ASA ruling against Revival Shots
Can companies make health claims in ads for their food products?The key takeaway
Ads must ensure that they do not state or imply that their food product could prevent, treat or cure human disease, including COVID-19. Any health claims made in advertising must be authorised on the EU Register of nutrition and health claims, they must have met the conditions of use for the authorised claims, and properly communicated the meaning of the authorised claim.
One Facebook ad and two Instagram ads were posted by Revival Drinks Ltd t/a Revival Shots:
- Ad (a): The Facebook ad, posted on 12 April 2020, stated “Each stick of Revival contains … 500mg of vitamin C …” and featured an image with text that stated “VITAMIN-C HAS BEEN PROVEN TO BOOST IMMUNITY BY MANY GLOBAL STUDIES … IT IS NOW BEING TESTED IN THE USA & CHINA AS A POSSIBLE CURE FOR COVID-19”.
- Ad (b): The first Instagram ad, posted on 12 April 2020, was the same as ad (a).
- Ad (c): The second Instagram ad, posted in April 2020, stated “Today we have officially past 500 independent verified reviews on Amazon … Here is one of the latest reviews from a customer in UK … #immunity #immunityboost #vitaminc … #staysafe”. The image featured a five-star review which stated “Great ! After developing symptoms of a sore throat & headache I got paranoid. I ordered this concentration of Vit C and took one stick. In about half an hour I felt instantly revived and my headache disappeared and sore throat was greatly reduced. Since taking I have had no symptoms. I highly recommend … 30 March 2020”.
The complainant challenged whether the ads implied that the product, or the vitamin C the product contained could cure COVID-19, could prevent or cure disease, and could boost immunity. The complainant challenged whether these ads complied with the Code.
The CAP Code stated that claims which stated or implied a food could prevent, treat or cure human disease were prohibited for foods; this included food supplements and drinks. The ASA considered the ads therefore implied that consuming Revival Shots could, through their vitamin C content, help to cure COVID-19. Furthermore, given that Ad(c) was posted in mid-April 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, referred to symptoms sometimes associated with COVID-19 and the reviewer’s “paranoia” about those symptoms, and included the hashtag “#staysafe” which was commonly associated with the pandemic, the ASA considered consumers would understand that the claims in the review were intended to be understood to relate to COVID-19. The ASA considered the ad therefore implied that Revival Shots could help to cure COVID-19. The ASA held that the ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 15.6 and 15.6.2.
According to Regulation (EC) No. 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods (the Regulation), which was reflected in the CAP Code, only health claims listed as authorised on the EU Register of nutrition and health claims (the Register) were permitted in marketing communications. The CAP Code defined health claims as those that stated, suggested or implied a relationship between a food, drink or ingredient and health. Ads (a) and (b) stated that Revival Shots contained vitamin C and that “VITAMIN-C HAS BEEN PROVEN TO BOOST IMMUNITY…”. Ad (c) included the hashtags “#immunity #immunityboost #vitaminc #vitamins #vitamind”. Claims that a food or nutrient was relevant to immunity or could “boost” immunity are health claims for the purposes of the Regulation.
The Register included the authorised health claims that vitamins C and D (and other vitamins) “contribute to the normal function of the immune system”. However, Revival Shots had not provided any evidence to demonstrate that their products contained any vitamin in amounts sufficient that they could use any of those authorised health claims in advertising for their products. Furthermore, the ASA considered that the claim “#immunity” did not properly communicate the meaning of those authorised health claims to consumers, and the claims “BOOST IMMUNITY” and “#immunityboost” exaggerated the meaning of those authorised claims’ wording. Because the ads made specific health claims but the ASA had not seen evidence that any of Revival Shots’ products met the conditions of use associated with a relevant authorised claim on the Register, and the advertising claims in any case did not properly communicate the meaning of relevant claims authorised on the Register, the ASA concluded the ads breached the Code. The ASA held that the ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 15.1 and 15.1.1.
Why is this important?
Ads must ensure that they comply with the CAP Codes and do not state or imply that their food product could prevent, treat or cure human disease, including COVID-19. Health claims made in advertising must be authorised on the Register, they must have met the conditions of use for the authorised claims, and properly communicated the meaning of the authorised claim.
Any practical tips?
Advertisers should take extreme care with any claims associated with preventing or treating illnesses. Any indication that an advertiser is taking an opportunistic approach to a health scare is never going to sit well with the ASA.