A TV ad for Nurofen, seen in April 2016, showed a woman with back pain who subsequently took Nurofen Joint and Back. As she took the product an anatomical image showed it moving down her body and to her back while on-screen text stated "... Also indicated for other aches and pains". The ad then showed shots of the woman going about her usual activities without any pain, interspersed with anatomical images of her back with a Nurofen symbol indicating where the pain relief was acting. The voice-over included the claim, "... Just a single dose of Nurofen Joint and Back provides you with constant targeted pain relief for up to 8 hours".
Eighteen complainants challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied that the product specifically targeted joint and back pain.
RB UK Commercial Ltd stated that Nurofen Joint and Back contained liquid ibuprofen, which meant it was more soluble and readily absorbed than ‘standard’ Nurofen. Ibuprofen was a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, which alleviated pain by inhibiting the production of the chemical messengers that produced pain messages at the site of injury. Therefore, the mode of action of ibuprofen meant that, by its very nature, it targeted pain regardless of where that pain occurred in the body. They confirmed that the product was licensed for the relief of a range of sources of pain, including rheumatic or muscular pain, backache, neuralgia, migraine, headache, dental pain, dysmenorrhoea, feverishness, symptoms of colds and influenza.
RB UK said the main objective of the ad was to communicate that Nurofen Joint and Back provided pain relief for backache. However, while the ad showed an example of the pain which Nurofen Joint and Back could be used to treat, it did not state or imply that the product specifically (or only) targeted back pain. The anatomical images of the woman’s body were used to show how the product was acting, but the Nurofen symbol was shown travelling through the woman’s body in a “swirling” manner, and did not travel directly to the source of pain. The word “Later” also appeared on screen at that point, indicating that a certain amount of time had passed between the woman taking the product and it beginning to act on the relevant site. They believed the images accurately reflected the absorption and distribution method of the product and avoided any impression that the product immediately and specifically targeted back pain. RB UK also emphasised that before and during ingestion, on-screen text stated “Also indicated for other aches and pains, see pack”, and the voice-over stated “.. provides you with constant targeted pain relief”, as opposed to “.. provides you with constant targeted backache relief”, which made clear that the product could be used for various sources of pain. RB UK also said the ad had been approved by the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB).
Clearcast believed the ad did not say the product was designed to specifically target joint and back pain, but instead stated “… provides you with constant targeted pain relief”. They also said they felt the passage of the product through the body was indicative as the product passed through the body rather than specifically targeting the back. They believed the anatomical images highlighted how the product acted on pain, not how it targeted a specific area. Given the focus of the ad was on a woman with back pain, it was appropriate to show the product acting on that area. The super “Also indicated for other aches and pains, see pack” further emphasised that the product worked on all areas of the body.
The ASA noted that the ad featured a woman suffering from back pain which was relieved when she took Nurofen Joint and Back. As the woman took the product, we considered that the Nurofen symbol appeared to move down her digestive tract and to the source of pain, where it remained, pulsing, as she went about her usual daily activities. We acknowledged that the concluding voice-over stated, “… provides you with constant targeted pain relief”, but considered that, in the context of an ad focused on the alleviation of back pain, and given the product name, viewers were likely to understand that Nurofen Joint and Back was specifically designed to relieve back and joint pain, rather than pain generally. We also considered that viewers were likely to infer that the product had a special mechanism or contained an active ingredient which made it especially effective for back and joint pain in comparison to other painkillers. While we noted that, as the product was ingested, on-screen text stated, “Also indicated for other aches and pains”, we considered that it was not sufficiently prominent to counter the overall impression that the product was specifically tailored for back and joint pain.
We understood that the active ingredient in the product, ibuprofen, was scientifically proven to relieve pain and that Nurofen had been licensed by the MHRA for that purpose. While the product contained liquid ibuprofen, which meant it was absorbed more quickly than ‘standard’ Nurofen, we understood the product was absorbed by the stomach and distributed to sources of pain wherever they may be located around the body via the bloodstream, and that there was no mechanism by which the product actively sought out the source of pain in a user’s back or joints.
Because the ad implied the product had a special mechanism which meant it specifically targeted back and joint pain, and was especially effective at relieving those sources of pain, when that was not the case, we concluded that it was misleading.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 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. (Substantiation), and 3.12 3.12 Advertisements must not mislead by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product or service. (Exaggeration).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told RB UK Commercial Ltd to ensure they did not imply that Nurofen Joint and Back had a special mechanism which meant it specifically targeted, and was especially effective at relieving, back and joint pain if that was not the case.