Monday, 1 March 2010

Slender Hopes

Slimming and diet aid products abound in the marketplace, promising instant toned and svelte bodies. Many of these products are the subject of ASA complaints and this week the ASA Directorate considered a consumer complaint lodged against the packaging and advertising of Planet Hoodia’s weight loss product “Slender Gel”.

The packaging displays the claim: “Designed to assist with curbing appetite, reducing cravings, improving skin tone”. It also claims: “CAUTION, USE OF THIS PRODUCT CAN LEAD TO MASSIVE WEIGHT LOSS”.

The complaint was that the advertisements were misleading, as was the use of the word “Slender” in the product name. The relevant clauses of Section II the Code of Advertising Practice were found to be 4.1 (which deals with substantiation) and 4.2.1 (which deals with misleading claims).

The Respondent submitted in reply to the complaint that the name “Slender Gel” makes no claim to actually making people thinner. It argued, rather creatively, that the word “slender” is used as an adjective, makes no suggestions or claim to effect weight reduction and, further, that it does not apply exclusively to humans. It pointed out that inanimate objects such as masts, cables, books and spaces could be described as “slender” (although whether it expected the Directorate to believe that the product was intended to be used on these objects is not clear). Because the word is used on a product promising weight reduction, the Directorate found that it could only be interpreted to refer to “becoming slender” and the Respondent’s defence was dismissed.


In a giant leap of logic that appears to ignore the subtlety of figurative language, the Respondent also submitted that the “CAUTION” claim is hyperbole, not intended to be taken literally. This defence also appears to have been rejected.

In making its ruling, the Directorate pointed out that due to potentially dangerous effects of medicinal products, they cannot be treated “as an ordinary general commodity” and their advertisement and promotion are strictly controlled by specific regulations.

The advertising complained of was found “clearly” to attribute its weight reduction and hunger suppressing characteristics to the inclusion of hoodia in the product. This is due to the wording “The World’s #1 Selling Hoodia Gel”and “Hoodia Gordonii” just above the weight loss claims and the statement on the Respondent’s website that the product “contains pure Hoodia Gordonii and…has been designed to assist with controlling appetite, reducing cravings and enhancing skin tone”.

Addressing the question of whether the claim regarding the efficacy of the Respondent’s product could be substantiated in terms of Clause 4.1, the Directorate considered the Respondent’s own advertising, which states that it relies, not on scientific proof, but on survey data based on consumer perception to make its claims. Clause 4.1.3 of Section II requires that survey data submitted as evidence must emanate from or be verified by an entity that is approved or recognized by the Southern African Market Research Association. No such verification was submitted and this evidence could not be accepted.

The product packaging makes no reference to consumer perceptions but merely accredits the weight loss and hunger suppressing characteristics to the product. In order to assess whether these claims are substantiated, the Directorate is required to rely on the opinion of an independent and credible expert in the field. No such verification was submitted and the claims were found to be unsubstantiated and in breach of Clause 4.1. In light of this, the advertising complained of was found to fall foul of Clause 4.2.1 and was considered to be misleading.

The Respondent was ordered to withdraw the claims displayed on its website and packaging and not to use the claims in their current format until new (or any) substantiation has been submitted, evaluated and a new ruling made.

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