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A trend or a con: are advertised health claims believable?

April 11, 2012

Outright lying is no longer possible because there are too many watch dogs around. But leaving  a few unpleasant facts out, sliding around some uncomfortable issues and then weighing in with some heavy emotional hooks, would be some of the ways advertising plays around with a subject that requires careful, truthful, clear and unbiased communication at all times.

In countries where Rx drugs are permitted to do direct to consumer communication, the advertisement is filled with small print (not sure whether readers actually go through it all) and words of caution. OTC advertising and health claims by branded health products have some amount of self-regulation in place. Largely because in these mature markets consumer knowledge levels are high, their trust a highly valued element, their activism at a well-developed stage, with litigation often the first option exercised. Not so in India.

Rx advertising is NOT ALLOWED, here but what should be regulated and is not, is communication about the superiority of one headache pill over another AND even more, products targeting children. Particularly annoying are the ‘advertorials’ that look and sound like serious sensible pieces of communication but are in fact even more devious because the space is bought and the content monitored to again say the same thing, leaving out just as many hard negatives.

There is a good strong line between asking third parties to comment on products that have clear health benefits and the claims the company makes on it own with a pretend doctor wearing a stethoscope! Health advertising is guilty of  overemphasis, lying by omission and over emotionalizing issues that need rational explanations and scientific evidence.  The ‘health’ platform leverage has increased in direct proportion to the increase in consumer health consciousness. But when too much razzmatazz is thrown in and the tone brought down to a ‘consumerist’ level, the scientific/emotional balance is lost and the communication becomes not just superficial but spurious. The most recent, almost funny example, is that of an air conditioner manufacturer advertising ACs that actually provides you with some Vitamin C – not that the process is explained in the advertisement. This miracle AC also kills off ‘germs’ since it has an ‘antimicrobial’ filter. Again no explanation of how this happens is available. So am I expected to switch to this brand on the back of the full-page waste of time?

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From → General Health

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