ASA Ruling on Pfizer Consumer Healthcare Ltd
Pfizer Consumer Healthcare Ltd
13 March 2013
Health and beauty
Number of complaints:
A TV ad, for Centrum multivitamins, included a voice-over that stated "What do you want from a multivitamin? She'd like help with energy release, so would he. He'd like immunity support, so would she. But while he needs more B vitamins, she needs more iron and folic acid. New Centrum men and women with adjusted levels of vitamins and minerals, offering tailored benefits like supporting heart health for him and bone strength for her. Try new Centrum men and women, personalised science for you". On-screen text included "+B +IRON +FOLIC ACID …" and lists of other vitamins and minerals appeared.
The complainant challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied supplements were necessary, whereas he understood that was generally not the case.
Pfizer Consumer Healthcare Ltd (Pfizer) said the ad did not directly or indirectly imply that dietary supplements were necessary but was intended to communicate some of the different nutritional needs of men and women and why the products had therefore been tailored to be gender-specific. They said there was also no inference that consumers should swap a healthy diet for the advertised products, that there was a requirement for people to take the products or that a balanced and healthy diet could not provide appropriate quantities of the vitamins and minerals in the supplements. They pointed out that the ad asked "what do you want from a multivitamin?" and then listed what the featured individuals, who represented the target group, would want. The ad also gave examples of where different nutritional needs existed between men and women, which were intended to highlight the differences between the two formulations. Pfizer said they considered it important to communicate to consumers who might be interested in taking a dietary supplement, but were unsure which would be right for them, that the products were gender-specific.
They said the voice-over statement "But while he needs more B vitamins, she needs more iron and folic acid" was intended to refer to the different nutritional needs of men and women as represented by a male and a female actor, who were intended to reflect their respective genders rather than to be seen as individuals with specific needs in comparison to the general population. For example, B vitamins were important to support normal energy-yielding metabolism and because men generally required a higher calorie intake than women, higher levels of vitamin B were required whereas women needed more iron due to monthly menstruation. They said the voice-over did not state or imply, however, that those gender-specific dietary needs could be met only through use of the products. They said there was no requirement in the BCAP Code to include a statement to that effect in advertising and there was also no suggestion that the individual actors had additional nutritional needs above what was received from their usual diet. Pfizer also said the ad showed the male and female actors extending different bars on a chart that represented the differences in nutrients in the two product formulations. They believed, given the context, "needs more" was clear and appropriate, in that it only ever described the different nutritional requirements of the sexes, as represented by the two actors. Similarly, the ad also included the words "try new Centrum men and women, personalised science for you", which was intended to make clear to the average consumer that the products were different from other Centrum multivitamin and multimineral products, in that they had been tailored to the respective nutritional needs of men and women.
The supplements were intended for use by the general population to supplement the diet and could be particularly useful for those who did not manage to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Pfizer said it would be inappropriate to imply the products should be used to cure any type of illness and they therefore did not claim they should be used as a cure to 'being unhealthy'. They said the use of actors that appeared healthy was justified, because the ad could otherwise imply a medicinal health claim for the products. Pfizer said three versions of the ad had been approved by the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB) as well as by Clearcast. They submitted the approval documents, along with other supporting information, and said they believed the ad did not make any misleading claims about the products. Pfizer emphasised that "supporting heart health" was an authorised health claim and that while Clearcast's consultant had commented on it, he had felt it was obvious enough and that it would be understandable to the average consumer.
Clearcast had sought the advice of a consultant on the information that was submitted in support of the claims in the ad. They said the consultant believed the ad to be acceptable and had commented that the individuals in the ad portrayed that the products were no longer aimed at certain vulnerable groups. He was happy with that representation and believed the individuals were of the type the general public would understand, because anyone could take the products. The consultant had commented that "while he needs more B vitamins, she needs more iron and folic acid" might be ambiguous, and could therefore be misconstrued as meaning the characters' intake was inadequate, but believed the intended meaning might be obvious enough. Clearcast took the view that the message was about what each sex needed rather than about deficiencies, and believed viewers would understand it in the same way. They supported Pfizer's view that the voice-over "What do you want from a multivitamin? She'd like … He'd like …" clearly indicated that those were the type of elements individuals might want more of, rather than that they did not have them to start with. They submitted the consultant's comments.
The ASA noted the ad did not state that dietary supplements were necessary or that the nutrients contained in the advertised products could only be obtained via the supplements. We also noted, however, the Clearcast consultant considered the statement "… he needs more B vitamins, she needs more iron and folic acid" to be ambiguous and that it might be misconstrued as meaning, for example, the man's vitamin intake was inadequate and so he needed more, thereby suggesting that men like him might be suffering from a lack of vitamins and could be at greater risk of heart disease unless he took the product. While he believed it was obvious enough, and therefore probably acceptable, he also commented that the reference to "personalised science" might suggest the tailoring of the two products was for the individual rather than their gender group. He believed, however, that fell into the category of puffery and was therefore probably acceptable.
While we noted the view that the ad was intended to refer to the different nutritional requirements men and women might have and that the voice-over "What do you want from a multivitamin? She'd like … He'd like …" was intended to make clear what the particular individuals featured wanted, we considered that was not sufficiently clear to avoid misleading. We noted the individuals portrayed were intended to represent healthy adults of each gender but considered the overall impression of the ad, via statements such as "She'd like help with energy release, so would he. He'd like immunity support, so would she", and that they each particularly needed "more B vitamins" and "more iron and folic acid", was such that it implied those individuals, and therefore healthy adults in general, required supplements to provide appropriate quantities of those nutrients. We considered the ad implied the advertised products were the solution to providing those nutrients and therefore that appropriate quantities of nutrients in general could not be obtained from a balanced and varied diet, whereas we understood that was not the case. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 13.7 (Food supplements and other vitamins and minerals).
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told Pfizer to ensure their future advertising did not imply a balanced and varied diet could not provide appropriate quantities of nutrients in general and that it did not encourage individuals to swap a healthy diet for supplementation.