Posted 5 February 2009
A consumer complaint against a Hoodia Slender Gel internet advertisement that appeared on http://www.planethoodia.co.za and on promotional pamphlets was laid with the ASA. The advertisements claims 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”.
We said: Nonsense – no robust evidence to support this claim!
What did the ASA rule?
NB: This product has changed its name from Hoodia Slender Gel to Slender Max
Hoodia Slender Gel / Dr HA Steinman / 12857
Ruling of the : ASA Directorate In the matter between:
Dr Harris Steinman Complainant(s)/Appellant(s)
Planet Hoodis cc Respondent
02 Feb 2009
Dr Steinman lodged a consumer complaint against a Hoodia Slender Gel internet advertisement that appeared on http://www.planethoodia.co.za and on promotional pamphlets. The advertisements claims 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”.
The complainant submitted that there is no evidence that Hoodia is able to exert any of the claims in the advertisement. There are no studies to confirm the exact dosage required, the frequency of dosage or the safety of the product. In addition, there is no proof that this product contains any active P57, or whether Hoodia or any of the ingredients can be absorbed through the skin. The complainant also took issue with lack of evidence that ethical approval was obtained for the study as well as the validity of the Cape Nature certificate to sell Hoodia as displayed on the website. Because it is valid for only a year, and has expired, it appears that the respondent is illegally marketing this product.
RELEVANT CLAUSES OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
In light of the complaint the following clauses of the Code were taken into account:
• Section II, Clause 4.1 – Substantiation
• Section II, Clause 4.2.1 – Misleading claims
The respondent conceded the points raised by the complainant and submitted that the study has been removed from its website. It agreed that there is no absolute study that proves Hoodia’s efficacy. The claims made on its advertisements are based solely on feedback from individuals who have tried and tested the products whilst on developmental stages. The respondent gave an undertaking to indicate in its advertisements that claims relating to the product’s efficacy are supported to varying degrees by the participants of a four week product test. In addition, the respondent submitted that it recently had an inspection from a Nature Conservation representative and has renewed its license.
ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered the relevant documentation submitted by the respective parties. At the outset it is noted that whether or not the respondent is legally trading is not an issue for the Directorate to consider.
The Directorate can only consider advertising-related issues and will disregard the status of the respondent’s Cape Nature Certificate. The respondent undertook to amend its claims to clearly show that they represent user opinions, and are not based on scientific studies.
The ASA has a long standing principle which holds that where an advertiser provides an unequivocal undertaking to withdraw or amend its advertising in a manner that addresses the concerns raised, that undertaking is accepted without considering the merits of the matter.
Given the respondent’s undertaking, the Directorate is obliged to determine whether or not this undertaking addresses the concerns raised by the complainant.
There is a substantial difference between efficacy claims based on clinical trials, and those based on consumer perception data. While the Code allows for both types of research to be used as substantiation, there are strict requirements for doing so. At the time of complainant, the claims were unqualified and arguably suggested that they were based on clinical research trials. From the respondent’s proposal, however, it appears that the new claims will clearly indicate that it is purely based on the opinion of people that have used the product.
This would significantly alter the manner in which the claims would be interpreted by a hypothetical reasonable person. In short, the interpretation would change from “this product has been proven to work” to “some people believe the product works”. As there is no current complaint against the proposed amended advertising, it would be inappropriate to rule on whether or not the proposal would be in breach of the Code at this time.
It is important to note, however, that the respondent conceded the argument and undertook to clarify that its claims are purely based on consumer perception data, or survey data. The respondent’s undertaking therefore effectively removes the claims objected to in their old format, and accordingly appears to address the complainant’s concerns, provided that the respondent is clear in communicating this fact to consumers.
The undertaking is therefore accepted on condition that the advertising, in its current format is not used in future.
However, 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.