Homemark Detox Tea: ARB Ruling

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Posted 30 November 2020

A complaint was laid with the Advertising Regulatory Board against the claims being made for this product.

Complainant: Dr Harris Steinman
Advertiser: Homemark (Pty) Ltd
Consumer/Competitor: Consumer
File reference: 1048 – Homemark Detox Tea – Dr Harris Steinman
Outcome: Upheld
Date: 24 November 2020

The Directorate of the Advertising Regulatory Board has been called on to consider a complaint by Dr Harris Steinman against Homemark’s television commercial promoting its Remedy Health “Detox Tea”. According to the Complainant, this commercial flighted on M-Net at 22:11 on 23 September 2020, and an extended version thereof is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPGnERvZ2Ho.

Description of the Advertising

The television commercial opens with a grey colour tone, showing several people looking tired, irritable, struggling to fit in their pants, rubbing their stomachs and appearing generally lethargic. During these scenes, the voice-over states “Not interested in life anymore? We’re just not full of life and energy, and we’re not as regular as we should be”.  

At this point, the tone changes, as colour is introduced, and the voice-over introduces “… the incredible Detox Tea; a powerful, effective, delicious tasting tea. Yes! A full herbal boost in every cup that will give you results straight away. Help get your body back in peak condition, with the amazing Detox Tea”. The scenes accompanying these statements show people drinking the tea, smiling or laughing, enjoying outdoor activities, and a graphic of human intestines flushing matter out through the colon.

The voice-over continues explaining that “Eight all-natural cleansing herbs have been fused into a delicious tasting tea …” and encourages viewers to “… see the difference for yourself from the very first day”, at which point a lady states “People feel more energised, more positive, and better than they have for years”. During these scenes, several ladies are shown wearing bikinis, and a man is shown exercising.

When images of the product packaging are shown, the words “Natural Toning Aid” can be seen on the packaging.

Complaint

The Complainant argued that this was a product aimed at consumers, which means that robust evidence is required before making any health claims. He submitted that the notion that bodies require a “Detox” has long since been debunked by the scientific community, and that the suggestion that this product eliminates toxins (as implied in the commercial and on various third-party websites where the product is sold) is unsubstantiated and misleading.

In addition, the Complainant noted that Homemark has interacted with the ARB and its predecessor the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa on numerous occasions, meaning that it was au fait with the ARB Code and its requirements. 

The Complainant specifically argued that the commercial either claimed or implied that consuming this product would boost one’s energy levels, aid one’s digestive system and even help facilitate weight loss. Such claims, along with the false impression that the tea would “detox” the user require appropriate evidence.

Response

The Advertiser did not submit a formal response. On 22 October 2020, it sent an email to the ARB noting as follows:

Dear Mr Kotze,

Homemark is not a member of the ARB.

As a result, we have been advised by our legal advisors not to engage into any correspondence with the ARB.”

Application of the Code of Advertising Practice

The Complainant identified Clause 4.1 of Section II (Substantiation) as relevant to this dispute.

Decision

Having considered all the material before it, the Directorate of the ARB issues the following finding.

Jurisdiction

The Advertiser submitted that it was not a member of the ARB and that it would not engage in correspondence with the ARB. The ARB’s Memorandum of Incorporation of the ARB states:

“3.3 The Company has no jurisdiction over any person or entity who is not a member and may not, in the absence of a submission to its jurisdiction, require non-members to participate in its processes, issue any instruction, order or ruling against the non-member or sanction it. However, the Company may consider and issue a ruling to its members (which is not binding on non-members) regarding any advertisement regardless of by whom it is published to determine, on behalf of its members, whether its members should accept any advertisement before it is published or should withdraw any advertisement if it has been published.”

In other words, if you are not a member and do not submit to the jurisdiction of the ARB, the ARB will consider and rule on your advertising for the guidance of its members.

The ARB will rule on whatever is before it when making a decision for the guidance of its members. This ruling will be binding only on ARB members and on broadcasters in terms of the Electronic Communications Act.

