Spain: Advertising for Health Products Regularly Contravenes Existing Laws

by Kathy Jones on Mar 4 2012 8:12 PM

 Spain: Advertising for Health Products Regularly Contravenes Existing Laws
A new study has claimed that Spanish consumers are defenceless against deceptive advertising broadcasted on the radio in areas that could affect their health. The study was carried out by two lecturers at the Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid.
The project reports that this infringement of law takes place specifically in health-related advertisements. "A large part of radio health-related product advertising infringes the current law" Clara Muela, lecturer at the Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid (URJC) told SINC. She and Salvador Perelló are the authors of a study about deceptive advertising on the radio.

Muela and Perelló have analysed a sample of 430 different slots broadcasted 1,664 times on the main general and topical radio stations in Spain in the year 2009. The study links this sample with article 4 of the Spanish Royal Decree (1907/1996) regarding Advertising and Commercial Promotion of Products and Services with the aim of determining criteria for truthfulness regarding health in advertising.

According to its results, deceptive advertising linked to health was found in 4 of the 22 categories that are classified in the sector: food, drink, beauty and hygiene, and health itself. They most common type of deception was for products that supposedly provide relief or a cure.

When analysing the sample of slots broadcasted, a total of 909 deceptions directly linked to products that fall under that category 'health', which implies a total of 75.94% of all deceptions identified (1,179). In second place was 'beauty and hygiene', which had a total of 251 unlawful messages, 20.97% of the total. The category 'food' had 2.92% of these deceptions, 35 of them unlawful, whilst 'drinks' only had two unlawful cases in a total of 54 slots, which is 0.17% of the total health deceptions identified.

"We must bear in mind that one slot can have more than one unlawful item according to the provisions of the Royal Decree. In fact it is quite common for this to happen" Muela points out.

Amongst the rules of this legislation, it says, for example, that advertising products related to health or that have health benefits, cannot be presented by any famous, well-known, symbolic or medical person. "It is prohibited and anyone can see that is as common on the radio as it is on television" Muela states.

For the researcher, "the interesting part" is verifying that most of the provisions in the Decree are not fulfilled. On one hand, all observed products that are related to diet are based on "an immediate promise and a guaranteed benefit", which means the consumer is deceived as the qualities that are attributed to it cannot be guaranteed.

Furthermore, another common practice is to perform fictitious interviews with doctors, which is also banned by the Royal Decree. "Of the 16 articles in the legislation, almost all of them are ignored" she reports.

An illegal practise without a penalty

In Spain there are publicity-regulating bodies which consumers can report to if this kind of illegal behaviour is detected. Nonetheless, Muela states that her decisions are not binding to all the advertisers and that fines do not exist.

"If we compare this regulating body with the one in the United Kingdom, for example, the sanctions are more discouraging and even media that transmit deceptive advertisements can be penalised by having their broadcasting or publicity licenses taken away".

On the radio, in the year in question (2009), whilst in Spain only 4 claims were reported and resolved, this figure reached 444 in England. In the UK, the regulating body is the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which is independent from the government and the industry. Spain has 'Autocontrol', the Association for the Regulation of Commercial Communication, which is not motivated by profit and is formed by leading advertisers, agencies and media.

"We must demand that legislation be fulfilled and follows the example systems in Anglo-Saxon or French countries, which are highly effective against these unlawful publicity practices. Furthermore, this should be done with agility. Advertising has an immediate effect, the campaigns last two or three months, and if an advertisement is not withdrawn on time, the consumer will buy the product and the damage would have already been done. "The system should be more effective, pro-active and punishing" Muela concludes.

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