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.
Marketing communications for pest repellent equipment typically contain claims that the devices are highly effective at scaring unwanted animals, including rats, cats, fleas, and moles from homes and gardens. In past years, the ASA, together with independent experts, has closely examined the evidence for claims for those devices, which can range from cat-shaped metal sheets with glowing eyes to ultrasonic and electromagnetic equipment. It has yet to accept any claim of efficacy. Marketers who do not hold evidence in the form of UK-based trials should not state or imply efficacy for the products, through either claims, visuals or product names. If the product name represents a claim of efficacy, for example “Rat-zap”, marketers should include a clear disclaimer that “Rat-zap has not been proven to repel rats” (See ‘Claims in names’). However, this is not always required if the name does not contain a direct reference to the efficacy of the product. In 2009, the ASA found that the name “Verm-X” was unlikely to be regarded as a claim for efficacy in and of itself (Paddocks Farm Partnership, 2009). See also Claims in Names.
No set rules exist for testing the efficacy of repellent devices under UK conditions. More than one experimental design could be acceptable. One such design consists of three phases: pre-treatment, treatment and post-treatment. The rationale is that the treatment effect is reversible and animal activity in the first and last stages should be similar (and obviously higher) than in the second stage. Each site where a device is tested should represent the environment in which the product is marketed for use and animal activity should be monitored closely throughout the trial period.
Marketers should remember that customer testimonials do not by themselves constitute evidence of efficacy and claims. Furthermore, devices that are advertised as imperceptible to humans whilst containing ingredients that repel the pests should be demonstrably true. In 2008, the ASA upheld a complaint about a product named “Anti-Mole Bulbs” (a bulb which secreted a smell offensive to moles but undetectable to humans) as they did not receive any robust evidence from either the manufacturer or the advertiser about the effectiveness of the product (Chempak, 2008).
Furthermore, advertisers should be wary of marketing pest repellents which claims they are “friendly” to certain other animals (i.e. pet friendly) if they do not hold objective evidence to prove that the product is completely harmless to these animals. The ASA upheld an investigation into an ad which marketed a pesticide as “bee friendly” as they found that the product was only less toxic to bees than other products, rather than completely harmless (Makhteshim Agan UK Limited, 2010).