In November 2021, a TV ad featured a woman using the BecoCleanse product. The ad included a voice-over which stated: “Each day we breath in millions of viruses which can lead to cold symptoms. Clean your nose every day with new BecoCleanse. 100% Seawater. Rich in minerals. It cleanses away viruses and helps protect against winter symptoms. Help protect yourself with new BecoCleanse”.
The same content was then seen in December 2021, as part of a video-on-demand (VOD) ad.
Four complainants challenged whether the ads implied that the BecoCleanse product could protect against viruses, and whether they were misleading and could be substantiated. The ASA upheld the complaint and found that the ad had breached UK Code of Broadcast Advertising rules 3.1 (misleading advertising), 3.9 (substantiation), and 11.2 (medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products), as well as the equivalent Committees of Advertising Practice code rules 3.1, 3.7 and 12.1).
In relation to the ads, the ASA considered the following issues:
1. CE marking does not in itself constitute evidence for medical efficacy claims. Advertisers still need to ensure that they hold adequate evidence for claims.
2. The ASA is likely to consider the wider context in reviewing possible implied claims made by consumers. While the ad itself did not refer to Covid-19, it did refer to the word “virus” and provided a visual of woman acting out a blocked, itchy and runny nose. However, as these were not listed Covid-19 symptoms by the NHS at the time, the ASA did not expect the references to “virus” to be interpreted by viewers as referring to “COVID-19” and therefore the ASA did not expect to see evidence that BecoCleanse could prevent Covid-19.
3. Trials need to involve the appropriate test participants. As part of Omega’s conducted trials to prove the efficacy of BecoCleanse, some of the participants had undergone nasal surgery. The ASA held that this was not reflective of the target audience of the ad (who were unlikely to have undergone nasal surgery).
4. The test methodology needs to be clear – As part of Omega’s trials, it was unclear how “sickness” was measured in the study. This, alongside an absence of a placebo treatment ( with the potential bias of participants/participants who knew whether or not they were being treated with BecoCleanse) and the lack of clarity in regards to how the participants had been ‘randomly assigned’ to their respective groups, led the ASA to hold that the trial did not provide adequate evidence to support the advertising claim.
5. The evidence from trials should mimic proposed recommended use – As part of Omega’s trials, participants were asked to use BecoCleanse three times a day. However, the ASA understood that end-consumers would actually only be recommended to use BecoCleanse once or twice a day. The ASA, therefore, held that the test conditions did not adequately reflect how consumers would likely use the product.
Why this matters:
This ruling highlights that CE marking does not constitute evidence of medical efficacy and that it is important to refer to current NHS and government guidance when making health claims. In addition, the ruling is a reminder of the need for businesses to ensure that all health claims should be fully substantiated so that consumers are not mislead on the product’s benefits and abilities. In particular, businesses should ensure that any tests are conducted with clear methodology and relevant test participants (reflective of the target audience).