UK ASA Ruling: Abtronic X2 / Thane Direct

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As usual, claims for electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) devices, which claim to result in a great muscles and toned body, build muscles, six-packs, etc, are no more than unsubstantiated claims, and in most case mostly scams. Here is a recent UK ASA decision against one of these devices, the Abtronic X2 http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/adjudications/Public/TF_ADJ_47030.htm ASA Adjudications Thane Direct UK Ltd 66 Lincoln's Inn Fields London WC2A 3LH Date: 7 October 2009 Ad Monitoring staff viewed an infomercial for an electronic stimulation belt called the Abtronic X2. Before and after photographs and images of well-muscled torsos were shown as examples of what might be achieved by using the product. Some of the before and after photographs were overlaid with the text "Regular use of the Abtronic X2 by itself will not contribute directly to weight loss. Weight loss can only be achieved in conjunction with a calorie controlled diet and a healthy lifestyle". A later version of the infomercial contained the revised disclaimer "EMS devices only trim, tone or tighten loose musculature. Abtronic by itself will not burn fat or lead to weight loss. This can only be achieved with a calorie controlled diet and healthy lifestyle". In addition, the voice-over and testimonials in the original advertisement made five categories of claims about the belt. 1. Muscles/Ab claims: "We've seen how incredibly powerful the Abtronic X2 is at getting abs you just can't believe". "This is your chance to get firm defined abs and get them with zero effort". "My abs are more defined". 2. Gym and fitness claims: "I have been working out for years and I have never seen results like this before". "Remember the Abtronic X2 does the work for you so you don't have to". "Change your life without changing your life". "Who has all the time or energy to get to the gym all the time?" 3. Figure claims: "My waist is more defined". "It's just a cleaner line, which is amazing". "EMS devices only trim … loose musculature" in the revised disclaimer. 4. Speed of results: "You'll begin to see and feel the results in no time". "I saw a difference with the Abtronic X2 in just one week". "I started to see results right away". 5. Pain-free claims: "It's a nice tingling sensation". "It actually feels really nice". "It feels like somebody is giving me a really really nice massage". "It feels amazing". Issue The Monitoring team challenged whether: 1. the belt would produce the extremely toned "six pack" abs as demonstrated in the infomercial; 2. the belt was the equivalent of, or better exercise than, going to the gym; 3. the before and after photographs, testimonials and revised disclaimer misleadingly implied the belt could produce both loss of fat and girth; 4. the belt would produce the effects claimed immediately, or within one week, and with minimum effort; and 5. using the belt was painless.BCAP TV Advertising Code: 5.1.1;5.4.2;5.4.9;5.2.1 Response Thane Direct (Thane) said the original version of the infomercial had only been broadcast for a short period in April to establish its saleability and, despite being confident that it could substantiate the claims, it had replaced that version with an alternative that had been cleared by Clearcast, as soon as Clearcast raised concerns with some of the claims in the original infomercial. 1. Thane sent signed statements from the users in the infomercial to substantiate the results depicted in the before and after photographs. It felt it was common for many different types of products to be marketed using aspirational images that did not necessarily reflect reality and believed that this approach did not breach the Code. It believed the disclaimer was the best way to alert viewers to the fact that they might experience different results and said the wording and font size had been approved by Clearcast. It also pointed out that it offered a full money-back guarantee to those users who were not satisfied with the results. 2. Thane believed that using genuine points of view in an infomercial was acceptable under the Code. Its intention was to convey both how difficult it could be to target and isolate specific muscle groups and how the Abtronic X2 was specifically designed to target abdominal muscles. It considered that the claim "I have been working out for years and I have never seen results like this before" implied not that the product was more effective than exercise, but that the results were simply different to those achieved through their previously performed exercises. Thane sent the results from an EMG test performed by a neurology specialist, which it said showed that the Abtronic X2 performed over one thousand contractions per minute; it believed that showed the results of the testimonials were realistic. 3. Thane said it had been careful not to make any specific claims about weight or inch losses in the infomercial. It said all the testimonials were qualified with on-screen disclaimers, which made clear that results would vary and that it was essential to use the product with a diet regime. Thane also sent copies of the signed and dated testimonials and release forms, which it believed showed that the photographs were genuine and that users had achieved the results using the Abtronic X2 regime. 4. Thane believed that, because users' muscles were stimulated as soon as the Abtronic X2 was switched on, they would start to feel it working straight away and would see an effect within the first week. It said using the Abtronic X2 required minimum effort, because it was simple to operate, could be worn whilst carrying out other tasks and fitted easily into user's lifestyles. 