Saturday, 30 November 2013

'Misleading' advertising and snake oil.

When I use facebook, there are often 'suggested posts' or other advertisements that I have requested be hidden because they are 'misleading.'   They ask for your reasons with a few options given.
Here's what it says:

Advert Hidden
We'll try not to show you this advert again.
Why did you hide it?

In 'other' you can say what you want, even that the advertisement is lies, but that could be a risky thing to do. I always call them 'misleading.'
A lot of them are lies though - big, fat, whopping lies.    

The biggest offenders are the advertisements for  'natural' medicines.  There is almost never the slightest evidence that they work.

In olden times, 'snake oil salesmen' used to travel town to town selling their remedies for all manner of ills.  We see them in Westerns now and then.

And there were general merchants as well. The picture opposite is an actual wagon of a travelling merchant in Australia. (Stockmen's Hall of Fame, Longreach.)   Dava Singh would have had medicines for Dropsy and for Rheumatism and for 'Women's Troubles.' With little education, the people of the times would have put some faith in the 'snake oil.'

Today?  I do not understand that so many of us are just as willing to believe in outrageous claims today.

Pretend remedies are not the only products that use lies in their ads. Cosmetics and beautifiers can be worse, but outrageous claims are expected with these, no matter what lies they are. Cleaning products are also bad - things that you only have to spray on and forget?  Well, spray as much as you want, but that it will all be sparkling clean afterwards?  I don't believe it.

Look at these - are they misleading?  Or are they out and out lies?

from Facebook ‘suggested posts.’
‘One clever trick reduces fat four times faster than diet or exercise’
‘Dr. O reveals $5 wrinkle trick that’s making Botox  doctors furious’  
‘lose four KGs instantly with a cleanse.’
‘miracle fruit burns fat’

from facebook ads on the side:
‘Four foods to eat before bed for weight loss’
‘learn four tricks to never store carbs as fat’
‘follow this simple diet trick to burn off  your unwanted belly fat without any intense diet’
‘learn how to treat aches and pains with chili.’
‘Desperate mum discovers $4 secret that has Botox doctors furious.’
‘one tip to remove wrinkles’
‘Dieticians are marvelling at this 3 week fat-blasting technique.’
‘End Rheumatoid Arthritis. 100% guaranteed.’

 All nonsense.  Snake Oil promises.
End Rheumatoid Arthritis. 100% guaranteed?   This would be fantastic if true.  If true, there would be millions grateful.  If true, the inventor would be in line for a Nobel prize -  he would have done a wonderful thing for humanity. But as far as I know, the only 100% guaranteed cure for rheumatoid arthritis is death. Sorry about that.

Truth in Advertising Legislation:

Most countries have laws stating that companies are prohibited from deliberately misleading advertising.  And most countries don't seem to care about enforcing them.  When they do, it is usually only to tell the advertiser to stop doing it.

When consumers see or hear an advertisement, whether it’s on the Internet, radio or television, or anywhere else, federal law says that ad must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.  The Federal Trade Commission enforces these truth-in-advertising laws, and it applies the same standards no matter where an ad appears – in newspapers and magazines, online, in the mail, or on billboards or buses.  The FTC looks especially closely at advertising claims that can affect consumers’ health or their pocketbooks – claims about food, over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, alcohol, and tobacco and on conduct related to high-tech products and the Internet, such as the dissemination of spyware.  The FTC also monitors and writes reports about ad industry practices regarding marketing of food, violent movies, music, and electronic games to children.

 It was not so easy finding the applicable provisions for Australia, just some vague summaries, and if you want to, you can try wading through the Trade Practices Act 1974, and hoping to make sense of it.  Whatever, it appears quite ineffective.  

Self-regulation maybe?  Everyone knows that self regulation only works when there is a body closely watching, and with a big stick.  Something about a fox in charge of the chicken coop?

See top left?  Pills.  One wonders what for and just how effective.
As effective as wild krill oil maybe?

One of the interesting 'misleading' products is a nasal spray that supposedly helps someone lose weight.  This time, a scientist pointed out that there was not the slightest evidence that it had any effect at all.  That was years ago.  The court case is ongoing as far as I know, and the product is still being marketed. 

You can be a sheep if you choose.
But look after your lambs.

A particular gripe of mine is that parents are dosing their children with these 'natural' products that are not necessarily harmless. If they choose to do it to themselves, that's their right, but, for instance, a concoction of fish oil that is supposed to raise the child's intelligence?  Don't take risks. It does not raise the child's intelligence.  All it does is expose the parent's lack of intelligence.

Pharmacies have a lot to answer for.  Their reputation for ethics has been very much eroded these past several years as they stock more and more snake oil remedies.  These days their pretend remedies take up as much space as things that can be expected to work - at least a little.

 Truth in advertising?   Baaahhh!    Humbug!


Maybe facebook read this blog-post. The option of 'misleading' is no longer available for anyone wishing to 'hide' particular ads.



  1. Well said indeed. Another thing though that worries me more is that the huge Pharmaceutical companies hold such sway over the medical profession. We are all now told that we "must" have our flue jabs and indeed are treated as troublesome if we refuse but a) there is no guarantee that the vaccination will work as it is based on little more than guesswork - what they had in the southern hemisphere MAY be the one that they have in the Northern plus they have the addendum that even if you do get flu it won't be as bad, so you may very well feel rotten for a few days after the vaccination and then get flu anyway. I believe that the main reason for such a push is simply that it is relatively safe and a huge money maker for the companies.

  2. I will not have flu jabs. I cannot see how they can be adequately tested in the space of a year. And they can have side effects - severe ones. One a couple of years ago gave a lot of children convulsions, left a few with brain damage, and killed, (I think) one.
    A man my husband knew had a flu injection, and then collapsed a bit later, and was confused. The doctor said airily that yes, it was quite common, nothing to worry about - but the man did collapse in the middle of the road.
    Also, they're recommending it for pregnant women. Have they forgotten how careful one has to be with pregnant women?