Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Many marketers of health-related products or therapies would like to list ailments that they believe their products or therapies can treat. The Code, however, contains specific rules that restrict the types of claims marketers other than qualified health professionals may make.
Substantiation and evidence
Rule 12.1 indicates that objective claims for health products (including therapies) must be supported by objective evidence. For health therapies, the ASA and CAP are likely to expect that evidence to be in the form of clinical trials.
Whilst it is understood that some practitioners do not believe clinical trials to be the appropriate measure for the effectiveness of their therapy, the ASA and CAP consider that it is the only consistent and reliable method of demonstrating that a health intervention is effective for the purposes of making efficacy claims in advertising.
This CAP Guidance explains the types and levels of evidence that are likely to be acceptable.
Discouraging essential medical treatment
Evidence aside, offering diagnoses, advice or treatment on medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, could be seen to discourage essential medical treatment if that diagnosis, advice and treatment is not being carried out under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional (Rule 12.2).
This CAP Guidance explains the position in more detail and includes a non-exhaustive list of medical conditions that are likely to be caught by the Code rule.
Subjective/sensorial claims and medical conditions
CAP understands that advertisers whose clientele include those who suffer from illness often find it challenging to explain the service they offer without falling foul of the Code. The examples below demonstrate how small changes can change the acceptability of an ad.
“Reflexology can be used by people suffering from any medical condition”
“Aromatherapy massage can help people suffering from insomnia”
“I treat people suffering from Cancer and fertility problems”
"Many of my clients suffer from depression, especially in winter, and find that Shiatsu can help lift their mood”
“During a Craniosacral therapy session the therapist relieves any restrictions in the flow of cerebral spinal fluid around the body, thereby alleviating medical conditions including arthritis and many others”
“Reflexology can be enjoyed by people of all ages, from children through to the elderly”
“Aromatherapy massage can aid restful sleep”
“Some of my clients include people suffering from Cancer. They find that the soothing, calming and relaxing nature of the therapy assists their emotional wellbeing during this difficult time”
“Many of my clients find Shiatsu excellent for improving their mood”
“Craniosacral Therapy is based on the belief that by feeling the intrinsic flow of the craniosacral rhythm the therapist can improve the wellbeing of clients, and help them to relax
Testimonials in ads for therapies are likely to be acceptable provided they do not include any direct or implied factual claims about the efficacy of the therapy which are not generally accepted by the ASA & CAP. As with all advertising, the ASA & CAP will expect factual claims in testimonials to be supported by documentary evidence and in the case of health therapies, clinical trial evidence. See CAP Advice on Claims in testimonials and endorsements.
Subjective/sensorial claims in testimonials (such as those in the section above) are likely to be acceptable without evidence.
Marketers are also reminded that if using a customer testimonial in advertising, they would need to hold evidence to demonstrate the testimonial is genuine, that it is being used with the permission of the person who made it and that contact details are held for that individual. See CAP Advice on Testimonials and endorsements.
There is more detailed advice on many specific therapies which can be found through searches at CAP AdviceOnline.