Background

Summary of Council decision:

Five issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.

Ad description

Four advertorials reviewing CBD Oils, seen on various online news outlets, were promoted by Consumer Logic Research:

a. The first advertorial, published on the MKCitizen website on 26 June 2021, featured the heading “CBD Oil UK: The 6 Best CBD Oils Reviewed (2021)” and the subheading “CBD has become a growing trend in the health and wellness community, writes Consumer Logic Research”. Smaller text underneath stated, “Promoted by Consumer Logic Research”.

Towards the top of the article text included, “CBD has helped people the world over with issues like chronic pain, seizures, sleep disorders, and more”.

Under the heading “What is the best CBD oil in the UK?”, text included, “These are the 6 best CBD oil brands to try in 2021” and provided information about six CBD companies and their products. Rated from first to sixth were: Blessed CBD, Vibes CBD, Excite CBD, Dragonfly CBD, Love Hemp and Provacan.

Under the heading “1. Blessed CBD”, which included a hyperlink to their website, text included, “This isn’t the first time that Blessed CBD has been a top pick on an online list”, followed by links to a number of other news websites. Further text stated “If you’re looking for the #1 rated CBD oil brand the UK has to offer, go with Blessed CBD”, and included a further link to the Blessed CBD website.

At the end of the article, text stated, “We recommend Blessed CBD as the best CBD oil in the UK”.

b. The second advertorial, published on the Sussex World website on 20 July 2021, featured the heading “CBD Oil UK: 6 Best CBD Oil Brands in the UK Reviewed” and the subheading “What is the best CBD oil brand in the UK?”. Smaller text underneath stated, “Promoted by Consumer Logic Research”.

The article began “Here Consumer Logic Research gives its verdict […]”.

Under the heading “The 6 best CBD oil products to try in the UK (2021) […]”, there was information about six CBD companies and their products. Rated from first to sixth were: Vibes CBD, Blessed CBD, Royal CBD, Excite CBD, Beliebis and Love Hemp.

Under the heading “2. Blessed CBD”, which included a hyperlink to their website, text included, “If you are searching for the very best CBD oil on the market […] some of the best CBD products in the UK”, “Blessed CBD also sells CBD creams for topical pain relief […]”, and “we recommend trying Blessed CBD (who were featured as the UK’s best CBD brand in publications such as […]” followed by links to a number of other news websites.

Further down the article, under the heading “Avoid cheap CBD oil drops that don’t work”, text included, “If you are serious about taking care of your body and mind with the help of CBD, then you should buy the best CBD oil UK – such as […] Blessed CBD”, and included a link to their website.

c. The third advertorial, published on The Scotsman’s website on 30 November 2021, featured the heading “CBD Oil UK: The 8 Best (& Tested) CBD Oils for 2022” and the subheading “[…] the United Kingdom has unexpectedly become the world’s second-largest consumer of cannabinoids […]”. Smaller text underneath stated, “Promoted by Consumer Logic Research”. The article included text which stated, “In this article, Consumer Logic Research take you through the ins and outs of what they claim to be the UK’s eight best CBD oil brands. […] they have also taken the time to identify why some brands, such as Blessed CBD, continue to dominate the market […]”.

Under the heading “UK’s 8 Best CBD Oils To Choose From in 2022”, there was information about eight CBD companies and their products. Rated from first to eighth were: Blessed CBD, Vibes CBD, Excite CBD, Endoca Raw, Holistic Hemp, Bud and Tender, Hempura and Select CBD.

Under the heading “1. Blessed CBD”, which included a hyperlink to their website, text included “With the highest quality of CBD products […] they are top of the list for a reason […] we believe Blessed CBD is producing the best CBD oil the UK has ever seen. They’ve also been picked as a top CBD oil brand to try by […]” followed by links to a number of other news websites. There was also a further link to the Blessed CBD website.

Under the heading “Why Do I Need CBD In My Life?”, text included, “the plant-derived substance possess natural healing properties that are said to treat a number of chronic neurological issues. Below, we discuss some of the more claimed (clinical trials are ongoing) health benefits of CBD oil”.

Under the heading “*Chronic Pain Relief”, text included, “A natural way to manage chronic pain […] all can prove effective in alleviating the body from unwanted pain […] a safer alternative to traditional, hardcore prescription drugs”.

Under the heading “*Mind And Body Relaxation”, text included, “the ability to include a good night’s sleep, which can prove quite helpful for those suffering from sleeping disorders”.

Under the heading “*Stress Relief”, text included “[…] its power to counter anxiety and stress […] many people use CBD to calm their nerves […]”.

d. The fourth advertorial, published on The Scotsman’s website on 5 December 2021, featured the heading “CBD Oil: Blessed CBD – Buy UK CBD Oil for sale (2022) and the subheading “Food supplements are in high demands, as consumers […] take advantage of the health benefits set forth by herbs, plants, and more”. Smaller text underneath stated, “Promoted by Consumer Logic Research”.

