Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2016 scientific society talks in London blog post

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Pretty much everyone I've complained to the ASA about (records permitting)

Someone asked me the other day on Twitter about all the other people and organisations whose advertising material I'd complained about to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

To be honest I'd been meaning to write it for a while in response to a certain live blood microscopist's recent claims (well, since October 2012) that I'm a racist, along with Josephine Jones, because I complained about his sites and because I'm white and he's not.

However I've also been reluctant to write it as I didn't particularly want to name the names of all the companies because that would also include those who've had their claims informally resolved after they made the relevant changes on their website. So I will link to stuff that should help you find out what organisation it was, without mentioning them, or the others, on this particular post.

Hopefully it will be clear from the information below that any sites or organisations whose advertising / marketing material I've complained about have been the subject of a complaint because of their claims, and not because of anything personal about them.

I can't be sure I have every item here, I'm on a course this week so am not doing a big trawl of my various repositories but will add to it as I remember stuff or people remind me of stuff I've forgotten.

The reason that I don't automatically have a record is because I don't use my email system's sent mailbox as the store of sent messages (that would make it easy) - information about the complaints is in disparate places.

Instead I've used two main methods to communicate with the ASA:
(1) filling in their form online
(2) filling in their form via use of the Fishbarrel tool which lets you fill in comments on a single page and then parses it into the form for you.

In both cases it is my responsibility to keep a record as once it's sent you don't get an automatic email with a complaint. I'm inconsistent in where I store these, though it doesn't really matter.

What happens to the complaint?
As I understand it... please correct me if I am wrong...
(1) The ASA thinks there's no case to answer because the advert didn't break their advertising code, they let you know and that's the end of it
(2) The ASA thinks there is a case to answer and proposes to investigate the matter, taking it up with the advertiser
>>(2a) The advertiser agrees to amend their claims and the matter is resolved informally - there is no formal adjudication but the advertiser is listed on the 'informally resolved' pages
>>(2b) The advertiser provides evidence that satisfies the ASA and the matter is adjudicated and the complaint is NOT upheld
>>(2c) The advertiser provides evidence that DOES NOT satisfy the ASA (or they do not provide evidence), the matter is adjudicated and the complaint is upheld
(3) The ASA has already adjudicated on a similar case, thinks there is no benefit in re-running the process (having seen all the evidence they need) and passes the complaint to the compliance team who liaise with the advertiser. If the advertiser amends their claims that's the end of the matter and it is informally resolved, if not the advertiser is listed on the ASA's list of non-compliant online advertisers.

Thus far my complaints have led to one company being added to the list of non-compliant advertisers  - a live blood analyst (however it is not the one who has recently made inexplicable assertions about me or Josephine).

If stage (2c) occurs the ASA writes to you asking that you don't report on the contents of the draft adjudication until the Board has met and considered it (after all, they may reject it), which is fair enough. After an adjudication has been upheld it is in the public domain and journalists and indeed anyone can write about it. In fact, I think it's good practice - if someone has made misleading claims then it is not a bad idea to write better information in the hope that people searching for the topic will find your information.

Here are the names of the companies or people that I have complained about. As I come across various bit of information about their status I'll add it.

Quite a lot of these relate to diabetes. I used to work at Diabetes UK and received a lot of information from the public who'd come across adverts and wanted to know more. I never complained to the ASA as part of my job (ie I didn't complain as an employee) but certainly made clear that I worked there, had an interest in diabetes and had the relevant medical knowledge to spot a misleading claim when I saw it.

Organisations I've complained about
- some I've blogged about, not all

Cosmetics (parent) company - I complained about a ridiculous advert for an anti-ageing cream. It was monumentally unsubtle with a close-up of someone's eye smiling (which makes the skin around the eyes wrinkle on pretty much everyone) versus an slightly less smiling eye. For the life of me I can't find it on the ASA's website but I think it was upheld and the ad was not to be shown in the current format again. I can't imagine this troubles the parent company one bit to be honest.
Adjudication upheld, advert not to be shown again, advert not shown again.

Live blood analyst - the leaflet of a London-based live blood analyst. At the time of making this complaint (2010) the ASA was not accepting complaints about website content. This changed in 2011.
Adjudication upheld, leaflets not to be promoted again, leaflets not promoted again, however website claims remain. 

Vitamin pill company - made misleading claims about products for people relating to diabetes. They promptly amended their website so the ASA didn't pursue it formally (no point, job done).
Website amended, informally resolved.

Holiday / retreat offering treatment for diabetes & cancer - claims about diabetes and cancer. Because the company operates beyond UK soil the adjudication was made in a different country, but upheld.
Adjudication upheld, website changed. I did blog about this but later removed it (more details below).

Live blood analyst - website of same live blood analyst as above. Funnily enough the adjudication isn't actually mine, although I did complain about the website at the same time as someone else (I don't know who it is, it's not Josephine). I received a letter from the ASA saying that they were already acting on an earlier complaint however I confess I misunderstood this somewhat and when I received an adjucation note from them later I thought it was mine. Doesn't matter - the content's pretty much the same.
Adjudication upheld, website not amended, blogged.

