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Why making physiological ad claims puts you on thin ice

By Simon Pitman , 31-Aug-2009

The fact that a US manufacturer recently got in trouble with UK consumer groups over a fat burning lip balm underlines the eternal need for heed over product claims.

LA-based lip balm manufacturer Pacific Shore Holdings launched its product in the UK recently, with claims that it had already used in the North American market that the product can help to suppress the appetite and give the wearer more energy.

Burner Balm claims to incorporate an ingredient that has been scientifically proven to help prevent the wearer from snacking in between meals.

In the US the FDA insists on ‘substantiated evidence’ to back up personal care product claims, insisting that there is hard evidence from clinical trials.

Although the campaign went unchecked in the US over its claims, it was met by a storm of criticism in the UK, a market that is represented by a plethora of consumer groups that fight aggressively for the cause of a wide range of individuals.

Attention to consumer groups

The story was also picked up on by the British press, which reported on how consumer groups had criticized Pacific Shore over the way the product’s marketing claims could put unnecessary pressure on younger women over their body size.

In the UK the traditional guardian of the Great British public from spurious marketing claims has been the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

It works by fielding complaints concerning the advertising of products and to this end is essentially self regulating.

In fact it is rare that a month will go by when there is not a series of complaints over the type of claims made for personal care products or cosmetics in advertising or marketing campaigns.

Recently complaints that have been upheld by the ASA have centered on claims over anti-aging creams that are said to reverse the signs of aging, reduce fine lines and wrinkles and even do the same sort of job as dermal fillers such as Botox.

Making claims that go beyond the purely cosmetic

In all of these cases, including the fat burning lip balm, the manufacturers have fallen foul of either consumer groups or advertising standards by making claims that go beyond the ‘cosmetic’ and into the physiological.

To tackle this problem companies have been increasingly careful to ensure advertising claims for personal care products or cosmetics are scientifically substantiated with peer reviewed clinical trials to prove any physiological effect.

However, even with all the scientific evidence in the world, the general public and consumer groups are likely to remain the final hurdle to overcome.

Simon Pitman is the editor of the Cosmetic Design titles at Decision News Media. If you would like to comment on this article, please e-mail simon.pitman 'at' decisionnews.com.

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