Posted 02 November 2010
This company continues to advertise to consumers that this product can result in weight loss – in spite of no evidence that this true (and in fact, unlikely to even have a shred of truth to it). Numerous complaints of breach has previously been laid with the ASA. The company has now started taking out full page adverts in magazines targeting women – and simply ignoring the ASA rulings. How do you think the ASA will react once informed about this?
|Hoodia Slender Gel / Dr HA Steinman / 12857 / 13994|
Ruling of the : ASA Directorate
In the matter between:
Dr Harris Steinman Complainant(s)/Appellant(s)
Planet Hoodia cc Respondent:
29 Oct 2010
In Hoodia Slender Gel / Dr H Steinman / 12857 (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, www.planethoodia.co.za and on promotional pamphlets.
The advertisement claimed that the product, inter alia,
- “SUPPRESSES APPETITE”, or “will 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”.
On 23 June 2009 the Directorate ruled that the respondent’s advertising on its website, www.planethoodia.co.za, was in breach of its undertaking. No sanctions were imposed.
On 9 September 2009 the respondent was again found to be in breach of the Directorate ruling of 2 February 2009. Both parties were given an opportunity to comment on sanctions. On 2 November 2009 the Directorate imposed sanction in terms of Clause 14.2 of the Procedural Guide. It was a once-off pre-clearance sanction.
In Hoodia Slender Gel / Dr HA Steinman / 13994 (9 September 2009), the respondent undertook to remove the references to “Hoodia” from its advertising. On 21 June 2010 a breach allegation in relation to this ruling was upheld, and on 21 July 2010, the respondent was sanctioned in terms of Clause 14.3 of the Procedural Guide to pre-clear all its advertising for a period of six months (i.e. ending 21 January 2011).
SUBSEQUENT TO THESE RULINGS
On 19 August 2010, the complainant lodged a breach complaint regarding the respondent’s Hoodia Slender Gel product that appeared in Vrouekeur magazine. The complainant submitted that the advertisement is in flagrant disregard of the ASA’s previous rulings and a deliberate act against the ASA.
In addition, he submitted that the respondent is still using the name “Hoodia” on its websites.
The complainant requested sanction to be imposed on the respondent. He proposed that a counter advertisement be placed in the same magazine pointing out the previous ASA ruling and that there is no proof that the product has any efficacy.
RELEVANT CLAUSE OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
Given the breach allegation, Clauses 14 (Sanctions) and 15 (Enforcement of rulings) of the Procedural Guide were taken into account.
The respondent was given an opportunity to respond to the breach allegation but failed to do so in writing. Despite being informed telephonically that an Ad Alert might be issued should the respondent fail to reply, no response was forthcoming. Subsequent emails were also ignored.
ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered the relevant documentation submitted by the respective parties.
In the absence of a response from the advertiser, the Directorate had no option but to rule on the matter based on the information at hand.
To contextualise this breach, a timeline needs to be established regarding similar recent breaches and / or sanctions:
A cursory look at the respondent’s history with the ASA reveals that since February 2009, the respondent has had more than ten rulings issued in relation to its advertising. Of these ten, two were voluntary undertakings to change its advertising, three were upheld on the merits, four were instances where the respondent was found to be in breach of previous rulings, and two imposed a sanction on the respondent. A list of the rulings appears below:
- Hoodia Slender Gel / Dr HA Steinman / 128572 February 2009: Respondent voluntarily undertook to amend its advertising;
22 June 2009: Respondent found in breach of above ruling, no sanctions imposed;
9 September 2009: Respondent again found in breach, Directorate invites comments on sanctions;
2 November 2009: Sanction in terms of Clause 14.2 of the Procedural Guide imposed on the respondent.
- Hoodia Slender Gel / HA Steinman / 139949 September 2009: Respondent voluntarily undertook to amend the relevant advertising;
21 June 2010: Respondent found in breach of this undertaking, Directorate invites comments on sanctions.21 July 2010: Respondent is sanctioned in terms of Clause 14.3 of the Procedural Guide (six month preclearance sanction)
- Slender Gel / HA Steinman / 1479518 February 2010: Complaint upheld, respondent instructed to withdraw its advertising;
12 May 2010: Respondent found in breach of above ruling, no sanctions imposed.
- Slender Max Tincture / HA Steinman / 147962 March 2010: Complaint upheld, respondent instructed to withdraw its advertising.