The ARB will therefore proceed to consider this matter for the guidance of its members.

Merits

The Complainant objected to the notion that humans require assistance in detoxifying their bodies and submitted that there is no evidence to support the claim that this product is capable of doing so. He relied on an article written by Dr David Gorski, which was published on https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/detox-ritual-purification/. In this article, Dr Gorski expands on why the notion that humans need assistance to “detox” is flawed, and how the body is adept at dealing with waste and potentially dangerous substances without the need for any additional assistance from products.

The Complainant also relied on a piece written by Dr Steven Novella on https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/detox-scams-are-worthless-and-potentially- dangerous/, which essentially refutes the notion of necessary “detox”. It argues that the notion of a “detox” treatment is a narrative that “… is not built upon logic and evidence, but upon marketing of appealing and simplistic narratives”. It adds that “detox” products and treatments are not based on understanding of biology or medicine, and are entirely unnecessary to the point of being benign.

The Directorate accepts that some people nonetheless wish to “detox” and believe that it holds some health benefits. The simple advertising of a “detox” product would not, in itself, necessarily be in breach of the Code, providing that the Advertiser was able to provide evidence that some sort of “detox” does occur. The issue becomes more serious when the advertising goes further and advertises health benefits as a result of the detox. If the advertiser makes such claims, then they must be substantiated.

The Directorate agrees that the commercial creates an overwhelming impression that people who feel tired, irritable, and unenergetic probably require a “detox” to be cured, which this product is able to provide. This is reinforced by the repeated reference to the word “detox”, coupled with suggestions that this product “… will give you results straight away [and] Help get your body back into peak condition …” The visuals also shift from a dull, grey, and lethargic mood to colourful energetic scenes with people enjoying all sorts of outdoor activities, while the voice-over refers to “… all-natural cleansing herbs …” (emphasis added).

The Advertiser has not commented on this or provided anything to contradict the Complainant’s arguments. It has also not submitted any evidence to support its advertising claims insofar as they imply an ability to “detox” the body.

The Complainant further objected to the claims that this product boosts energy levels and assists the digestive system.

The Directorate agrees that claims to this effect are made and/or implied. The Commercial starts by making the point that people are “… just not full of life and energy, and we’re not as regular as we should be”. The accompanying scenes are dull, and the actors appear tired, sluggish, and incapable of closing the button on their pants. However, when the “incredible Detox Tea” is introduced, the actors appear happy, energetic, and physically active. One model pertinently states that people “… feel more energised …”

The commercial also features a man rubbing his stomach while the voice-over claims that “… we’re not as regular as we should be …” This suggests abdominal discomfort typically associated with constipation or digestive discomfort. After introducing the product, an animation appears, showing clumps of material being flushed through the colon. Given the pertinent references to not being as “… regular as we should be”, this imagery appears to create an impression that the product would aid in digestion.

Finally, the commercial features at least two models who appear unable to close the button on their pants in a manner that suggests excess weight. However, once the “incredible Detox Tea” is introduced, the imagery changes to include slender models wearing bikinis. This appear to be a reference to assisting with, or facilitating weight loss and body toning. This is further reinforced by the words “Natural Toning Aid” embossed on the product packaging shown on-screen.

As such, the commercial creates the impression that:

  • That this product provides a “detox”.
  • Consumption of this product would aid
  • Consumption of this product would lead to increased energy
  • Consumption of this product would likely assist or lead to toning and/or weight loss.

Given that the Advertiser has not submitted any evidence to support these claims, the Directorate has no option but to find that these claims are unsubstantiated and in breach of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.

Sanctions

Members of the ARB and broadcasters are advised not to accept advertising from the Advertiser for its Remedy Health Detox Tea where the following types of claims are made or implied:

  • That the product can facilitate a “detox” of the human
  • That the product would aid in
  • That the product would lead to an increase in energy
  • That the product assists with weight loss or toning of the

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