Live blood analyst - website of a different live blood analyst in London. This followed a complaint about their website after there was an article about their services in a newspaper.
No adjudication because complaint passed straight to compliance. The compliance team doesn't alert you if an organisation is posted on their non-compliant list so I found out about this quite a bit later. Website not amended, added to non-compliant online advertiser list. Blogged, once I found out about it.

Homeopaths (general) - several. When the ASA's remit changed in 2011 the ASA received an influx of complaints about homeopathy from everyone who'd ever been annoyed at the claims they were making without good evidence. The ASA realised it couldn't manage things under their normal way of working so instead of handling individual cases they decided to work on guidelines for the entire homeopathy industry and work with individuals to help their advertising comply with that. This is still ongoing.
Not taken forward for individual complaints.

Some more companies to add here which include, from memory something to do with a fish spa and an energy drink, also another herbal drink that is heavily promoted to people with all manner of illnesses. More later....

Companies or products I've written about
- not made a complaint to ASA though

Vitamin pill company- I was highly amused that the company used the results of a miniscule trialette showing that people with diabetes taking their vitamin pill preferred it to the placebo one, therefore (it seemed to me) it was marketed as a well-being tablet. I'm sure I'm not doing it justice but I wrote about it and wasn't all that surprised to see that someone else had complained about it - I don't think it was me, but it could have been, it was ages ago.
Adjudication (don't think it was mine) upheld, haven't seen the products in the pharmacist but I think you can still buy them online.

Herbal products company - an American company and so therefore its activities have nothing to do with the ASA - I was very surprised to see a post on someone else's blog which seemed to be giving them a free advert. I wasn't overly wowed by their evidence, however they did write to me and ask for a right of reply on my blog which I was happy to give them.

Holiday / retreat offering treatment for diabetes & cancer - I had previously complained about them, the adjudication was upheld and I blogged about it but removed the post following a very polite request and assurance that misleading claims had been amended.
Adjudication (not mine) upheld and published on World Diabetes Day on 14 November.
About a year ago I complained about a non-UK company (but based in the EU) to the ASA, they took it up with the relevant authority in the company's host country... who adjudicated in my favour (this is mentioned in the ASA list above but you'll see in a moment why it's not linked to anything). I wrote this up as I was rather appalled by some of the claims that had been made and the frankly poor approach to evidence (relying on testimonial).

Then an unusual thing happened. The proprietor of the company wrote me a sweet email explaining that they had not intended to mislead anyone, had now made the changes on their website and had noticed that my blog was coming up on the first page of results, potentially harming their business reputation. Would I mind taking down my post? Not at all said I, and took it down a day or so later (I didn't take it down immediately as someone had just left a snarky comment and I'd be quick enough to post a positive comment, so fair's fair). That page is no longer on my blog (it is reverted to 'draft'). The same company had a separate adjudication upheld against them by the ASA - to be honest I'm not exactly sure how given that they're not in the UK - and I wrote about it obliquely (linked above) without mentioning the organisation's name.

Glucosamine and chondroitin - use in people with diabetes. Not a complaint but my reading of the state of evidence back in 2010 (it may have changed since then, I'm not up to speed with it, but pretty sure it's of no use).

Cleaning product - this company claimed that their cleaning product killed more germs, and more exciting types of germs that I found hard to believe I'd find on my surfaces. I blogged, but didn't complain. However I never saw the ad after that so maybe they pulled it or there was a complaint by someone else.

Affiliate marketers- the umbrella company works with individual companies selling products for which I've never been overly taken with the evidence. I've written about several aspects of this but I don't think I've put in complaints myself, it looks like others have though. The linked blog relates to the umbrella organisation's work with the Office of Fair Trading to develop guidance for all affiliate marketers. The end product from that is a website disclaimer on each affiliate's site(s) so that consumers understand that the websites on which they're reading 'product reviews' are actually sites designed to refer consumers to the online shop, for which the affiliate gets a cut.

It goes: Umbrella organisation >> Company >> Product - advertised by Affiliate marketer  - sold to Consumer
  • Company - added to the ASA's non-compliant list (though not by me)
  • Company - I blogged about an imminent burst of festive PR which then played out predictably.
  • Product - to be honest I was a bit fascinated by the strategies used on 'review' sites, which are nothing of the sort really.
  • Product - formulaic newspaper advertising of herbal weight loss product.
  • Product - a patch that you wear that helps you lose weight. Having read around the topic of skin patches as a drug-delivery system for people with diabetes it seemed pretty clear that this was going to be quite a challenge.

Ear candling (general) - I can't remember if I've ever had an adjudication on ear candling. I think this post was just me learning about the topic as background so that information is collected together in one place if I ever decide to act and complain. My blog is often a learning tool for me - I post some stuff up and add to it as I learn more or people correct me if they spot something wrong. It's pretty useful.

Cancer clinic in the US - strong claims, unclear evidence. Many, many blog posts by science and skeptic bloggers.

Other complaints, but not to the ASA
Company selling bleach, to be drunk (!) for the benefit of one's health - I didn't complain to the ASA but I did write to Google asking them to consider removing the paid-for adverts for this from their search engine. At the time it was being heavily promoted and... people probably shouldn't be drinking it.  Google acknowledged my letter but sadly the paid-for ads are still there.



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Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).