The article began “Here Consumer Logic Research takes a look at CBD oil and recommends what readers should buy. The best CBD oil brands in the UK, such as Blessed CBD […]. Studies have shown CBD may assist in alleviating various symptoms, such as anxiety, chronic pain relief, inflammation, sleep, and sports recovery”.

Under the heading “CBD oils to buy in the UK near you”, there was information about three CBD companies and their products. Rated from first to third were: Blessed CBD, Vibes CBD and Sun State Hemp.

Under the heading “1. Blessed CBD”, which included a hyperlink to their website, text included “[…] Blessed CBD has remained as one of the best CBD brands throughout the UK’s market” and “[…] they have also been featured in the […] as the ‘best CBD oil UK’” and included links to a number of other news websites. There were also further links to the Blessed CBD website and product pages.

Under the heading “Types of CBD oil products to buy”, text included, “get the best effects of CBD, especially in the potential management of pain, epilepsy or anxiety […]” and “Consumer Logic Research recommends its top pick – Blessed CBD”, which was hyperlinked to their website.

Further down the article, text stated “Buy CBD oils at BlessedCBD.co.uk” which was hyperlinked to their website.

Issue

The ASA received one complaint, from the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA).

1. ESSNA, who understood that Consumer Logic Research had a commercial relationship with Blessed CBD, challenged whether the ads misleadingly implied the products were independently recommended.

ESSNA also challenged whether the claims:

2. “Blessed CBD also sells CBD creams for topical pain relief” in ad (b) was a medicinal claim for an unlicensed product;

3. that CBD oil was effective for treating or helping with the conditions and illnesses referenced in ads (a), (c) and (d) stated or implied that a food prevented, treated or cured human disease; and

4. “Studies have shown CBD may assist in alleviating various symptoms, such as […] sports recovery” in ad (d) was a health claim that complied with the Code.

5. The ASA challenged whether the claim “taking care of your body and mind with CBD oil” in ad (b) was a health claim that complied with the Code.

Response

1. Enigmaa Ltd t/a Blessed CBD said that Consumer Logic Research had signed up to their affiliate marketing programme. They sent Consumer Logic Research free samples of their products for them to independently test. They said that they offered one of the highest affiliate commissions in the industry and that this may have been a factor why affiliates chose to promote their products. They said that the advertorials did not belong to them, and they were therefore limited with what they could do. However, they would let all their affiliates know that all marketing materials should clearly display a disclosure that made clear it was affiliate marketing.

They said that they had asked Consumer Logic Research to remove the ads, and confirmed that this had been done.

Consumer Logic Inc t/a Consumer Logic Research said that they identified highly reviewed or trending supplement brands, and would then get in contact with them to become an affiliate marketer and receive free products from them. They tested the products and then prepared marketing communications as an affiliate of the brands that they worked with.

They said that they used pay-per-click ads in their advertising and liked to work with one or two brands only.

National World plc, the publisher of the news outlets where the advertorials were seen, said that they understood that “promoted by” was an acceptable label to indicate an advertorial.

2. - 5. Regarding the efficacy claims for CBD products, Blessed CBD said that these had been written by Consumer Logic Research. Blessed CBD did not have control over the claims that were written in the advertorials. They recognised that they should have regularly checked affiliate marketing communications to make sure they were compliant with the Advertising Code. Although they did already do this, they said that affiliate marketers sometimes edited the content after they had originally reviewed it. They said that, going forward, they would more regularly check all disclosed affiliate marketing communications and suggested a service that their affiliate marketers could use to fact check the content.

Consumer Logic Research did not comment on these points.

Assessment

1. Upheld

The CAP Code required that marketing communications must make clear that advertorials were marketing communications; for example, by heading them “advertisement feature”. The CAP Code also required that marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer was acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession. It also required that marketing communications made clear their commercial intent.

The ASA understood that Consumer Logic Research had signed up to Blessed CBD’s affiliate scheme, and had then paid for the advertorial to be placed in the various online news outlets owned by National World. The advertorials included affiliate links to the Blessed CBD website, from which Consumer Logic Research would receive commission for any sales generated by the retailer through their appearance in the advertorials. Therefore, there was a commercial relationship between Blessed CBD and Consumer Logic Research, and one between Consumer Logic Research and National World. We therefore considered that the commercial nature of the affiliate content should have been made clear prior to consumer engagement.

