ASA Non-broadcast Adjudication: Bromley Stop Smoking Clinic
Bromley Stop Smoking Clinic
18 Elmfield Road
19 November 2003
Health and beauty
Objections to two regional press advertisement for a smoking cessation clinic. Both advertisements were headlined "Stop Smoking for good?" and stated "ARE YOU A SMOKER? Would you like to stop smoking for good? Are you finding it hard or too much sacrifice to give it up? Could just one session be all you need to stop smoking? Of course nobody can make you do what you don''t want to do but if you really DO want to stop, you could be free of that habit in just one session ... There is now a technique available ... that combines the latest discoveries in hypnosis with the study of personal achievement known as Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). This makes it easier to achieve your goal of being a non-smoker ... [The hypnotherapists] have so much confidence in their methods that they offer free back up support which means that if you ever start smoking again, whether its [sic] two days or two years down the road, they will give you back up sessions at no extra charge. The reason they can offer free back up support is because the technique used has such a high success rate. Literally 95% of people reported* stopping in one session ...". The footnote stated "*As reported in a study of 300 people interviewed by telephone after 6 months."
1. One complainant objected that the advertisements misleadingly implied people would stop smoking permanently after one treatment by the advertisers and
2. Both complainants challenged whether the advertisers could substantiate the claim "Literally 95% of people reported stopping in one session".
CAP Code (Edition 11)
The advertisers said they did not want to claim that they had conducted a study over six months that supported the claimed success rate; they said they had begun seeing patients only five months ago. They said the advertisement made clear that the claim "95% of people reported stopping in one session" referred to the system that they used, which was developed by Practice Builders, and not to their success rate. They asserted that they had helped many clients stop smoking. The advertisers sent a spreadsheet that showed the number of clients they had seen and the numbers of those clients who had returned for a back-up session; the spreadsheet also showed that several clients had recommended the advertisers to others. They also sent 11 testimonials, that praised the advertisers'' service, and a letter from the company that arranged appointments for them and other hypnotherapists. The Authority noted the spreadsheet showed that 77% of their customers had not returned for a back-up session. The advertisers said they believed that showed most of their clients were happy with the service; they said they gave refunds of up to 60% when their clients complained.
1. Complaint upheld
The Authority noted the headline posed a question and the copy stated that people who really wanted to stop smoking could stop after one session. It considered that the advertisement implied that the advertisers could help people, who wanted to stop smoking, to stop after one session of hypnotherapy. The Authority noted from the testimonials that several clients were happy with the advertisers'' service and noted some clients had recommended the service to others. It considered, however, that the statistics that showed the proportion of clients who had returned for a back-up session did not substantiate their claim because clients who started smoking again might not return for a back-up session. The Authority considered that the advertisers had not proved that people would stop smoking permanently after one treatment by the advertisers. It concluded that the advertisements were misleading.
2. Complaints upheld
The Authority noted the advertisers used a technique developed by Practice Builders and that the advertisers had intended the claim "95% of people reported stopping in one session" to the success rate of the technique. It considered, however, that the advertisements did not make clear that the advertisers used a method developed by someone else but that readers could infer from the claim "95% of people reported stopping in one session" that 95% of their clients had stopped smoking in one session. It considered the advertisers'' substantiation did not show that 95% of their clients had stopped smoking after one session. The Authority noted a study, prepared for Practice Builders and reviewed by the American Board of Hypnotherapy, had reported that 95% of people treated using the Practice Builders method had stopped smoking after a single one-hour session. It noted, however, that the success rate was measured using telephone interviews and the study itself stated that establishing success rates using telephone interviews was less reliable than using biochemical data, such as blood tests, and that some studies had argued that respondents to telephone surveys lied to researchers. The Authority asked Practice Builders for further information about the study''s methodology but was told that Practice Builders had stopped trading. The Authority considered that, notwithstanding the endorsement from the American Board of Hypnotherapy, the study did not prove that the Practice Builders technique had a 95% success rate. Because the advertisements were ambiguous and because the advertisers did not substantiate that they had a 95% success rate and the study prepared for Practice Builders did not prove the success rate of the technique, the Authority concluded that the advertisements were misleading. It told the advertisers to change the advertisements and advised them to seek help from the Committee of Advertising Practice Copy Advice team before advertising again.