Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Loopholes in local advertisements

Recently, I have noticed loopholes in local advertisements, and I would like to highlight some of the pitfalls so that the viewers can be more discreet in selecting products/services.

One of the slimming advertisements claims to help the consumer shed 12.8 kg in ten weeks, assuming the consumer loses 1 kg per week. The formula in the slimming pill is supposed to suppress appetite by a certain percent while burning more calories by a certain percent. The numerical values seem to give the impression that this product has been scientifically proven or else how does the statistics come from? But the numerical values are no where supported in the advertisement. The spokesperson of this product is a well-known MediaCorp (Singapore's only media corporation) artiste and she made a few fallacies in representing this product. She claims to lose 2 kg in two weeks, and she has experienced no side effect after incorporating this product into her diet. Let's examine some of the fallacies in her claims:
  1. The product claims to help the consumer shed 12.8 kg in ten weeks, while she lost 2 kg in two weeks. Does that mean that in the other eight weeks, she did not experience any loss in weight? Or does it mean that she consumed the pills for only two weeks? If either one is true, she cannot really speak on behalf of the product.
  2. This spokesperson did not state how long she has been consuming the pill. This is important because the consumer who is taking the pill has the right to know any short-term side effects and long-term side effects. Previously, another local actress Andrea De Cruz took slimming pill containing a variant of fenfluramine, an appetite suppressant, for some time before her kidney failure in 2002, and she was only 28 years old then. So, when this spokesperson claims to experience no side-effect, she should add an additional clause of "after on this pill for how long".
  3. This spokesperson is already slim in the first place before representing the product. I would not have noticed any loss of weight even if she did not lose 2 kg. If there was a contrast like her weight before taking the pill consistently for ten weeks and after, this advertisement would be slightly more credible. 
  4. If there were more participants testifying to have experienced weight loss during the trial period and listing all side effects during and after the trial period (which should include blood test for all organs functionality), then this advertisement would have passed its credibility test. According to Professor Leung Ping-chung, chairman of the Institute of Chinese Medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, "What can be O.K. for a month can cause serious damage over the long term." (Refer to http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,333902,00.html#ixzz127CkSZ5g). This means that no side effect now does not imply no side effect in future.

As such, this slim-pill advertisement is not credible even if a local celebrity has been paid to represent it as its claims are not backed up substantially. This is not the only local advertisement with loopholes. There is a hair loss treatment center that engages two MediaCorp artistes to represent their center. However, I do not know of any news when these two artistes lost their hairs significantly (or perhaps they did not disclose it). There were no photos showing how their hairs looked like before treatment and after treatment. This advertisement is so funny because these two artistes seemed to have been picked up randomly to represent this treatment center.

I would suggest that in any advertisement that seeks to showcase the effects of its product, it should compare the participants before and after consumption/treatment. The participants ought to be those in need of the service or product rather than good-looking celebrities who are not in apparent need of this service/product. In any scientific studies, there will always be a group of participants studied over a period of stated time in order for the statistics to be deemed credible. In addition, there will almost always be additional clause like under what condition the effect is not being observed. If the local advertisement wants to employ statistics, it should adhere to a stringent requirement or else it should be classified as pseudo-science. I wish the local advertisements could be more critical in marketing their products and services.

If I were to vote for advertisements which are credible, I think my highest vote would go to Sensodyne and Colgate toothpaste (disclaimer: I do not earn any commission from Sensodyne or Colgate). Sensodyne claims that its product is effective against pain from cold water. Six participants with sensitive teeth were selected to rub the toothpaste against their teeth for 60 seconds before drinking cold water or eating ice cream, and their reactions were recorded (and of course, edited). As each of them verbalized the effectiveness of the toothpaste differently, this adds credibility to this product. Colgate on the other hand claims to be effective against bacteria on teeth. A Colgate representative asked a participant to have his/her teeth scanned for bacteria before using its toothpaste for a day and after using it in its advertisement. The result is obvious, and as the participant in each Colgate advertisement is different, this adds credibility to the product. I would suggest this type of advertisement to be the benchmark for any advertisement based on scientific claim(s).

No comments: