In August 2012, I wrote about an ASA judgement on a complaint I’d submitted about Richard Halvorsen’s Babyjabs clinic. A new adjudication on a different website’s marketing of single vaccines is now available on the ASA website. The ASA received six complaints and investigated seven issues, all of which were upheld.
If your advertising doesn’t comply with the CAP code, it seems to me that the smart thing to do when contacted by the ASA is to amend it so that it does. If you do this, you don’t need to worry about any prospective customers stumbling across any inconvenient adverse judgements when looking your company up on the internet. You don’t have to worry about your advertising being publicly labelled “misleading” or “unsubstantiated” by people who run boring and unpopular blogs like this one. You can quietly change your advertising and marketing with a minimum of fuss.
Not everybody who fails to comply with the CAP code takes that route. Some try to defend their non-compliant advertising. Some of the defences people put up can in themselves be quite interesting. There was, for example, one company who responded to a challenge regarding unauthorised medical claims by arguing that their website was built before the extension of the ASA’s remit to marketer’s own websites and before the EU health claims directive. The Children’s Immunisation Centre went for this:
Children’s Immunisation Centre Ltd (Children’s Immunisation Centre) said their website did not constitute advertising and should be deemed as an information web portal that dealt with many childhood diseases.
I think if your website has a price list of the products you sell, refers to the benefits of those products, and has a page about those products that promotes them and tells you how to obtain them, then your website is probably advertising those products. The ASA “considered the website was directly connected with the sale and transfer of goods and services, in this instance, the sale of individual MMR and other vaccinations, [and] concluded it was subject to the CAP Code”.
The third link in that last paragraph contains something else of interest:
The vaccines may not be licensed in the UK but all this means is that they do not have a Marketing License in the UK and must therefore only be prescribed and can not be freely promoted or bought over the counter.
That’s right. They can only be prescribed. They are, you might say, prescription-only medicines. They “can not be freely promoted”. Here’s another bit of the Children’s Immunisation Centre’s response to the ASA:
Children’s Immunisation Centre said MMR stood for Mumps, Measles and Rubella and the acronym was not brand advertising for a POM.
On their website, they acknowledge themselves that their vaccines are POM and cannot be freely promoted (and have done for some time – I checked the Wayback Machine just to be sure). In their response to the ASA, they decide to argue that a prescription-only medicine only counts as such if you use a brand name. Unsurprisingly, the ASA were unconvinced by this argument. They “noted Children’s Immunisation Centre had not used brand names for their vaccines. However, we considered the vaccines offered were POMs and the CAP Code prohibited the advertising of POMs to the public.”
On other points, the CIC decided to offer substantiation for their claims. Given the availability of evidence via sources such as Pubmed or Google Scholar, you might be interested to note where they chose to source their substantiating evidence.
- their complaints log
- Italian court case
- a newspaper report
- data in the form of a graph
- the internet
- Dr Walker
A court case, a newspaper report, a graph and the internet. Pretty convincing, eh?
With regards Dr Walker, the ASA:
noted a statement from the hospital where Dr Walker had worked clearly stated he had not demonstrated a link between the presence of measles virus in the gut and autism.
the reference to Dr Walker’s study was inaccurate…
Now. About that complaints log. The claim on the website was that they had a “100% safety record”. Here’s the summary of their response to the challenge to this claim:
Children’s Immunisation Centre supplied a sample of their complaints log which they said indicated there were no safety issues for any of their 20,000 patients. They said each patient had a record card and not one child had been hospitalised or had regression, autism or other health issues post vaccination. They said because parents were paying for a vaccination, Children’s Immunisation Centre would have been informed if an issue arose.
Here’s what the complaints log showed:
We noted the sample of Children’s Immunisation Centre’s complaint log which confirmed that some children had developed minor and major complications as a result of receiving a vaccination. Complications ranged from rash and high temperature to emergency hospital admission.
Because Children’s Immunisation Centre did not have a 100% safety record, we concluded the claim was misleading.
That’s right. The evidence they submitted actually showed that their claim of a “100% safety record” was misleading.
Here’s a list of their breaches of the CAP code:
- 12.12 (Medicines, medical devices, health related products and beauty products).
- 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation)
- 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 4.2 (Harm and offence)
Some parts of the code were breached more than once, notably 3.1 and 3.7 on misleading evidence and substantiation.