We all see a lot of adverts and most of us do our best to ignore them. Somebody who is trying to sell you something is rarely a source of useful information. But just how far do advertisers go in stretching the truth? I don’t think that big name companies are exactly pure in heart and soul, but they do on the whole keep within the letter if not the spirit of the rules most of the time. But smaller companies are often a bit more adventurous. A good example of just how they work can be inferred from a ruling by the UK’s advertising authority, the ASA, from last year.
A conscientious member of the public queried a couple of the claims made on the website of a company called Go Groopie. It claimed –
Our Hollywood Must Have for only £19.95, Skin Chemists Apple Stem Cell Serum. Start the fight against wrinkles today.
Sounds good. It then went on –
• Save 82% on the Apple Stem Cell Serum, the latest craze in anti ageing and pay just £19.95
• Revolutionary ingredient derived from rare Swiss apples
• Treatment already a favourite with celebrities such as Helen Mirren and Jennifer Lopez
• Claimed to reverse signs of ageing
It all sounds irresistible. There is some science in there and a couple of endorsements from A plus list celebrities. And who can resist the idea of a product based on Swiss apples? Stem cells are a big thing so that sounds good too.
But the question is what evidence do they have to back up these claims? Reading the ASA’s report on the complaint it turns out not very much. When challenged all they could come up with was a report in the Daily Mail. Now much as we all respect the Daily Mail as a newspaper of record they do from time to time get things wrong. For example they consistently cast doubt on the safety of the MMR vaccine and so contributed to a major public health problem when people who had not been vaccinated caught measles.
But to be fair, celebrity endorsements are a bit more their level. They might not be a very good guide to science or politics, but they do know how to photograph women in nice dresses. And when it comes to hyping non-sensical beauty treatments they have few peers. However the chaps at Go Groopie were a bit unlucky. The Mail did indeed run a story name checking Helen Mirren and Jennifer Lopez as using a cream that contained stem cells from swiss apples. And they gave the manufacturers some column inches to puff their product.
Unfortunately they also took the unusual step of asking an actual scientist to comment as well. He rubbished the idea. Here is a tip for anyone wanting to follow Go Groopie’s approach. It is as well to actually read a press clipping all the way to the bottom if you are going to base your marketing strategy on it.
Not surprisingly the ASA upheld the complaint and made them change the claims on their website. They might well have got off lightly. I imagine if the lawyers representing the two women being used to plug a product they had probably never even heard of might have been interested.
The take home message for consumers is simple enough. A lot of the smaller companies that make claims on their websites are doing so on the haziest of premises. They might well have nothing more to back up what they are saying than a half read newspaper article. You have been warned!