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ASA Adjudication on Union-Swiss Ltd

Union-Swiss Ltd

9th floor
Park on Long
66 Long Street
Cape Town 8001
South Africa

Date:

16 September 2009

Media:

Television

Sector:

Health and beauty

Number of complaints:

2

Agency:

BDP Creative

Complaint Ref:

67740

Ad

Two TV ads for Bio-Oil, a skincare product.

a. The first ad featured a woman talking directly to the camera. She said "I started using Bio-Oil when we discovered that I was pregnant. Personally I was worried about stretch marks, you kind of feel powerless because you think that there is nothing that you can do about it. But, you know, since I've discovered Bio-Oil it’s like a sense of relief because you can do something about it. It's really worked for me. It's like part of my routine." A male voice over at the end of the ad said "Bio-Oil helps improve the appearance of scars, stretch marks and uneven skin tone."

b. The second ad also featured a woman talking directly to the camera. She said "It's not nice to have a scar, it doesn't matter where it is on your body! It's not very pretty! Because it's on my face, I can see it on a daily basis. Bio-Oil made it just look so much better! Now I actually just don't think about it anymore. I use Bio-Oil everywhere because I think it just makes you feel and look really good. My skin's beautiful - I'm very happy! I actually can say I'm a fan of Bio-Oil!" Again, a male voice over said "Bio-Oil helps improve the appearance of scars, stretch marks and uneven skin tone."

Issue

Two viewers challenged the efficacy of Bio-Oil in improving the appearance of:

1. scars, and

2. uneven skin tone.

3. The ASA and one viewer challenged the efficacy of Bio-Oil in improving the appearance of stretch marks.

BCAP TV Code

Response

1., 2. & 3. Union-Swiss said the ads were part of a campaign launched in October 2007 and they had provided Clearcast with the relevant substantiation as part of the clearance process.  They submitted evidence which included copies of three studies which evaluated the efficacy of Bio-Oil in improving the appearance of scars, stretch marks and uneven skin tone and information about the Bio-Oil formulation.  

They also supplied the results of two surveys dated 2006 and 2008 which they said showed that Bio-Oil was the cosmetic product most recommended by pharmacists in the UK.  Union-Swiss also said Bio-Oil was the number one selling scar and stretch mark product in 21 countries, including the UK.  They believed the scale of the product's success among consumers and pharmacists alike was in itself evidence in support of the claims in the ad; it would not be so successful if it was not effective.

Clearcast said they consulted an independent expert to review the evidence submitted by Union-Swiss.  The expert was satisfied that the product information and clinical trials supported the claims made in the ad and they had cleared it for broadcast on that basis.

Assessment

The ASA took expert advice in relation to the evidence which included the three studies submitted in support of each claim.  We noted the results of the two surveys but did not consider them relevant to substantiating the efficacy of the product.  

1. Upheld

The expert said he was unaware of any cosmetic product that had ever been proven to have the ability to reduce the appearance of scars, other than those which had a colouration or masking effect or which used various forms of pressure.  The existence of another product, used to treat scars, was brought to his attention by Union-Swiss and, although he noted the single blind trial submitted in support of the efficacy of that product, he noted other published, peer-reviewed studies suggested such products were not effective.  He therefore considered that, the claim constituted a breakthrough claim for which a high standard of evidence was required.

The expert said, while the study seemed to be well performed - a mix of minor and surgical scars were treated - it suffered from not being double blinded and there was no control for a placebo effect.  Although Union-Swiss believed a single-blinded trial was sufficient to support the claim, the expert maintained that a double-blind trial controlled for some of the potential pitfalls that could arise with single or non-blinded trials and was therefore a more robust methodology.  He said the mean results appeared to have been skewed by a few subjects recording relatively large changes.  The majority of scars showed no change or worsening after 12 weeks.  The expert concluded that the evidence was not sufficient to support a breakthrough claim.

We noted ad (b) featured a woman who said, with reference to her scar, "Because it's on my face, I can see it on a daily basis.  Bio-Oil made it just look so much better!" We considered that the ad implied that the topical application of Bio-Oil could help improve the appearance of scars, particularly facial scars.  We understood however that it was not generally accepted opinion that the topical application of an emollient could improve the appearance of scars and a robust body of evidence was therefore required to support such a claim.  Because we understood that the evidence submitted to support the claim did not meet the standard of evidence required, we concluded that the claim could mislead.

2. Upheld

The expert noted the study in support of the efficacy of Bio-Oil in improving the appearance of uneven skin tone was a single blinded, uncontrolled trial carried out on 30 women.  He also noted that, as the product was oily, it was likely to have some moisturising effects which could benefit the appearance of skin.  The expert said, however, the results of the study showed a trend towards only a slight effect.   

While we noted the study results showed a trend towards a slight effect, we understood that those results were obtained by way of a self-assessment study.  We noted, however, the study was single blinded and there was no control for a placebo effect.  In view of that, we considered that the study was insufficiently robust to support the claim and concluded that it could mislead.

3. Upheld

The expert noted the study in support of the efficacy of Bio-Oil in improving the appearance of stretch marks was a single blinded, uncontrolled trial carried out on 20 women.  The study did not make clear the origin of the stretch marks which were treated with Bio-Oil.  We received clarification from Union-Swiss however and understood that 19 subjects had stretch marks as a result of pregnancy and the remaining subject had them as a result of rapid weight change.  The expert said the magnitude of change recorded was small and the number of subjects demonstrating no change at all was high; the 'best' result was from the self-assessment analysis which was not a reliable indicator in a single-blinded trial.  He concluded that the evidence was not sufficiently robust to support the claim.

We noted ad (a) featured a woman who stated "I started using Bio-Oil when we discovered that I was pregnant.  Personally I was worried about stretch marks ... since I've discovered Bio-Oil it's like a sense of relief because you can do something about it.  It's really worked for me."  We noted, however, pregnant women were excluded from the study group.  We noted Union-Swiss believed it would have been unethical to include pregnant women in the trial, however, we considered that viewers were likely to infer from the ad that the product would help improve the appearance of stretch marks if applied from the outset of pregnancy.  Because that inference was unsupported by evidence, we concluded that it could mislead.

On all points, ads (a) and (b) breached CAP Broadcast (TV) Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1 (Misleading advertising), 5.2.1 (Evidence) and 5.2.2 (Implications).

Action

The ads must not appear again in their current form.  We told Union-Swiss to remove the direct claim "Bio-Oil helps improve the appearance of scars, stretch marks and uneven skin tone" from future ads and also told them to avoid making implied claims along those lines.   

Adjudication of the ASA Council (Broadcast)

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