A TV ad for animal health company Ceva Animal Health, seen on 31 December 2017, promoted their plug-in diffuser Adaptil. The ad depicted a dog owner and her dog. The dog owner said, “This is Dude. He is almost two years old. He used to get super anxious when left alone.” The ad showed the dog pawing at the door after the owner left. The camera then cut to a shot of the plug-in diffuser. The owner said, “I tried Adaptil. Just plug it in - easy. You can see he’s relaxed. The same Dude, just better behaved. Now when I’m out and about he’s no problem, which is great. I’d recommend it to anyone.” A woman’s voice then said, “Best behaviour starts with Adaptil.” During the ad, super-imposed text along the bottom of the screen stated “Behavioural therapy may be required. Ask your vet for advice”.
The complainant challenged whether the ad’s claims regarding the alleviation of anxiety and improved behaviour were misleading and could be substantiated.
Ceva Animal Health Ltd provided a number of studies which they said showed that Adaptil had anxiety reducing properties. The studies assessed the use of Adaptil collars, sprays and diffusers. They said that Adaptil was proven to help adult dogs cope in challenging or worrying situations; it helped to promote learning and ensured puppies became well-behaved, confident and resilient dogs, thereby reducing the likelihood of anxiety related behaviour problems developing in later life.
Ceva Animal Health said the method of how consumers used Adaptil (collar, spray or diffuser) was not the most important influence as to how the product worked and that all delivery mechanisms included the same synthetic analogue of the dog appeasing pheremone (DAP), a pheromone which they said helped relax dogs and was also Adaptil’s main ingredient.
Ceva Animal Health said that the ad directed owners to Adaptil as a complementary option alongside behavioural advice to help dogs cope with being separated from their owner and that any additional help required should be sought from a behaviourist or vet. They said they worked with a number of specialists, behaviourists and vets who used Adaptil in cases of separation anxiety to help their patients be in a more positive emotional state during behavioural therapy.
Clearcast said they had received details of peer-reviewed studies regarding the role of DAP, the product’s main ingredient, in reducing stress among dogs. Those details were evaluated by Clearcast’s veterinary consultant which they said were acceptable. Clearcast said they were confident that the role of Adaptil in reducing stress in dogs was well established. For each testimonial, Clearcast requested a testimonial form to confirm that what they saw on-screen was a genuine experience.
Clearcast said they mandated the inclusion of super-imposed text that stated 'Behavioural therapy may be required. Ask your vet for advice'. That text was included to make clear that pet owners should visit a veterinary professional as their first source for advice and that Adaptil alone may not solve all behavioural issues.
The ASA noted that the ad began with a dog that appeared to be happy and playful around its owner. The dog then appeared to become anxious when left alone. Adaptil was then shown plugged into the wall, and the dog appeared more playful and less anxious. We considered that consumers would, therefore, understand from the ad that the Adaptil diffuser could treat anxiety and behavioural issues in dogs caused by separation from their owners and that, once the device was plugged in, owners would begin to see results with no further training or instruction necessary. Although on-screen text at the bottom of the ad stated that behaviour therapy may be required and to ask a vet for advice, we considered this did not override the overall impression that Adaptil alone treated anxiety and behavioural issues.
We reviewed the studies submitted by Ceva Animal Health. We noted that ten of the studies were conducted using the DAP collar and spray, and considered that those studies were not relevant because the ad only featured a DAP diffuser. One study evaluated the use of DAP diffuser in the graduation of guide dogs, which we also did not consider relevant to the ad’s claims.
Four open, uncontrolled studies assessed the effect of a DAP diffuser on behavioural or fear responses in dogs. However, none of the studies assessed the separation of dogs from their owners, as was depicted in the ad, and a number of the studies required that owners used a CD-based desensitisation programme alongside the DAP which did not reflect the use of Adaptil in the ad. In addition, we also noted the studies lacked control groups to assess the effect of DAP, that the amount of fireworks dogs were exposed to was not controlled and that at least one of the studies noted that a larger population was required to confirm the significance of findings. Therefore, because the studies did not assess separation, additional desensitisation training was necessary, and they lacked robust testing methods, we considered they did not sufficiently substantiate the ad’s claim.
One study examined the effect of DAP on anxiety related behaviour in veterinary clinics. However, we considered the sample size of 15 dogs was too small to produce clinically significant findings. During the study, either the owners or veterinary staff were with the dogs at all times, which we did not consider was sufficiently similar to the scenario depicted in the ad where the dog was left alone. In addition, the dogs were used as both the control and experiment groups which would not sufficiently control variables to provide a robust result of experimental effect. As such, because of the study sample and the setting in which the study took place, we considered it did not sufficiently substantiate the ad’s claim.
Two studies assessed stress and fear in responses in shelter dogs; one was set in a shelter while the other assessed behaviours as they settled in to new homes. We did not consider the study set in a shelter to be relevant as its setting was not sufficiently similar to the ad’s and did not measure the effect of owner separation. The second study was uncontrolled, only half of the behaviours produced significant results, and the authors stated that further studies were required to establish with greater certainty the relative efficacy of DAP. The study also assessed behaviour of dogs adapting to a new home, not experiencing owner separation as seen in the ad, and the authors stated changes in mood could have been due to new environments, desensitisation and positive interactions with the owners. We therefore did not consider the studies sufficiently substantiated the ad’s claim.
Two studies assessed DAP given to puppies. While each study produced some statistically significant results that suggested an effect of DAP on some behaviours among some breeds, neither produced results that replicated the use and effect of Adaptil depicted in the ad, only learning and other behaviours exhibited around the home. One of the studies only assessed 29 dogs by its conclusion, with only nine in the experimental DAP group. One study also stated that some measurements of anxiety related behaviours (e.g. barking) could have been due to other factors. In addition, both studies only assessed one age group of dogs. Therefore, because the studies did not replicate the use of the product in the ad and their other limitations, we considered neither study sufficiently substantiated the ad’s claims.
One study compared the efficacy of DAP versus clomipramine, a prescription-only medicine which Ceva Animal Health considered a reference treatment for the condition. Fifty-seven dogs were assessed for behaviours including vocalisation, defecation, urination and destruction. The results found that there were no statistically significant differences between the two groups and no significant secondary distress signs were observed. Although there seemed to be a change from the baseline measurements in both groups, no statistical analyses of those differences was carried out. All dogs were hyper-attached and a behavioural modification plan was adhered to during the study, which we did not consider reflected Adaptil’s use in the ad. Therefore, although the aim of the study was related to the ad’s claims, we did not consider it effectively substantiated them.
Because the advertiser had not submitted sufficient evidence to support their efficacy claims regarding behavioural and anxiety-related issues associated with owner separation, we concluded the ad’s claims were likely to mislead.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules
Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation.
If they are necessary for the assessment of claims, broadcasters must, before the advertisement is broadcast, obtain generally accepted scientific evidence and independent expert advice.
Medicinal or medical claims and indications may be made for a medicinal product that is licensed by the MHRA, the VMD or under the auspices of the EMA, or for a CE-marked medical device. A medicinal claim is a claim that a product or its constituent(s) can be used with a view to making a medical diagnosis or can treat or prevent disease, including an injury, ailment or adverse condition, whether of body or mind, in human beings.
Secondary medicinal claims made for cosmetic products as defined in the appropriate European legislation must be backed by evidence. These are limited to any preventative action of the product and may not include claims to treat disease. (Medicines, medical devices, treatments and health).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Ceva Animal Health Ltd not to claim or imply that Adaptil could treat anxiety related and behavioural issues associated with owner separation unless they held adequate evidence to demonstrate that was the case.