The Advertising Standards Agency in the UK is charged with maintaining standards in advertising. On the whole, I think they do a good job. You don’t have to work in a consumer goods company to know that there are people about who will say almost anything to make a sale. If you spend any time on Twitter you’ll find plenty of so-called ‘internet marketers’ who seem to have no shame in pushing their products with the most outrageous statements.
I keep a close eye on what the ASA says when it makes its rulings. I usually find myself in agreement with what they say, and so I do with Bio-Oil. I have copied and pasted it below, but the nub is that Bio-Oil was being marketed for stretch marks without any strong evidence that it works. As it happens I was assessing the evidence for how well Bio-Oil works for a blog post on the product and I came to almost the same conclusion. The clinical trial quoted on the website was so small and the effects picked up so slight that I didn’t find it convinced me at all. I was more impressed by the anecdotal evidence I picked up online in blogs and forums. But anecdotal evidence is not something the ASA can use, or should use.
Big cosmetic companies employ armies of people to persuade you to buy stuff and are quite capable of manipulating forums and blogs to their own ends. I don’t think they do so to any great extent yet – but that is just a matter of time. In the case of Bio-Oil I happen to know that they are not a big company and some of the people who have talked about it online are people I have followed for some time and know to be ‘real’ people without a hidden agenda. So I could judge that what they were saying was quite likely to be true. Obviously anecdotal evidence like this is very weak and a body like the ASA cannot take it into account. Even I think twice about accepting success stories from products. It is easy to come across people who will tell you that homeopathy works for instance. The power of suggestion is very great indeed.
So I am not surprised that the ASA have forbidden the advert claim ‘Bio-Oil helps improve the appearance of scars, stretch marks and uneven skin tone’. I think the claim might well be true, but it hasn’t been proved and people shouldn’t be led to believe that it has.