Ads (a) to (c) featured similar headings: “CBD Oil UK: The 6 Best CBD Oils Reviewed (2021)” in ad (a); “CBD Oil UK: 6 Best CBD Oil Brands in the UK Reviewed” in ad (b); and “CBD Oil UK: The 8 Best (& Tested) CBD Oils for 2022” in ad (c). We considered those headings implied that the content related to independent reviews and ratings of a range of CBD oils. Each of the ads then set out general information about CBD oils and included discussion of characteristics of a range of CBD oil brands such as information about the companies, pricing, quality and product options. Additionally, in ad (b), the main article began “Here Consumer Logic Research gives its verdict”. Partway down ad (c), text included “In this article, Consumer Logic Research take you through the ins and out of what they claim to be the UK’s eight best CBD oil brands”. We considered that the overall impression of ads (a), (b) and (c) was that they were independent reviews of CBD oil brands in the UK.

The headline in ad (d) did not refer to reviewing different products: “CBD Oil: Blessed CBD – Buy UK CBD Oil for sale (2022)”. However, the article began, “Here Consumer Logic Research takes a look at CBD oil and recommends what readers should buy” and then included very similar content to that of the other ads. We considered the overall impression of ad (d) was also that it was an independent review of CBD oil brands in the UK.

All four ads recommended Blessed CBD as either the best or second-best CBD product and included affiliate links only to the websites of those top two rated brands. We noted Consumer Logic Research had a commercial relationship with both Blessed CBD and the other best-rated brand. We considered the purpose of the advertorials was therefore to advertise Blessed CBD and the other brand, and to drive traffic to their websites through the affiliate links. While the advertorials referenced other CBD oil brands, they did not include any links to their websites. We considered those brands were included to reinforce the impression that the ads were independent reviews and to underscore the top ratings of the two brands with whom Consumer Logic Research had a commercial relationship. We therefore considered that the advertorials falsely implied that Consumer Logic Research had independently reviewed the CBD oils when that was not the case.

We noted that ads (a) to (d) included text below the heading that stated, “Promoted by Consumer Logic Research” and included a few further references to Consumer Logic Research in the copy. However, we considered that “Promoted by Consumer Logic Research” was insufficient to identify the content as advertising, or that it was specifically advertising for Blessed CBD (and the other best-rated brand) and that it included affiliate links, or to counteract the overall impression that the content was an independent review of products. We therefore concluded that it was not clear that the advertorials were marketing communications.

We concluded that the ads breached the Code because they: did not make clear they were advertorials; did not make clear their commercial intent; and implied the marketer was acting for purposes outside its trade or business.

On this point, ads (a), (b), (c) and (d) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules  2.1 2.1 Marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such.    2.3 2.3 Marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession; marketing communications must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context.    2.4 2.4 Marketers and publishers must make clear that advertorials are marketing communications; for example, by heading them "advertisement feature".  (Recognition of marketing communications) and  3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.  (Misleading advertising).

2. Upheld

The CAP Code stated that medicinal or medical claims and indications may be made for a medicinal product that was licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) or under the auspices of the European Medicines Agency, or for a CE-marked medical device. A medicinal claim was a claim that a product or its constituent(s) could be used with a view to make a medical diagnosis or could treat or prevent disease, including an injury, ailment or adverse condition, whether of body or mind, in human beings.We considered that consumers would understand the claim “Blessed CBD also sells CBD creams for topical pain relief” to mean that Blessed CBD’s CBD creams could relieve pain. We therefore considered that was a medicinal claim which required the product be licensed as a medicine. However, we understood that the product did not have the relevant marketing authorisation from the MHRA and because of that no medicinal claims could be made for the product.

Because the ad made a medicinal claim for a product which was not licensed, we concluded that ad (b) breached the Code.

On this point, ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules  12.1 12.1 Objective claims must be backed by evidence, if relevant consisting of trials conducted on people. Substantiation will be assessed on the basis of the available scientific knowledge.
Medicinal or medical claims and indications may be made for a medicinal product that is licensed by the MHRA, 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.
 and  12.11 12.11 Medicines must have a licence from the MHRA, VMD or under the auspices of the EMA before they are marketed. Marketing communications for medicines must conform with the licence and the product's summary of product characteristics. For the avoidance of doubt, by conforming with the product's indicated use, a marketing communication would not breach rule 12.2.
Marketing communications must not suggest that a product is "special" or "different" because it has been granted a licence by the MHRA, VMD or under the auspices of the EMA.
 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

3. Upheld

The CAP Code prohibited claims that stated or implied that a food could prevent, treat or cure human disease.

