Posted 29 June 2009
A complaint of breach against the previous ASA ruling was laid with the ASA against this product. To reiterate, there is simply no evidence that any of the ingredients in this product, when taken orally, can fulfil any of the claims being made for the product, and the chance that it therefore works via skin absorbption is simply ridiculous.
The ASA ruled against the product as there is no evidence that the product works, yet the ASA somehow has allowed this company to claim: “all claims for efficacy of Hoodia Slender Gel are based on consumer survey data. This product is not intended to treat, diagonose or cure any disease.” This is simply bizarre!
The ASA code states very clearly in Clause 4.1 of Section II of the ASA’s Code states “Before advertising is published, advertisers shall hold in their possession documentary evidence as set out in Clause 4.1, to support all claims, whether direct or implied, that are capable of objective substantiation” and “Documentary evidence, other than survey data, …..” I have asked the ASA for clarification, writing:
“I am concerned that this company will follow the ASA recommendations to the letter, which will still result in the consumer being misled but with the company arguing that they had followed the ASA’s advice. I draw an analogy between the comment “[T]he respondent is again instructed to ensure that it clearly and unambiguously informs the consumer that these claims are based purely on the perception of those users who tried the product in its developmental stages” and a potential advert for an AIDS cure; imagine Mathias Rath claiming that individuals with AIDS had used Rath Vitamins and that their perception was that they had improved and were living longer.
I am sure that the ASA would rule against that product and I argue that there is no difference between the analogy and this product, except for the fact that one is life threatening.” “I would like to ask the ASA to clarify for me to what extent the ASA (or Hoodia Slender Gel) had complied with Section 4.1.3 and whether the ASA had been provided with the evidence that is required in 220.127.116.11 to 18.104.22.168?
The fact is that the ASA does not seem to have addressed this in the ruling – the issue of the survey being validated – which would lead one to think that the ASA in fact failed to ensure that this had been done.” Furthermore, following the first ruling against this product, the company subsequently rolled out a massive advertising blitz placing large billboards in pharmacies making the exact same claims as ruled against. Clearly not interested in following ASA regulations. Photo taken at a Pharmacy at the Cape Town Waterfront on the 27th June 2009. The ASA ruling was on the 23rd June 2009.
Read the ASA ruling against the previous breach below.
HOODIA SLENDER GEL / DR H STEINMAN /12857
RULING OF THE ASA DIRECTORATE In the matter between:
DR HARRIS STEINMAN – COMPLAINANT and PLANET HOODIA CC – RESPONDENT
23 June 2009
In a ruling dated 2 February 2009, the Directorate accepted the respondent’s voluntary undertaking to amend its efficacy claims on Hoodia Slender Gel product advertisement on its website, http//www.planethoodia.co.za and on promotional pamphlets. The advertisement claimed that the product, inter alia,
• “SUPPRESSES APPETITE”, or “wil! assist with: SUPRESSING YOUR APPETITE & CRAVINGS”
• “REDUCES CRAVINGS”
• INCREASES ENERGY LEVELS
• “ENHANCES SKIN TONE”, OR “will assist with: … IMPROVING YOUR SKIN TONE”
• “will assist with: … REDUCING THE APPEARANCE OF CELLULITE”
• “will assist with: … INCREASING BODY DETOXIFICATION”.
The undertaking involved the respondent stating clearly that the above claims are purely based on feedback from customers who tested the product during its developmental stage, SUBSEQUENT TO
The complainant lodged a breach complaint regarding the respondent’s website, www.planethoodia.co.za . It submitted that the respondent continues to make unsubstantiated claims regarding the efficacy of Hoodia Slender Gel product. Furthermore, the respondent has also released Hoodia capsules despite the fact that it is generally accepted that there is no proof of Hoodia’s efficacy.
RELEVANT CLAUSE OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
Given the breach allegation, Clause 15 of the Procedural Guide (Enforcement of rulings) was taken into account.
The respondent submitted that the review of the current website, www.planethoodia.co.za will indicate that at the bottom of all relevant pages in large font it has the following statement, “ALL CLAIMS FOR EFFICACY OF HOODIA SLENDER GEL ARE BASED ON CONSUMER SURVEY DATA. THIS PRODUCT IS NOT INTENDED TO TREAT, DIAGONOSE OR CURE ANY DISEASE”.
