July 21, 2016, by Richard Hyde

Health Claims and the ASA

As I have previously discussed, non-specific health claims are a challenge to marketing professionals. Such claims, for example saying a food is “healthy” or “good for you,” must be accompanied by a specific health claim which forms part of an approved EU list (see article 9(3) of the Nutition and Health Claims Regulation). The Advertising Standards Authority has this week given a ruling that has clarified some aspects of the regulation of non specific health claims. The ruling related to a television advert for Kellogs Special K. The advert featured various scenes of ingredients with a voice-over stating “Special K. Full of deliciousness. Full of colour. And now, with pomegranate, pumpkin seeds and raspberries. Our new five grain super porridge is full of goodness.” Meanwhile, on-screen text stated “Special K porridge contains vitamin B2 which contributes to the maintenance of normal skin,” but this text had faded before the “full of goodness” was made by the voice over.

It was agreed that full of goodness was a non-specific health claim, and that the text that appeared on scheme referred to a claim which appeared on the EU list. However, the ASA offer two clarifications for those making non-specific health claims. First, it is necessary that the identification of the approved health claim must be at the same time or after the the non-specific health claim is made. Given the arrangement of the advert the average consumer would not link the text and the “full of goodness” claim, and therefore the advert would breach the Health and Nutrition Claims Regulations. In the altered advert the text remains on screen whilst the “full of goodness” claim is made. Second, the non-specific claim and the approved claim¬† should bear some relationship. You cannot back a “good for your skin” claim with an approved health claim referring to benefits to digestion. However, in the particular case the approved claim was sufficiently connected to the¬† statement that the food was good for you, as the average consumer target by the advert would be concerned about skin health and would have understood that the claim was that the product was “full of goodness” for the skin.

The first clarification is clearly right. You must be able to tell which health claim is being relied upon to support a non-specific claim. The second is more debatable. Broad generic claims may be understood as suggesting the food is good holistically, which should not be supported by a narrow approved claim. Is it possible that we are giving the average consumer too much credit to suggest that they will understand that a broad non-specific claim should be read as being narrowed by the approved claim? With individuals focusing on the voice over, rather than the text, the non-specific claim is doing more work than simply informing the consumer that their skin could be improved by consumption, it appears to suggest their health as a whole could be improved. Such claims should be controlled to prevent consumers being misled.

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