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More Health Quackery: 10 More Clear & Concise Misleading Ad Examples 

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Thursday, July 6, 2023

Even the two giant ducks in the photo above are not big enough to illustrate all the health quackery that pervades and pollutes American and Canadian media. The lies and deception spewed out by snake-oil saliva-drippers serve to influence people to part with their hard-earned money in exchange for fairy tales and Florida swamp land. When the realization that they were duped dawns on the consumer, most will be angry, but others will be unwilling to admit they were wrong. They will double-down and point to even the most trivial "benefit" in order to preserve their ego. Below is another ten health quackery misleading advertising examples.  

Vitamin Supplement Absorbtion   

"An advertiser relies on animal and in vitro studies to support a claim that its vitamin supplement is more easily absorbed into the bloodstream than other forms of the vitaminHowever, the animal research uses a species of animal that, unlike humans, is able to synthesize the vitamin, and the in vitro study uses a different formulation with a higher concentration of the compound than the product being marketedIn addition, in this instance, human research is feasible and is the type of research generally considered necessary by experts to demonstrate vitamin absorptionThe substantiation is inadequate because there are significant methodological problems and because human research is both feasible and the accepted approach in the field." 

No End to Memory Supplement Scams 

"An ad for a supplement claim that the product will cause dramatic improvements in memory and describes the results of a customer satisfaction survey reporting that more than 75% of customers noticed memory improvementThe survey results are accurately described, but because the survey provides nothing more than a collection of anecdotal experiences, it isn’t adequate to substantiate that the supplement has any benefit for memory." 

Anti-Clotting Supplement 

"An advertiser makes an unqualified claim about the anti-clotting effect of a supplement that contains a compound extracted from fruitThere are two human clinical studies supporting the effect and no contrary evidenceOne study consists of subjects tested over a one-week period, with no control groupThe second study is well-controlled and of longer duration, but shows only a slight effect that isn’t statistically significantBecause both studies have significant limitations, they don’t substantiate a claim about anti-clotting benefits." 

Brain Stimulation 

"The marketer of an at-home brain stimulation device conducts a randomized, controlled, double-blind study of the effects of its device on subjects with depressionThe study uses eight validated measures to assess the impact of the device on symptoms of depressionSubjects show statistically greater improvement in the treatment group compared to the control group on one of the eight measuresThe other seven measures reveal no difference between treatment and control groupThe study doesn’t include any statistical correction for the use of multiple testsThe fact that only one outcome out of a total of eight showed statistical significance could be the result of chanceThe higher the number of outcomes tested, the greater the chance of a false positive resultThe marketer can’t rely on this one positive finding from the study to substantiate a claim about any benefit for depression." 

Dietary Supplements and Antioxidant Juice for Erectile Dysfunction 

"A dietary supplement is advertised to treat erectile dysfunctionThe advertiser relies on a human clinical study that uses both a validated objective measure and an unvalidated subjective questionnaireThe study detects a small statistically significant difference using the unvalidated questionnaire, but there is no statistically significant difference on the validated measureThe failure to detect a difference using the more reliable validated measure suggests that there wasn’t a significant effect from use of the product, and the claim isn’t substantiated." 

"The marketer of a juice high in antioxidants claims that daily consumption of the juice treats erectile dysfunctionThe marketer relies on a published 50-person controlled human clinical trial as support for its claim, while disregarding an earlier, higher quality unpublished 100-person study of the juice that failed to show any statistically significant improvement compared to the control groupThe marketer commissioned both studies and changed the measured endpoint in the second study after reviewing the results of the first studyThe marketer cannot selectively rely only on the favorable results of the second, lower quality studyThe erectile dysfunction treatment claims are not substantiated." 

Supplement for Body Fat 

"An advertiser wants to claim that a supplement will substantially reduce body fatThe advertiser has two controlled, double-blind studies showing a modest but statistically significant loss of fat at the end of a six-week periodHowever, there is an equally well-controlled, double-blind 12-week study showing no statistically significant difference between treatment and control groupsAssuming other aspects of methodology are similar, the studies taken together suggest that, if the product has any effect on body fat, it would be very small and may not persist over timeGiven the totality of the evidence, the claim is unsubstantiated." 

Botanical Extract for the Immune System 

"Several well-conducted clinical trials measuring accepted markers of immune system activity have been done on a specific botanical extract consistently showing that the extract is effective for supporting the immune systemThe studied extract is a complex combination of several chemical constituents and the active constituents that may actually produce the benefit are still unknownAn advertiser wants to cite this research in its advertising as proof that its product will support the immune system. The advertiser’s product is made using a different extraction method from the same botanicalAn analysis of the advertiser’s extract reveals that it has a significantly different chemical profile from the studied extractThe advertiser shouldn’t rely on these clinical trials alone as substantiation because the difference in extracts may result in significant differences in the effectiveness of the two products." 

App for Insomnia  

"A website advertising a smartphone app features testimonials from satisfied customers who say that, after using the app at bedtime for less than a week, their insomnia went away, and they slept soundly through the nightThese testimonials don’t constitute substantiationThe advertiser must have competent and reliable scientific evidence that its product is effective in treating insomnia." 

Supplement and Acid Reflux 

"A marketer pays a blogger to use its supplement and write a review of the product on her blogAlthough the marketer doesn’t make any specific claims about the supplement’s ability to cure acid reflux, the blogger writes that the supplement cures acid reflux and recommends the supplement to readers who suffer from this conditionThe marketer doesn’t have any evidence that the product cures acid refluxIn this situation, the marketer is liable for the blogger’s misleading representationAlso, because the marketer is paying the blogger for the review, the blog post must include a clear and conspicuous disclosure of that fact so that consumers don’t mistakenly believe the post is unbiased. 

"Testimonials that report results more dramatic than users can generally expect are likely to be deceptiveMoreover, attempts to disclaim dramatic results with statements like 'Results not typical' don’t cure the deceptionThose testimonials should be accompanied by a clear and conspicuous disclosure of the results a typical consumer can actually expect."   


Products Compliance Guidance                                                   https://www.ftc.gov/business-guidance/resources/health-products-compliance-guidance     

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Photo: https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2023/06/photos-giant-ducks-florentijn-hofman/674400/ 

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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