- Slender Caps / HA Steinman / 147262 March 2010: Complaint upheld, respondent instructed to withdraw its advertising.
From the above it is patently clear that the respondent is not only ignoring previous adverse rulings, but also not abiding by sanctions imposed (refer Hoodia Slender Gel / Dr HA Steinman / 12857 (2 November 2009) and Hoodia Slender Gel / HA Steinman / 13994 (21 July 2010) for context).
The full page advertisement for the respondent’s product on Vrouekeur magazine was submitted to support the breach allegation. The names “Slender Gel”, “Slender Max” and “Hoodia Gordonii” appeared on the product packaging, along with claims like “Designed to Assist with Curbing Appetite, Reducing Cravings, Improving Skin Tone”. In addition to this, a note lower down on the page claims that the product targets stubborn fat (“Teiken hardnekkige vet”), guarantees weight loss (“Gewaarborgde gewigsverlies”) and results in a noticeable reduction in cellulite (“Opvallende vermindering van selluliet”). As of yet, the Directorate has not seen any proof of the claimed weight loss and cellulite reduction effects. Furthermore, despite the pre-clearance sanction imposed on the respondent, the Directorate has no evidence that it obtained such pre-clearance prior to placing this advertisement.
Similarly, in contravention of the Hoodia Slender Gel / Dr HA Steinman / 12857 (2 November 2009) ruling, the respondent is still prominently displaying the word “Hoodia” on its packaging and material on its website.
Accordingly, the respondent’s website material and print advertisement in Vrouekeur of 20 August 2010 are in breach of the previous Directorate rulings and therefore in contravention of Clause 15 of the Procedural Guide.
The breach allegation is upheld.
Given this breach, and given the respondent’s clear disregard for ASA rulings, the Directorate is satisfied that sanctions are warranted.
In addition, the Directorate notes that the respondent appears not to be willing to comply with the six month pre-clearance sanction imposed on 21 July 2010. A harsher sanction is therefore justified.
In light of the above, the Directorate sanctions the respondent in terms of Clause 14.5 of the Procedural Guide. In terms of this sanction, the respondent is instructed to publish a summarise version of this ruling in the Vrouekeur magazine, at the cost of the respondent.
The summarised version of this ruling is to read as follows:
“Planet Hoodia sanctioned for failing to prove its weight loss claims
The Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa recently ruled that Planet Hoodia, who manufactures products such as “Hoodia Slender Gel”; “Slender Max”; “Slender Caps” and “Slender Max Tinxcture” was in contravention of the Code of Advertising Practice.
The Authority noted that “… since February 2009, the respondent has had more than ten rulings issued in relation to its advertising. Of these ten, two were voluntary undertakings to change its advertising, three were upheld on the merits, four were instances where the respondent was found to be in breach of previous rulings, and two imposed a sanction on the respondent … As of yet, the Directorate has not seen any proof of the claimed weight loss and cellulite reduction effects”.
Accordingly, Planet Hoodia was instructed to publish this statement, paid for by them, in terms of the latest sanction imposed by the Advertising Standards Authority.
THE ADVERTISING STANDARDS AUTHORITY: PROTECTING YOUR STANDARDS”.
This summarised ruling is to appear once in the Vrouekeur magazine. It is to be a full page, black and white advertisement with large size lettering, and should appear before or no later than the end of January 2011.
It is specifically recorded that, in terms of Clause 14.5 of the Procedural Guide, “Where the respondent refuses to pay for the costs of the publication of the summarised version of the ASA’s ruling, the ASA may order the withdrawal of all advertising space in respect of the respondent, until such time as these costs have been paid”.
Who are the individuals behind this product? Chris and Jasmine Grindlay.