In hot water over misleading ads

July 19, 2009

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – so help consumers. Why is it that advertising claims continue to fail to meet the basic minimum of being accurate?

It seems shower head manufacturer, Methven, and Brownlie Brothers Ltd’s ‘Simply Squeezed’ orange juice will find themselves being called to account by The Commerce Commission over advertising and promotion claims that contravene the Fair Trading Act.

And it won’t be the first time for Brownlie Brothers Ltd. A report in the New Zealand Herald notes

“Freshly Squeezed was convicted and fined $10,000 in December 2003 for breaches in relation to its Arano and Fresh Selection juice products. And Brownlie Brothers, trading as Simply Squeezed, was also prosecuted in 2004 for misrepresenting the nature, content and origin of its juice product in television and juice labels. It was fined $35,000.”

Methven’s claims that “ …a Satinjet head uses up to 55 per cent less water and 45 per cent less energy …” are apparently true only where mains pressure delivers 20 litres of water per minute. However, the Herald reports only 7 percent of households in New Zealand have water pressure higher than 18 litres per minute. Around two-thirds have just 6-12 litres per minute.

Memories of Ribena’s false vitamin C claims come flooding back. Seems the level of fines don’t deter companies from making misleading statements, often more than once.

It doesn’t surprise me that the media design student exposed as a liar on TradeMe today responded to claims his online deception may shut the door on a career in advertising by quipping

“Dishonesty in advertising? I think that might help.”

Maybe I should submit a suggestion for a Tui billboard ad: ‘Product claims? Trust us, we’re telling the truth.” Yeah right.

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Cereal offender

November 23, 2008

I’m disappointed in supermarket giant Progressive’s challenge to the conviction and $17,000 fine it received for continuing to sell their own Signature Range cereal months after a competition to win trips to Australia had closed.

The reason it’s challenging the fine is that it apparently believes others let it down in not putting stickers onto the packaging so the competition was not visible. It also claimed that at least one supplier continued to use the original packaging in spite of being told to destroy it.

Progressive seem to feel they’ve been unfairly treated. Quite why baffles me. They failed to ensure those further down the chain did what was required of them which resulted in the prosecution. Rightly so, in my opinion. You’re only as strong as your weakest link and theirs definitely had chinks in it. However, it was entirely their responsibility and they cannot opt-out of being held accountable.

Progressive even continued to sell the cereals up to 3 months after the competition closed even though their own records showed they were aware of the misleading packaging. I personally think the fine is rather light, given this information. Shades of Ribena all over again.

I’m not surprised – an anagram of ‘Cereal Rip Off’ is ‘Crap Offer Lie’.

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Ribena seeks approval

May 11, 2008

I was interested to see Ribena back in the news this week with full-colour, half page adverts claiming all Ribena products now contain 50% of an adult’s recommended dietary intake – a claim apparently backed up by AsureQuality.

Cast your mind back a year and you may remember GlaxoSmithKline, the makers of Ribena, were prosecuted for misleading advertising regarding the amount of vitamin C in ready-to-drink Ribena. Instead of their claim that ‘the blackcurrents in Ribena have four times the vitamin C of oranges’ Ribena had NO detectable level of vitamin C.

This week’s adverts clearly aim to reassure and win-back consumers that deserted Ribena in droves last year. The ads have an air of contriteness about them, noting: “It needs only one more tick of approval. Yours” and continues As promised, the whole Ribena range now contains at least 20mg of vitamin C per serving …”

Will they win me back? Er … no.

As a consumer, the least I expect is what’s promised in the first place. The fact that there was no vitamin C in their ready-to-drink product was a major issue but it wasn’t what turned me off Ribena completely. It was how they chose to handle the whole situation, including ignoring it, denying it and trying to blame others, that drove me away. I consider their behaviour was arrogant and inappropriate and despite the promises in their new adverts, I’m highly unlikely to buy from them now as a matter principle.

The New Zealand Cancer Society, on the other hand, when faced with a similar incident just a few months ago, acted in a completely different way. When independent tests of their factor-30 sun-spray failed to meet the claims being made they responded swiftly and publicly. They recalled their products from shelves, offered to have the entire range tested, offered to give people their money back and fronted-up to media and consumers to say they took the whole incident extremely seriously and were willing to be held accountable.

Two virtually identical incidents but one company’s reputation was enhanced whilst the other company’s reputation was, and to a large extent, remains, in tatters. Why?

In my opinion, the Cancer Society acted with integrity, maintained trust and as a result, retained many of its customers who were probably thinking “you can’t get it right all the time, but they’re accepting responsibility, making genuine offers to put things right and generally acting with integrity.” GSK, on the other hand, refused to accept responsibility, tried to blame anyone but themselves and basically treated its customers with disdain.

The new ‘tail between the legs’ adverts may win some former customers back but for others, the breach of trust that occurred, and lack of integrity GSK demonstrated, will ensure many continue to buy brands they consider to be more honourable.

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Reputation winners and losers in 2007

December 31, 2007

On the eve of 2008, a review of the main reputation winners and losers in 2007 isn’t taxing.

Stand-out winners were historic rape complainant Louise Nicholas and Detective Superintendent Nick Perry who headed the Operation Austin investigation into several historic rape allegations.

Reputation losers in these cases? Well, former Assistant Police Commissioner Clint Rickards’ apparently stellar career ground to a halt when he resigned just weeks away from facing internal disciplinary proceedings. If he or his supporters ever felt he may be in line for a mention in a New Years Honours list at some point the light went out on that in 2007. Former police officers Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum will welcome 2008 with fellow inmates detained at her Majesty’s pleasure. Former Detective Inspector John Dewer will also have plenty of time to reflect on his jail sentence for attempting to obstruct or defeat the course of justice in relation to Nicholas’s allegations.