This was added in accordance with the ASA’s ruling. This statement has also been added to print media advertising as well as product packaging. The respondent submitted that the addition of this statement clearly indicates to all customers that the efficacy claims are not based on clinical trials but are in fact based on consumer data, and as such complies with the ASA ruling.
ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered the relevant documentation submitted by the respective parties. The Directorate is tasked with determining whether or not the respondent is in breach of the previous ASA Directorate ruling. In the previous ruling the respondent undertook to amend its claims to clearly show that they represent user opinions, and are not based on scientific studies.
The respondent submitted as follows: “Dr Steinman is quite correct when he states: ‘there is absolutely no evidence that Hoodia is able to exert any of these effects…’ Our claims are based solely on the feedback we have had from individuals who have tried and tested the product whilst it was in its developmental stages. We intend reflecting this in all our future advertising through indicating that all claims made in our ads relating to the efficacy of the product are supported to varying degrees by the participants of a four week product test”.
The respondent also submitted an example of how it intends to effect these changes. The example listed the claim “SUPPRESSES APPETITE AND REDUCES CRAVINGS*” and directly below this “* 87% OF WOMEN AGREED AFTER 4 WEEK CONSUMER TEST” in a slightly smaller font. The respondent’s current advertising is a far cry from the intention communicated above.
The current website appears to have remained largely unchanged, and the following claims are still prominently displayed: “HOODIA SLENDER GEL will assist with: – SUPPRESSING YOUR APPETITE & CRAVINGS – INCREASING ENERGY LEVELS – IMPROVING YOUR SKIN TONE – REDUCING APPEARANCE OF CELLULITE’.
The product is also positioned as a “unique weight loss product”. Below this, the respondent has an entire section devoted to “DIRECTIONS FOR USE” and “WHAT IS HOODIA?”. Further down, it lists the suggested retail price, and only after this, at the very bottom of the page does the newly inserted disclaimer appear.
The Directorate acknowledges that the respondent amended its advertising, but these amendments are a far cry from what the respondent initially undertook to do, and are not sufficient enough to “change [the likely takeout] from ‘this product has been proven to work’ to ‘some people believe the product works’.” as was recorded in the previous ruling.
A hypothetical reasonable person viewing the respondent’s advertising would initially be told that the product “will assist with” in a factual manner, and only if he or she bothers to read all the way to the bottom of the page, with the disclaimer be seen. If anything, this creates an ambiguous message, and at best corrects an unsubstantiated and misleading expectation initially created. Unlike the respondent’s initial undertaking, the disclaimer does not appear Just below the efficacy claims in a clear and unambiguous manner.
Accordingly, the respondent is in breach of its previous undertaking, and therefore in breach of Clause 15 of the Procedural Guide. The Directorate does not, however, believe sanctions are appropriate at this time, as the respondent does not, at this time, appear to be a habitual offender, and has made some effort to comply with the previous ruling though not enough to avoid non-compliance. The respondent is cautioned, however, that the responsibility to ensure compliance with the ASA ruling lies with it. Should further justified breach allegations be received, the Directorate may consider the imposition of additional sanctions as allowed for in Clause 14 of the Procedural Guide. This ruling may also be taken into consideration at such a time.
The breach allegation is therefore upheld but no sanctions are imposed on the respondent at this time. The respondent is again instructed to ensure that it clearly and unambiguously informs the consumer that these claims are based purely on the perception of those users who tried the product in its developmental stages.
The respondent is therefore instructed to
1. Withdraw its current advertising
2. Ensure that the process to withdraw this advertising is actioned with immediate effect
3. Ensure that this process is completed within the deadlines stipulated in Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide, and
4. Not use the advertising in its current format again. In accordance with Clause 15.5 of the Procedural Guide, the above instruction applies to all advertising for this product in all media. The respondent’s attention is drawn to Clause 4.1.2, Clause 4.1.3 and Clause 10 of Section II for learning purposes and future advertisements. It is also recommended that the respondent seeks the advice of the Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA) as it offers a pre-clearance service,