reviews and testimonials on this site refer to Repcillin. We make no claims that Repcillin will have the same results when used by purchasers as circumstances are different for each client and out of our control. No clinical trials have been made”;
“Although Repcillin has healed many skin problems, we make no claims about its healing properties whatsoever”.
SUBSEQUENT TO THIS RULING
ON 9 May 2012 Dr Steinman lodged a breach complaint against the respondent’s website, www.repcillin.com. The complainant provided the following URL link,
It was submitted, through the testimonials on its website, the respondent continued to make claims that give the impression that the product is effective for a range of skin conditions, and some contrary to the ASA regulations governing testimonials.
The video clip titled “How Wendy cured eczema on her infant” as well as another claim on the same page “I had tried many things but nothing had helped. After a few days using your product the hole was closing over! That is a miracle to me” are anecdotal, and may, in fact, be pure coincidence. However, these are presented as “proof” of the efficacy of the product.
The complainant added some of the links used to add credence to the product either have no relationship with the respondent, or are displayed in a manner that creates a misleading impression (an example of an article from the Weekend Post titled “Crocodile balm ready to cure the world’s ills” was provided and the complainant argued that this implies that the respondent’s product has the ability to cure.
RELEVANT CLAUSE OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
In light of the breach allegation, the Directorate considered Clause 15 of the Procedural Guide (Enforcement of rulings) was considered relevant.
The respondent submitted, inter alia, that it has amended its packaging and packaging insert as previously agreed.
The website www.repcillin.co.za, was withdrawn completely from the internet in January, and only recently re-instated after being modified to meet with the Directorate ruling.
It has also since withdrawn the testimonials complained of in Dr Steinman’s subsequent letter.
The respondent further argued that the newspaper articles to which Dr Steinman referred to, were unsolicited editorials, not advertorials and it had no control over the content of the articles.
Finally, it submitted that the website, www.repcillin.com, is registered to and administered by a UK Ltd company and questioned whether it fell under South African ASA jurisdiction.
ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered all the relevant documentation submitted by the respective parties.
The respondent questioned whether or not the ASA has jurisdiction over the website material at issue.
Clause 4.1 of Section I defines advertising as “any visual or aural communication, representation, reference or notification of any kind … which is intended to promote the sale, leasing or use of any goods or services; or … which appeals for or promotes the support of any cause”. As such, the material objected to clearly falls within this definition.
Secondly, it is clear from the website that the product (while also marketed to the United States), is sourced in, distributed from, and also aimed at the South African Consumer. The homepage on the website contained reference to Repcillin South Africa, and all contact details are for South African individuals at South African addresses and telephone numbers. What’s more, the company Repcillin CC is registered with the Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission (CIPC) of South Africa.
Given the above, the Directorate is satisfied that the advertising objected to indeed falls within the jurisdiction of the ASA, and will therefore be subject to the principles and contained in the Code.
The Directorate is, therefore, only tasked with determining whether the respondent is in breach of the previous ASA Directorate ruling.
Clause 15.1 of the Procedural Guide states that “The responsibility for adherence to a ruling made by the Directorate or the ASA Committees lies with the person against whom such ruling has been made”. This implies that it is the duty of the recipient of an adverse ruling to ensure that it complies.
What made matters somewhat difficult is that the complainant has not really identified any specific claims other than the video clip titled “How Wendy cured eczema on her infant” and “I had tried many things but nothing had helped. After a few days using your product the hole was closing over! That is a miracle to me”. He repeatedly claims that “… some of the testimonials on this site are contrary to the ASA regulations and code” and that “… this is misleading for this will give unsubstantiated claims that Crocodile balm (or Repcillin) has the ability to ‘cure’.” In the absence of any clarity as to exactly what the testimonials claim, or what the newspaper headline is purported to imply a “cure” for, the Directorate has nothing to go by. As such, the breach ruling can only be limited to those claims specifically highlighted (i.e. the video clip title and quoted testimonial).
It appears common cause between the parties that the advertising material that forms the subject of the breach complaints did appear on the website in contravention of the previous ruling.
While the respondent has now taken steps to remove the offending advertising with offending claim from the website, this action is belated.
It is noted, however, that the breach does not appear to be a flagrant and callous disregard of the spirit and letter of the ASA Code in a manner that is likely to bring advertising into disrepute, and that the offending advertising material has since been removed.
The breach allegation is therefore upheld, with no additional sanctions imposed on the respondent other than the immediate withdrawal of the offending material.
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