The Police Force itself goes into 2008 as a reputation winner – just – having copped significant criticism for its failure to set and monitor standards of behaviour earlier in the year. As the Editorial in the New Zealand noted earlier this month

“Public confidence, once eroded, is difficult to reclaim. Recovery is not impossible, however. Unstinting effort to the highest standard provides a strong foundation for rebuilding a reputation. The police have made a good start.”

Other New Zealand reputation winners and losers in 2007? Contenders on the ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you’ list include Rod Petricevic of Bridgecorp (will he ever work in the finance sector again?), tarnished League ‘star’ Brent Todd (yep, must be tough at Andrew’s place) and the marketing and promotions team for Ribena at GlaxoSmithKline.

Contenders for the red-carpet treatment include the writers and performers of TV’s ‘Outrageous Fortune’ who won national and international fans, world-champion shot-putter Valerie Vili (who proved we can win at sport) and Telcom’s new CEO, Paul Reynolds, whose upbeat, ‘Trust me, I know what I’m doing’ style caught our attention (time will tell though, as actions speak louder than words.)

Two sectors that will find it particularly tough in terms of reputation in 2008 are the real estate industry and the non-bank lending industry. An interesting thought given that large numbers of New Zealanders no doubt view property investment as more secure than ever given the losses incurred by thousands who invested with Bridgecorp, Geneva Finance, Five Star Finance, Capital & Merchant and other finance companies that failed this year.

There are never any guarantees with investments but this year proved particularly painful for many investors one way or another. Perhaps we’ll ask a few more questions and do a little more due diligence in 2008 before trusting others with our hard-earned cash. And perhaps individuals and companies across a wide range of sectors and industries will demonstrate more integrity and earn the trust that’s placed in them. Perhaps.

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Consumer confidence crushed – deserting Ribena

April 2, 2007

Whoever’s giving GlaxoSmithKline PR/media advice needs firing! GSK is guilty of more than misleading the public over its advertising claims. It’s guilty of making unbelievably bad judgement calls around its subsequent PR!

The weekend Herald reported:

“a spokeswoman … in London told the Daily Telegraph that the problem arose when Ribena in Australia and New Zealand was left on shop shelves for too long, causing the vitamin C to degrade.”

Hang on a second – she’s implying the lack of vitamin C in their product is due to their faulty packaging? Right! So it’s still your problem GSK! How big a hole do they want to dig? Why isn’t their PR team giving them sound advice about accepting defeat graciously rather than trying to shift the blame to another part of their process / business? Unbelievable!

No doubt some of the ‘creatives’ at the advertising and PR agencies handling the accounts might already be looking for ways to disassociate themselves from Ribena. And not without good reason. Job-seekers in Oldham, England, might want to give this sits vac ad a wide berth too. Could be an uphill struggle over the coming months methinks!

GSK could have retained some credibility by ‘fessing up, paying their fines and taking it on the chin. Trying to shift the blame won’t stop the exodus of consumers from Ribena to other juice products. If anything, it’s more likely to encourage consumers to seek other alternatives. After all, who wants to risk buying a product that’s so far past its ‘sell-by’ date any vitamin C it may have had (which as we know is none) has deteriorated to zilch. Er … why would I buy this product?

For GSK in Australia, do yourselves a favour and before doing anything, get some advice from PR supremo Penny Mulvey at Positive Media who’s an expert in the media and corporate reputation. Accept responsibility, act with integrity and move on, with at least some of your reputation intact.

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Ribena misleader

March 24, 2007

Ribena’s in the custard and on the front page of the New Zealand Herald today. A real David and Goliath case. The Herald article notes GSK’s (GlaxoSmithKline) TV advertising for Ribena said

“the blackcurrents in Ribena have four times the vitamin C of oranges”.

Apparently not.

The Herald reports two 14 year old Pakuranga College students tested the vitamin C levels in Ribena, Just Juice and Arano for a school chemistry experiment and found ready-to-drink Ribena had no detectable level of vitamin C!

What’s interesting is that when the students contacted GSK to let them know this they were given short shrift. So they contacted the Advertising Standards Authority and BrandPower but still didn’t get anywhere. But when the TV programme Fair Go picked up the story and suggested the girls contact the Commerce Commission things started to roll.

GSK will appear in court this week facing charges alleging 15 breaches of the Fair Trading Act brought by the Commerce Commission. If successfully prosecuted, the company faces a maximum fine of $200,000 on each charge or a total of $3 million.

The Commerce Commission said although blackcurrents had more vitamin C than oranges, this was not true of Ribena. Shades of the Kryptonite bike lock debacle.

GSK – the world’s second largest food and pharmaceutical company with worldwide turnover of $61 billion – held to account by two teenage school girls. Interestingly – especially in advance of the findings of next weeks court appearances, GSK Australia apparently dobbed itself in to the Australian equivalent of the Commerce Commission admitting it had been misleading in its claims for Ribena’s vitamin C content.

A successful prosecution may dent their image momentarily. Any fines are likely to be paid quickly and without fuss. Advertising campaigns will be replaced. The prosecutions are unlikely, in real terms, to have any long term adverse effect on the company because of its sheer size.

Smaller product and service providers don’t have this luxury. The lesson for us? To make sure whatever claims we make are factually correct in the first place. Citizen marketing and pressure is huge. If any claims made are found to be incorrect, act swiftly and with integrity to withdraw any claims and make good as appropriate.

Personally, I don’t drink Ribena, not because if its lack of vitamin C, but because in my view it has a reputation for being full of sugar which may or may not be correct. That’s what it used to be like years ago and it’s something I still associate with the product. It’s a fickle thing, reputation. And one that affects purchase decisions for years to come.

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