A TV ad for the AeroSure Medic featured a woman sitting alone on her sofa talking about her medical condition, while appearing to be short of breath. She stated, "Being short of breath and having a chesty cough doesn't hold me back - I'm still really active." A woman appeared beside her and said, "Except you're always too out of puff to come for a walk" and then disappeared again. The woman then said, "My family haven't noticed." A man appeared beside her and replied, "Your coughing keeps me awake" before disappearing. A young girl appeared and said, "You never take me to the playground" and disappeared. The woman then said, "Now I've found a new drug-free way that may help my symptoms. AeroSure Medic is a clinically-tested medical device that could reduce your breathlessness and help clear mucus. Now I can breathe easier and enjoy life." She was shown using the device before blowing out candles on a cake, surrounded by family members. The ad ended on an image of the product, next to which were logos for Boots and Lloyds Pharmacy, and below these was the web address www.aerosure-medic.com.
At the beginning of the ad, onscreen text stated "For best results always follow the instructions."
The complainant, who understood that those suffering from breathlessness should seek medical advice, challenged whether the ad was irresponsible and potentially harmful because it could discourage viewers from doing so.
Actegy Health Ltd said that it was normal, and in some cases desirable, for healthy individuals to experience breathlessness after activities such as running and swimming, as long as the degree of breathlessness was proportionate to the level of activity. They explained that people who are less active or unfit because of a sedentary lifestyle, like the grandmother character in the ad, are more likely to experience breathlessness with milder degrees of activity. They said that the activities presented in the ad were chosen to illustrate this point, and were examples of walking beside a younger, fitter adult and taking an active child to the playground. Actegy Health considered that the impression of the lead character created by the ad was of someone who was well, but who may benefit from respiratory training. They stated that she did not exhibit any overt signs of breathlessness or appear to be in any discomfort or distress and she was not portrayed as suffering from any underlying medical condition. They considered that there was no suggestion created by the ad that the breathlessness experienced by the lead character was severe, chronic or progressive, or that medical advice was warranted.
Actegy Health said that they had taken great care to match the level of understanding a consumer audience might have about the situations in which the lead character might typically experience symptoms of breathlessness during normal, everyday life. Although they acknowledged that breathlessness could be associated with numerous underlying medical conditions, so could symptoms such as heartburn, fatigue and nausea. Moreover, they believed the ad neither stated nor implied that the lead character had any such serious condition, but that she appeared well. Actegy Health also stated that the ad did not contain a claim that AeroSure could 'treat' or 'cure' breathlessness.
Actegy said that on-screen text stated "For best results always follow the instructions". They explained that these instructions directed consumers to consult a healthcare professional if their symptoms persisted or if they were unsure of the cause of their symptoms or the suitability of the device, and contained a list of contra-indications. Furthermore, Actegy Health said that an updated version included on-screen text at the beginning of the ad that stated "Consult your doctor if uncertain of the cause of your symptoms". They said that the objective of this text was to encourage anyone who experienced symptoms as described by the actress to consult their doctor if they were unsure of their cause. Actegy Health also stated that the end of the ad directed viewers to visit two well-known pharmacy chains, where access to healthcare professionals and further information about the suitability of the device could be obtained.
Clearcast said that the lead character did not exhibit any overt signs of breathlessness or appear to be in any discomfort. They therefore believed that there was no suggestion that her condition was chronic or prolonged. While they acknowledged that shortness of breath might be indicative of serious underlying conditions in the same way as a fever, cough, headache or other mild ailments might be, they considered that the product was presented in an understated style similar to any number of ads for over-the-counter health treatments. They said it was not irresponsible and could not be seen to encourage behaviour prejudicial to health and safety.
We acknowledged Actegy Health’s and Clearcast's belief that the character did not exhibit overt signs of breathlessness or appear to be in any discomfort, and that there was no indication her condition was serious. However, we noted that the actress delivered her lines in a manner that indicated that she was short of breath, stopping in the middle of a phrase to breathe, and that she appeared to be anxious. Although we acknowledged Actegy Health’s view that the character's representation of breathlessness was in the context of increased activity, such as an active walk or taking a child to the playground, we noted that she appeared short of breath while sitting on the sofa, and that details were given about her still having symptoms, such as coughing, while resting at night. Although the lead character stated that she was "still really active," this was contradicted by the remarks of her family, particularly those which stated that she was unable to go for walks or visit the playground. These further details about her condition did not present the lead character as just finding these activities more difficult but as being unable to do them altogether. Although we acknowledged Actegy Health’s contention that the line "Except you're always too out of puff to come for a walk" reflected the lead character's inability to keep up with her more active daughter, rather than being unable to go for a walk at all, we considered that this meaning was not made clear and that consumers were therefore likely to infer that the lead character wasn't able to go for any walks because of her breathlessness. Consequently, we concluded that viewers were likely to interpret the presentation of these symptoms as more than mild in nature and not solely related to her level of fitness.
Although we acknowledged that short-term breathlessness could be caused by minor conditions such as a cold, and that the character made a reference to her "chesty cough", we also noted that the descriptions contained phrases such as "You're always too out of puff", "Your coughing keeps me awake" and "You never take me to the playground". We considered that these were likely to be interpreted as indicative of a longer-term problem because they implied that the character's symptoms had lasted a significant amount of time and were on-going. While we noted Actegy Health’s view that the ad did not contain a claim to treat or cure breathlessness, we noted that the lead character stated "a new, drug-free way that may help relieve my symptoms", "… could reduce your breathlessness" and "Now I can breathe easier and enjoy life" and considered that consumers were likely to infer from the ad that the lead character was successfully managing her symptoms by using the device. We therefore considered that viewers were generally likely to interpret the character's breathlessness as more than a mild symptom relating to a minor medical condition or general lack of fitness, and to understand that it was possible for long-term breathlessness to be treated successfully with the AeroSure device. We understood that breathlessness of this nature could be a symptom of serious conditions and that those suffering from the symptom should therefore seek medical advice.
While we acknowledged Actegy Health’s statement that viewers were advised to read the instructions and that these contained information about visiting a doctor and contra-indications, we noted that this would only be accessed after purchase of the product. Although Actegy Health said that the ad directed viewers to pharmacies by way of displaying their logos, we considered that these logos were likely to be understood by viewers only as information about where the device could be obtained, rather than as a suggestion to seek advice about their symptoms. We also acknowledged that Actegy Health believed on-screen text directing viewers to visit their doctor would have made clear to consumers that medical advice should be sought. However, we considered that the overall impression created by the depiction of the character's symptoms was such that this qualification would not be sufficient to mitigate this impression. We therefore concluded that the ad was irresponsible and potentially harmful because it could discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical advice should be sought.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Social Responsibility), 4.4 4.4 Advertisements must not include material that is likely to condone or encourage behaviour that prejudices health or safety. (Harm & Offence) and 11.3 11.3 Advertisements must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. For example, they must not offer specific advice on, diagnosis of or treatment for such conditions unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment is conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional (see rule 11.9). That does not prevent advertising for spectacles, contact lenses or hearing aids. (Medicines, Medical Devices, Treatments and Health).
The ad must not be shown again in its current form. We reminded Actegy Health Ltd that ads must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical advice should be sought.