Recently I’ve had lots of requests for advice on the best way to complain to the Advertising Standards Authority about various devices falsely claiming health benefits. The good news is that it’s easy. But of course, if you hadn’t done it before you wouldn’t know that.
I’m going to walk you through the process with a quick example, an advertisement for a Reflexology Circulation Enhancer in July 25th’s Sunday Telegraph.
The first step is to look through the ad, sentence by sentence, to see if you can find any specific misleading claims. You’re not just looking for outright lies, but also what Harry Frankfurt defines as bullshit. Claims that have been made up without concern for whether they’re true or not.
Sometimes the advertiser won’t make their claims clearly, they will imply them. The ASA can still adjudicate against misleading implications.
You can click the picture to the right to see a clearer view of the ad. If I work through from the top, we find something pretty quick.
1. The title “circulation enhancer” clearly implies that this product is able to increase circulation. I do not believe that the manufacturer JML have any evidence to substantiate this claim.
The subtitle is the next obvious bit. “The ingenious electronic device uses ancient Chinese reflexology techniques to relieve the stresses and strains of the day and boost your energy levels through the power of your feet!”. So I’d simply quote this, then question it:
2. The advertisement claims “The ingenious electronic device uses ancient Chinese reflexology techniques to relieve the stresses and strains of the day and boost your energy levels through the power of your feet!”.
I doubt that JBL have any evidence to back up their claims that:
a. This system is capable of relieving stresses and strains.
b. This system is capable of “boosting energy levels”.
c. It is in any way possible to “boost your energy levels through the power of your feet!”.
Again; easy. The ad continues:
“For centuries, the Chinese have believed that every part, gland and organ of the body is connected to specific areas of your feet which when manipulated using fingertips help soothe and re-energise, restoring a natural feeling of well being again.”
“Bringing that philosophy into the 21st century, the JML Circulation Enhancer uses proven T.E.N.S technology to create the same effect – but this time at the touch of a button and in the comfort of your home.”I’ll quote this text to the ASA, and then make the following observations:
3. While it may be true that some people believe that manipulating parts of the feet can “soothe and re-energise, restoring a natural feeling of well being again”, that advert is implying that these beliefs are true. I do not believe that the advertiser possesses evidence to back these claims up.
4. When JML state “proven T.E.N.S technology” they are implying that T.E.N.S has been proved to be effective for the specific claims they make, for example to “re-energise”.
5. When JML state that their technology creates “the same effect” as reflexology, I do not doubt them, as reflexology is unlikely to have any effect. However, the implication is clearly that both their product and reflexology have a beneficial effect on health.
6. JML state “Chinese have believed…”. While there may be Chinese people who do believe this, I have found no evidence to suggest that it is believed by a significant portion of the Chinese population. I find this statement offensive because it implies that the Chinese are a particularly gullible race.
I should clarify that I don’t think JML are a racist organisation, I don’t think they’ve thought through the implications of what they are saying. That last point was for my own personal amusement.
There is also a testimonial:
“The effect is amazing. I could feel it working from the moment I switched it on!”7. Statements made in testimonials need to also be backed by evidence. This clearly implies that the device is efficacious for the health benefits outlined at the top of the advert.
Under benefits, they state “Low frequency micro-currents safely stimulate the reflex points in your feet”.
8. I do not believe that there is any evidence to suggest that “reflex points” actually exist, let alone that they are capable of being “stimulated” by this device.
And “Reinvigorates tired parts of the body”.
9. I do not believe JWL have evidence to show that this device is capable of doing this.
There is also the picture with the magic blue bullshit field around the legs of the lady on the chair.
10. The picture showing the rings around the lady’s feet are clearly designed to imply that there is some sort of magic field emanating from the device. I doubt that JWL have any evidence to show that this field exists.
Once you’ve made the points, simply wrap it up in an email. I generally prefer to email the ASA rather than use their online form because of attachment size limits on their form, but either way is fine if it works.
Here’s the final product.