The Advertising Standards Authority, the British agency in charge of overseeing advertising (sort of like the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S.) has told the Daily Telegraph and its parent company, the Telegraph Media Group, that an ad it ran for a giveaway bottle of water saying "Lower your blood pressure with our free spring water" was unacceptable since it might lead consumers not to seek medical advice for serious health conditions. The ASA also told the Telegraph Media Group that it had breached another part of the advertising code by making "medicinal claims for an unauthorised product."
A national press front-page flash stated "LOWER YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE WITH OUR FREE SPRING WATER". The promotion was detailed inside the newspaper and claimed "the first spring water developed especially to tackle the growing problem of high blood pressure ... 120/80, named after the optimum blood pressure level, is the first spring water in the UK to contain dairy peptides, which are derived from milk protein and clinically proven to be effective in the lowering and management of blood pressure.
Works with Water [the provider of the product, Ed.] said they took extreme care to ensure they did not mislead consumers by claiming or implying that their products could treat, prevent or cure disease or discourage essential treatment for a serious medical condition. They said the first paragraph of the main editorial copy made a positive statement raising awareness of the prevalence of increased blood pressure in the UK. They argued that throughout the communication, emphasis was placed on the fact that medical research has shown that the daily consumption of 4 g of dairy peptides could help to lower blood pressure in people with mild hypertension. They said they were careful to highlight that 120/80 contained half of the recommended daily intake of dairy peptides and that drinking two bottles per day was "beneficial" and "a simple addition to lifestyle" (sic). They said they stated on their website that the product was designed to be used alongside other healthy lifestyle choices and was not intended to be a replacement for drugs prescribed in hypertension treatment. They also detailed the wording on packaging which included advice to consult a doctor if high blood pressure was suspected.
Works with Water said the headline on the article inside the newspaper should have stated "Free spring water for every reader to help lower your blood pressure" to be consistent with the main editorial copy, but the word "help" was omitted due to a proofing error for which they accepted full responsibility. They said they were not responsible for the front page flash or content, which were down to the Telegraph's editorial discretion at the time of going to print. They recognised that it would be sensible and responsible to include the on-pack and website statements in all future press promotions. They added that they did not intend to repeat the promotion, and they would seek guidance from CAP Copy Advice before publishing future promotions.
The Telegraph said they had been alerted to the problematic wording by CAP on the day the ad appeared and had immediately halted the promotion. They said the procedures they had in place to prevent such occurrences had not been properly followed, and the relevant personnel had been reminded of their obligations to the CAP Code. They said every effort would be made to avoid a similar occurrence in future.....
The ASA noted the copy should have stated "help lower your blood pressure". We also noted the numerous references to lowering blood pressure and the claim "the UK's first spring water developed especially to tackle the growing problem of high blood pressure". We considered that readers could infer that the product would treat high blood pressure. We concluded that the ad could discourage readers from seeking essential medical treatment for a serious medical condition.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clause 50.3 (Heath & Beauty products and therapies)
We noted Works With Water believed their product did not require a marketing authorisation because the active ingredients were relatively mild and it was not an alternative to medication. However, we understood from Lancashire Trading Standards department that a claim to lower blood pressure was considered to be medicinal under the Food Labelling Regulations 1996. We concluded that the ad made medicinal claims for an unauthorised product.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clause 50.11 (Medicines)
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We advised Works With Water to seek guidance from the CAP Copy Advice team on future advertising campaigns.
Read the entire ruling here.
[Cross-posted to Media Law Prof Blog].