5. Thane believed it had been careful not to state that the Abtronic X2 was a pain-free device; it considered that the description of "massaging contractions" was a realistic depiction of the feeling described by users in their testimonials. It said the claims that it was "soothing" or "relaxing" related to the "relaxation" setting on the Abtronic X2, not the exercise programme setting, and felt it was unfair to focus too heavily on this particular reference, because it said pain is a subjective sensation. Assessment The ASA acknowledged that Thane had amended the infomercial but was concerned that, despite an earlier adjudication for a similar product, Thane believed that its claims were acceptable even though it had no evidence to substantiate them. 1. Upheld We considered that the numerous shots of extremely toned torsos and the claim "we've seen how incredibly powerful the Abtronic X2 is at getting abs you just can't believe" implied that use of the Abtronic X2 was likely to produce those results in most cases. Although we noted the on-screen text made clear that results could vary, we considered that the shots of models should have been supported by robust evidence in the form of controlled trials and that the on-screen disclaimers contradicted, rather than qualified, the impression that extremely toned torsos were a common result from using the product. In the absence of controlled trials to demonstrate that these results were commonplace, we concluded that the use of such visuals was misleading. The infomercial breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1.1 (Misleading advertising), 5.4.2 (Superimposed text) and 5.4.9 (Testimonials). 2. Upheld We were concerned that Thane did not realise that the Code required testimonials to be supported by documentary evidence and that testimonials that were likely to be interpreted as factual claims must not mislead consumers. We considered that the claim "I have been working out for years and I have never seen results like this before", in conjunction with claims such as "remember the Abtronic X2 does the work for you so you don't have to", "change your life without changing your life and "Who has all the time or energy to get to the gym all the time?" implied that the product was as good as, or a suitable substitute for, going to the gym. We understood that, unless a product or regime involves an aerobic element, it is unlikely to produce a fitness benefit. We noted the evidence submitted by Thane. We were disappointed that Thane had not informed themselves of an earlier ASA Adjudication where we had explained that EMG data alone provided only an indication of the electrical signal arriving at the muscle; it did not provide information of the force a muscle exerts under contraction or, indeed, the work done by that muscle. We considered that a single test, on a bicep muscle, showing the number of muscle contractions per minute, was not sufficiently robust to substantiate the impression that using the product was the equivalent of, or better exercise than, going to the gym. We therefore concluded that it was misleading to imply that using the belt would achieve similar results to a gym or fitness regime. The infomercial breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.2.1 (Evidence) and 5.4.9 (Testimonials) 3. Upheld We noted the testimonials by the men and women attributed their changed figures solely to using the Abtronic X2. However, the original superimposed text that accompanied those testimonials said that regular use of the Abtronic X2 would not contribute directly to weight loss and that weight loss could only be achieved in conjunction with a calorie controlled diet and a healthy lifestyle. Because the men and women made no reference to also going on a calorie controlled diet and adopting a healthy lifestyle in order to achieve that weight loss, we concluded that the original superimposed text contradicted the testimonials and before and after photographs. We also considered that the revised superimposed text, which suggested the Abtronic X2 could have a trimming effect, was misleading because it implied loss of fat. The infomercial breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1.1 (Misleading advertising) and 5.4.2 (Superimposed text). 4. Upheld We noted the Abtronic X2 could be used whilst carrying out everyday tasks and acknowledged that many users would consider that less effort than going to a gym. Nevertheless, in the absence of controlled trials to demonstrate that results would be achieved instantly, or in just one week, we considered the claims were misleading. The infomercial breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1.1 (Misleading advertising) and 5.2.1 (Evidence). 5. Upheld We acknowledged that the "relaxation" setting on the Abtronic X2 was likely to feel relatively comfortable, but considered that to achieve the claimed muscle-toning, the Abtronic X2 would need to be set to the exercise programme, which was likely to cause some pain or discomfort. We concluded that the infomercial was misleading. The infomercial breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1.1 (Misleading advertising) and 5.2.1 (Evidence). Action The infomercial must not be shown again in its present form and the product should not be advertised without adequate substantiation for the claims made for it.

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One Response to UK ASA Ruling: Abtronic X2 / Thane Direct

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