Ad (a) included the claim “CBD has helped people the world over with issues like chronic pain, seizures, sleep disorders, and more”. Ad (c) included the claims “the plant-derived substance possess natural healing properties that are said to treat a number of chronic neurological issues”, “A natural way to manage chronic pain […] all can prove effective in alleviating the body from unwanted pain […] a safer alternative to traditional, hardcore prescription drugs”, “the ability to include a good night’s sleep, which can prove quite helpful for those suffering from sleeping disorders”, and “its power to counter anxiety and stress […] many people use CBD to calm their nerves”. Ad (d) included the claims “CBD may assist in alleviating various symptoms, such as anxiety, chronic pain relief, inflammation, sleep […]” and “get the best effects of CBD, especially in the potential management of pain, epilepsy or anxiety”.

In the context that the ads focused on CBD oil food supplements (as opposed to topical use of CBD products), we considered that consumers would understand from the claims that consuming CBD oil, including Blessed CBD’s products, could prevent, treat or cure chronic pain including by stating that it was a safer alternative to prescription drugs, seizures, sleep disorders, aches, chronic neurological disorders, stress, anxiety, inflammation and epilepsy.

Because those were all adverse health conditions, or symptoms of them, we concluded the claims implied the product, a food, prevented, treated or cured human disease, which was prohibited under the Code.

On this point, ads (a), (c) and (d) breached CAP Code rule  15.6.2 15.6.2 Claims that state or imply a food prevents, treats or cures human disease. Reduction-of disease-risk claims are acceptable if authorised on the applicable register.  (Food, food supplements and associated health or nutrition claims).

4. Upheld

Only health claims authorised on the Great Britain nutrition and health claims Register (the GB NHC Register) could be made in ads promoting foods or food supplements. Marketers must also ensure that the advertised food or food supplement met the conditions of use associated with the authorised health claim. Health claims were defined as those that stated, suggested or implied a relationship between a food or ingredient, and health.

We considered consumers would understand the claim “Studies have shown CBD may assist in alleviating various symptoms, such as […] sports recovery” in ad (d) to mean that CBD oil, including Blessed CBD’s products, would help the body recover after exercising. The claim was therefore a specific health claim about the benefits of CBD, for the purposes of the Code, which must be authorised on the GB NHC Register. However, there were no health claims relating to CBD authorised on the GB NHC Register and the claim therefore breached the Code.

On this point, ad (d) breached CAP Code rules  15.1 15.1 Marketing communications that contain nutrition or health claims must be supported by documentary evidence to show they meet the conditions of use associated with the relevant claim, as specified in the applicable register. Claims must be presented clearly and without exaggeration.    15.1.1 15.1.1 Only nutrition claims listed in the applicable register┬ámay be used in marketing communications.
Only health claims listed as authorised in the applicable register, or claims that would have the same meaning to the consumer, may be used in marketing communications.
 (Food, food supplements and associated health or nutrition claims) and  15.7 15.7 Nutrition and health claims for food supplements must be permitted or authorised as provided for at rule  15.1 15.1 Marketing communications that contain nutrition or health claims must be supported by documentary evidence to show they meet the conditions of use associated with the relevant claim, as specified in the applicable register. Claims must be presented clearly and without exaggeration.  1 above. Marketing communications that contain nutrition or health claims must be supported by documentary evidence to show they meet the conditions of use associated with the relevant claim as specified in the applicable register.  (Vitamins, minerals and other food supplements).

5. Upheld

The CAP Code defined claims which referenced the general benefits of a nutrient or food for overall good health or health-related wellbeing as general health claims. Such claims were acceptable in ads only if accompanied by a specific authorised health claim.

We considered consumers would understand the claim “taking care of your body and mind with CBD oil” in ad (b) to be a reference to the general benefits of CBD oil, including Blessed CBD’s products, for physical and mental health. The claim was therefore a general health claim that needed to be accompanied by a specific authorised health claim relating to CBD. However, because there were no authorised health claims for CBD, that claim also breached the Code.

On this point, ad (b) breached CAP Code rule  15.2 15.2 References to general benefits of a nutrient or food for overall good health or health-related well-being are acceptable only if accompanied by a specific authorised health claim.  (Food, food supplements and associated health or nutrition claims).

Action

The ads must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Enigmaa Ltd t/a Blessed CBD and Consumer Logic Inc t/a Consumer Logic Research to ensure that marketing communications were obviously identifiable as such and made clear their commercial intent. We told them to ensure they did not falsely imply they were acting for purposes outside the trade or business. We also told them to ensure that future ads did not make medicinal claims for unlicensed products; did not state or imply that CBD oil supplements could prevent, treat or cure human disease; that any general health claims were accompanied by a specific authorised health claim; and that specific health claims were authorised on the GB NHC Register.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

2.1     2.3     2.4     3.1     12.1     12.11     15.7     15.1     15.2     15.1.1     15.6.2    


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