Homemark admits its zappers’ lights don’t kill mozzies

Posted 08 March 2024

By Georgina Crouth

Daily Maverick

The company, which has been hauled before the advertising authorities repeatedly for false advertising, says zappers lure mozzies into a trap, which then kills them. But UV light alone doesn’t work.

Ever bought a UV-light mosquito zapper and wondered why it wasn’t zapping dead legions of the little buggers?Chris van Eeden is likely to be one of many consumers duped into buying the devices to kill mosquitoes. Peaved because his didn’t work, he took his complaint about a Homemark television advertisement for a “killer” electric mosquito USB lamp – that is claimed to electrocute the flying parasites – to the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB).

The 30-second advert describes the device as a USB-powered mosquito killer that is “chemical-free and safe for loved ones and pets”.

“The energy-efficient ultraviolet light helps to lure the mosquitoes and other flying pests closer to the trap, allowing the small quiet fan to suck them into the trap. Just unlock the bottom of the trap and empty it into the dustbin. It is safe, silent and simple…”

Homemark’s longer advert, lasting 60 seconds, adds: “The gentle fan mimics breath flow which is a natural hunting technique for mosquitoes. The energy-efficient ultraviolet light helps to lure the mosquitoes and other flying pests closer to the trap allowing the small quiet fan to suck them into the trap.

“It is USB-powered, allowing you to power and use the mosquito trap with a plug adaptor, power bank or even to your laptop. Simple to clean. Just unlock the bottom of the trap and empty it into the dustbin. You only need to clean it out every two to four weeks after plugging it in.

“It is safe, silent and simple. Protecting your loved one from mosquitoes has never been so easy…”

Van Eeden argued that mosquitoes are not attracted to UV light (or regular white light) — “this is a scientific fact” — adding that Homemark uses false information to advertise a product that will not do what it promises: to kill mosquitoes, unless it’s by accident.

Relying on anecdotal evidence, Van Eeden said he, his mother and a friend have similar devices, which do not attract or kill mosquitoes, although it does work well for moths. But the reason one would buy this device is to kill mosquitoes, not moths.

Homemark, which has a tagline stating “Your mark of quality”, has been brought before the ARB and its predecessor, the Advertising Standards Authority, numerous times for false claims for its weighted blanket,  Remedy Health Detox Foot PadsHerbex Ultraslim and Fat AttackPest MagicAragan Secret Eyelash Growth Enhancer and Secret Nail TreatmentHomemark Fat Freezer and other products.

Homemark has refused to “entertain” the ARB process and is not a member, so it is not obliged to respond to the ARB on such complaints.

The company said it had decided not to engage in any correspondence with the then ASA and the ARB, after receiving “strong” legal advice not to entertain such complaints, but told the board it had always believed that its products should withstand consumer scrutiny, “particularly as they relate to substantiation and misleading claims”.

It also said it had no intention to mislead consumers, according to the ARB, whether or not a regulatory body for consumer protection was there to protect the consumer. The consumer was the “ultimate decision-maker, whether a product works or is misleading”.

As such, Homemark explained that the mosquito device was not unique in the South African market as there were numerous mosquito killers/trapper products that had been sold for years by reputable retailers, including Makro, Builders Warehouse and DisChem.

“How can a product sell in high quantities, year after year, if it does not work? The consumer is not a fool and votes with his/her wallet. Surely if the claims are so misleading and unsubstantiated and hence the product does not work, the consumer would have stopped buying/using the product long ago,” it said.

“Just because our product has some TV visibility (over and above other similar products), why does our product deserve to be treated differently by [the complainant]?”

Turning to the ARB, Homemark said since it was an independent body focusing on “consumer protection through responsible advertising”, any ruling should relate to all similar products, otherwise it would be discriminating against Homemark.

Presenting its own evidence for the device, it relied on a convoluted argument that said mosquitoes were not actually attracted by UV light, but rather lured into a trap, which killed them.

“Scientific evidence in the main supports the view that mosquitoes are not specifically attracted to UV light. Despite that many insects, including mosquitoes, are drawn to certain wavelengths of light, including UV light.

“It is a well-known scientific part (sic) that mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide (CO2), sweat and body heat primarily. Humans inhale oxygen and exhale CO2 and in the process attract mosquitoes (specifically female mosquitoes that need human blood to produce their offspring).

“Light-operated mosquito traps take advantage of the above by mimicking heat and breath flow on the one hand and using UV light on the other, to attract various insects. Whilst the UV light itself does not specifically attract mosquitoes, it does attract other insects that mosquitoes often feed on. That leads them into the trap.”

It conceded that its website suggested UV light attracts and kills mosquitoes, and undertook to update the website with a more detailed description.

The ARB, which only has jurisdiction over its members, can consider and issue a ruling to its members instructing them to withdraw advertising.

Acknowledging Homemark’s frustrations that a ruling would not apply broadly to other advertisers with similar products, the directorate said it was common cause that the UV light would not work alone to attract mosquitoes.

Homemark has already amended the website with the heat and breath flow claim and the ARB has instructed its members not to accept advertising that states that the product works due to the action of the UV light. DM

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