Posted 28 November 2012
By Wendy Knowler
IOL January 11 2012 at 05:19pm
If you overindulged during the festive season and made one of those “lose weight/get fit” new year resolutions, you’ll be particularly vulnerable to the marketing ploys of the slimming product and fitness club industries.
If my inbox is anything to go by, many consumers sign fitness club contracts based on false promises.
I’m sorry to say this, but it is unwise to believe anything which comes from the lips of a salesman who stands to earn commission from signing you up.
Only what appears in the written contract counts, and it’s especially important that you read the smallest print.
It’s safest to sign up for the shortest period, paying monthly rather than upfront in a lump sum, no matter how “much cheaper” that offer is made out to be.
By the time you’ve factored in the hefty credit card interest, it’s seldom the cheaper option to start with and there’s the risk of the gym closing or relocating before your two or three-year period is up.
Beware of signing before a gym has opened – my inbox is full of e-mails from people who’ve been duped into doing so, only to find that the gym doesn’t open, or opens with fewer facilities than advertised, or opens in a different location.
The Consumer Protection Act allows consumers to cancel fixed-term contracts such as gym contracts, but it also allows suppliers to charge “reasonable” cancellation penalties.
These vary, so make sure you check what a gym has pegged this at in its contract.
As a benchmark, Virgin Active’s early cancellation penalty is 30 percent of the remaining subscriptions.
As for “quick-fix” slimming products, apparently there’s so much money to be made from flogging them that some of manufacturers or distributors are willing to make claims they know they can’t substantiate in the hope that no one will lodge a claim with the Advertising Standards Authority.
And that if someone does complain to the ASA, by the time a ruling is made they’ll have sold enough to have made it a financially worthwhile exercise.
Take the case of the imaginatively named Easy Thin product, the latest slimming product to come before the ASA, thanks to a complaint lodged by Cape Town anti-slimming product crusader Dr Harris Steinman.
He complained about an ad for the product, produced by a Cape Town company called Boundless Trade, which appeared in the magazine section of Rapport newspaper last August.
Translated, its heading read “20 kilos, very very fast!” and it included testimonials from several people who claimed to have lost a lot of weight quickly by using the product.
The ad claimed the product was registered with the Medicines Control Council.
Harris contended that this was not true and he was “somewhat suspicious” as Easy Thin appeared to have the same MCC registration number as some of the company’s other slimming products, Be-Trim and Organoslim.
In its ruling last week, the ASA directorate said its efforts to obtain a response from the advertiser had been fruitless.
“There is no dispute that efficacy claims relating to weight loss are capable of objective substantiation,” the directorate said.
“And the respondent should be able to prove its claimed registration with the MCC. But the respondent has not submitted any evidence.”
It went on to find the slimming claims for Easy Thin, as well as that regarding the MCC registration, to be unsubstantiated, rendering the ad misleading, and instructed the company to withdraw its claims and not use them again in any media.
Given the lack of response from the advertiser, the directorate is to issue an Ad Alert to its members about the ad.
But that’s not all.
Given Boundless Trade’s history of upheld ASA complaints regarding its other slimming products – Organoslim, Slinky Slim, Be-Trim and Microslim – the directorate concluded that the company had “little regard for the implications of existing rulings or the provisions of the code”.
So it imposed a hefty sanction on the company.
It must pay for a full-page ad to appear in Rapport by no later than January 29. But, instead of extolling the virtues of Be-Slim, the ad will be worded by the ASA, starting with the headline: “Easy Thin unable to prove weight loss.”
It ends: “As a result of this adverse ruling, the advertiser was instructed to publish and pay for this summarised ruling, which the ASA felt would help inform consumers of the advertiser’s deceptive advertising practices.”
Sadly, weight loss is seldom quick or easy – usually the only guaranteed loss associated with the purchase of these products is that of the purchase price.