Roy Jobson
Roy Jobson

(Not) the product of the year

Advertisements proudly carrying the “Product of the Year 2010″ logo are beginning to pop up with annoying frequency. I chanced on one such product which, according to the proud winner, was voted product of the year in the supplements category. The Product of the Year website has not listed the 2010 winners — but it is worth noting that in 2009 there was no winner in the supplements category. Is it possible that this year was the first year in which this category was included and is it possible that there was only one entrant?

The Product of the Year is awarded to the marketers of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) that choose to enter the competition every year. Finalists are chosen by a jury and then consumers vote for the winners through a Nielsen-conducted market survey. It is meant to apply to goods launched in the previous eighteen months and which show innovation, including but not limited to, marketing, design, packaging and function.

There is no fee to enter but if chosen as a finalist, you’ll pay R35 000 for the honour. If you’re voted a winner in a category you’re liable for an additional R150 000 and the right to display the product of the year logo.

Rule 3.5 of the rules of the competition clearly states: “[Y]ou warrant that any information provided by You (sic) as part of or in support of your application is sustainable for use in advertising in South Africa, is true, accurate and complete in all respects and is in no way misleading or deceptive. You will upon request provide evidence to verify any claims made in such information.” (Emphasis added)

The following claims are made on the product’s website and I have given my own assessment of each claim alongside.

Claims for Créche Guard Immune Multivitamin Syrup Assessment
… formulated with a combination of herbs, tinctures, vitamins and minerals that are essential for your child’s good health. Misleading. There is no evidence that any herbs or tinctures are essential for good health, whether in children or adults. Certain vitamins and minerals are classified as “essential”.
… uniquely formulated to

  • boost a child’s immune systems,
  • help fight infections,
  • promote healing,
  • build strong teeth and healthy bones &
  • prevent bruising.
Misleading. Each of these claims classifies this product as a medicine and not a “supplement”. This product is possibly even being sold illegally in terms of the Medicines Act.
… contains Grape Seed, Olive Leaf, Goldenseal and Astragalus tinctures which

  • assist the body to protect against viral and bacterial infections; especially of the respiratory, digestive and urinary tracts.
Misleading. The evidence that these tinctures in combination and in the concentrations in this product have these effects in protecting against respiratory, digestive and urinary tract infections, needs to be provided. This would require doing a clinical trial and not just relying on “reports” or the effects of individual ingredients. This claim again classifies the product as a fixed dose combination medicine and not a supplement.
  • Boosts immunity
As above. Misleading. The product is a medicine. Scientific substantiation is needed.
  • Prevents bruising & promotes healing
Misleading or false. The product is a medicine. Scientific substantiation is needed.
  • Builds strong bones and healthy teeth
Misleading or false. The product is a medicine. Scientific substantiation is needed.
  • Alleviates fatigue
Misleading or false. The product is a medicine. Scientific substantiation is needed.
  • Antioxidant
Misleading or false. Scientific substantiation is needed. (It is clear from the layout of the webpage that the antioxidant claim is included for a therapeutic reason and not as a preservative.)
  • Antiparasitic (worms)
Misleading, false or even dangerous. This classifies the product as an anthelminthic in terms of Regulation 25 of the Medicines Act. Scientific substantiation is needed from clinical trials.

Under the FAQ page of the product it is stated that the product can be taken by babies from four months of age. Great care should be taken in giving unregistered medicines to babies as no independent regulator has checked the safety for babies.

It seems that not only are the public being misled by the claims made for this product but that the organisers of the Product of the Year were misled into accepting the product as a “supplement” rather than a medicine. The Medicines Act and its regulations do not even define supplements. The Foodstuffs Act does not allow “supplements” to make therapeutic or medicinal claims.

It would be interesting to see what decision the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) would make if a complaint was lodged. Unfortunately, because the ASA is skewed in favour of the advertiser — it is after all an industry-created body — the complaint may well be dismissed. The manufacturer (details on the website) would know full well that all it needs to do is find an unethical pharmacist or doctor to favourably present any “evidence” it may have on record for the product. If the ASA accepts that expert’s credentials, any report will invariably be accepted. The South African ASA, unlike the UK ASA, does not independently consult medical or scientific experts even though the SA Code of Advertising Practice allows for this.

But just imagine if the advertising for a “Product of the Year” was to be found out of order by the ASA …

  • Sarah Britten

    I have to disagree with you on the ASA. They deal with many, many complaints about various dubious health products, and most are upheld; Dr Harris Steinman seems to initiate most of them. The problem is that the ASA has no real powers – it can only issue directives to media owners to stop flighting a banned ad. But if the product you cite is being advertised on formal media channels (not just the product website) and the claims cannot be substantiated, then it would be worth making a formal complaint to the ASA.

  • Harris

    Sarah Britten is partially correct. However companies have found “experts” willing to “substantiate” products in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Once the ASA credits an individual with the status of being an “independent credible expert” (based on undefined parameters), that “expert’s” substantiation is almost always taken at face value. Not having the expertise to tell what science is correct, the ASA almost always opts for the company’s “expert” (who is not compelled to respond to the complainant’s arguments). Unseating a company’s expert is almost impossible. For example, Homemark’s Peel Away the Pounds, banned in the USA (the company settling out of court accepting that a small pilot study was insufficient evidence in support of the claims), continued selling here thanks to Homemark’s “expert” – who was not required to respond to these damning arguments. This expert “substantiated” Slim Coffee – even though pointed out that the research entity responsible for the study did not exist and their address non-existent (study appeared to be fabricated). The ASA rescinded the “substantiator’s” status following the complainants challenge, only to have Judge King re-install this following an appeal. Arbitration can be requested in certain instances: the selected arbitrator’s fee being paid by the losing party and previously amounting to between R5,000 and R20,000. The ASA changed the rules – a complainant has to deposit R37,500 before the ASA will even consider arbitration.

  • mike du toit

    What marketing and advitising say in general is suspect. They either exaggerate, bend the truth or are out right liars in order to meet targets,earn bonuses and keep jobs.

  • Impedimenta

    Bringing this kind of misinformation to the public notice is, in itself, valuable. Thank you, Roy,.

  • Lauren

    Thanks for this kind of contribution to informed consumerism. There is so much misinformation and misrepresentation in the public domain that every little bit helps whittle away at the nonsense that people are ‘sold’ every day.

  • Harris

    See more on CamCheck:

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