Advert for Fishy Slimming Pills is Banned

December 11, 2007 at 6:25 pm 12 comments

Plavsa Advert

In July, I published this complaint that I had made to the Advertising Standards Authority about Plavsa, the fish-based slimming pills that supposedly ‘soaked up’ between 6 and 9 pounds a week of fat from your food. The ASAI has now upheld this complaint, and has told the advertisers not to make these claims again until full substantiation has been submitted to and verified by the Authority.

I also investigated this product further since then, and sent the following new information to the ASAI before they decided on the matter:

  • The advert is one of several related adverts that use identical wording for seemingly the same product under different brand names, stretching at least as far back as 2000 in the USA.
  • The supposed inventor of Plavsa is bogus. There is no Doctor Slausberg at the University of Gothenburg, and no record of him in their marine-related theses from as far back as 1960.
  • The testimonials in the Plavsa advert are bogus. They repeat word-for-word, using different names, testimonials from related adverts in other countries, one as old as 2002.
  • The active ingredient in Plavsa is chitosan, which has a controversial history as a slimming aid, including a different company making a $10m settlement for deceptive advertising in the USA.

Here is the full story of what I discovered: >>>

Plavsa Ad Slogan

1. The advert falsely claims that Plavsa is a ‘new revolutionary product’. However, the Plavsa advert is merely the most recent in a series of related adverts in different countries, which use identical wording for seemingly the same product, under different brand names, stretching at least as far back as 2000 in the USA.

1(a) Claims that Plavsa is New

The advert repeatedly describes Plavsa as a new product, using phrases such as:

  • ‘The New Fat-Fighter’
  • ‘Now this new revolutionary product has finally been discovered’
  • ‘Now he discovered’
  • ‘Which is now available’
  • ‘The new diet pill’
  • ‘This new product’

1(b) Identical Adverts Today

However, the Plavsa advert is one of a series of related adverts, which promote seemingly the same product using different brand names.

  • The Plavsa advert is identical to this online advert for Bonsal (but with a different inventor, Dr Mayer). Bonsal is sold by Bournemouth Pharmacy in England.
  • The Plavsa advert uses the same sales pitch as this online advert for Lyposorb (but with a different inventor, Dr Neilsberg) and this online advert for Lypofene (but with the secret ingredient coming from apples not fish). Both are sold by Health2UDirect, who also sell Plavsa.

1(c) Identical Advert in USA, 2002

The Plavsa advert (like the Bonsal advert) has directly copied the wording of an advert that was published in 2002 in America. The US Federal Trade Commission reported on this advert as follows:

An ad for a product made of ground-up shells of shrimps, crabs and lobsters claims ‘Scientists dedicated years of research to come up with a high-powered diet ingredient with no side effects’ and asks ‘Have you ever seen an overweight fish? Or an oyster with a few pounds too many? Everyone knows that sea animals never get fat.’

Reproduced on p5 of US Federal Trade Commission Report on Weight-Loss Advertising Trends, September 2002

This five-year-old wording is identical to the 2007 advert for the supposedly ‘new’ Plavsa, apart from ‘scientists dedicated years of research’ being replaced with ‘Dr Slausberg from the University of Gotenberg dedicated fifteen years of research’.

1(d) Identical Advert in USA, 2000

The Plavsa advert (like the Bonsal advert) has also copied the wording of an identical advert that was published in 2000 in America. This advert was quoted in a report that was part-produced by the US Federal Trade Commission.

The new fat-fighter. Slimming capsules that soak up fat! This brand new Swiss-formulated high power diet-pill has been created and discovered by Dr. [—–], M.D., for men and women to lose weight and bind fat from foods you have eaten. The idea is as brilliant as it is simple.

Have you ever seen an overweight fish? Or an oyster with a few pounds too many? Everyone knows that sea animals never get fat. That’s because their bodies contain [product name] which is now available as a diet pill for everybody who wants to lose unwanted fat.

[Product name] reduces body fat deposits in the belly, thighs, and butt. It also makes sure that the fat from your last meal leaves your body before being digested.

Reproduced on p4 of Ad Nauseum, a Partnership for Healthy Weight Management Report, early 2000

This seven-year-old wording is almost identical to the claims made in the 2007 advert for the supposedly ‘new’ Plavsa, apart from the pill being ‘Swiss formulated’ and created and discovered by an M.D. instead of a scientist.

[Note: I have contacted the FTC to try to find out the brand name of the relevant product. They tell me that FTC reports on advertising trends do not name the products they refer to, but they do quote directly from the adverts.]

 

Plavsa Ad Slogan

2. The supposed inventor of Plavsa is bogus. There is no Doctor Slausberg at the University of Gothenburg, and no record of him in their marine-related theses going back to 1960. Their marine research information officer says it would be a sensation if someone found that this doctor exists or ever existed.

2(a) Doctor Slausberg

I have contacted the University of Gothenburg, who have searched their employment files and have confirmed that there is no Dr. Slausberg at their University.

They also pointed out that

  • The name Slausberg does not sound Swedish.
  • The name of the University is misspelled in the advert as Gotenberg (There are two correct alternative spellings of the city: Göteborg in Swedish or Gothenburg in English).

Roger Lindblom of the University’s Marine Research Unit says:

I have worked in the marine research sector or close to it for over 30 years but never heard of a Dr. Slausberg. I have been working as an information officer within the marine research field for almost 20 years and it is my job to pick up research projects that are interesting to ordinary people. These articles are published in a popular science magazine ‘Havsutsikt’. If this doctor ever existed and had discovered this I would certainly have found out about it.

This spring I registered, for a web based database at www.havet.nu, all marine Ph.D. theses published by Gothenburg University, Chalmers Technical University (Gothenburg) and Lund University from about 1960 until now. The same was done in Stockholm and Umeå (although I think they only covered the last 20-25 years). There is no Dr Slausberg in that material. But of course he may have achieved his thesis somewhere else in Europe.

During the 1990s I made catalogues of marine research projects but there is no Dr. Slausberg in it, nor such a project. He may work at another department, for example the Medical Faculty, however I do not think so as anyway he would be in our files. Finally there is no such doctor in the files of employed persons at our University. And also why does he not appear on the Internet? To summarize it: it would be a sensation if someone found that his doctor exists or ever existed.

2(b) Doctor Carl Mayer

With regard to the related Bonsal advert, I have also contacted the University of Zurich, who have searched their employment files and confirmed that there is no Dr. Carl Mayer at their University.

 

Plavsa Ad Slogan

3. The testimonials in the advert are bogus. They repeat word-for-word, using different names, testimonials from related adverts in other countries, one as old as 2002 in the USA. One testimonial in the Plavsa advert also appears in a related advert, illustrated by a bogus picture.

3(a) Current Testimonials

The Plavsa advertisement states that

Some Plavsa consumers tested the new diet pill for a few weeks for us. Here are some comments.

Two supposed testimonials follow. They are identical, word-for-word, to the two testimonials in the Bonsal advert which I refer to in 1(a) above. However:

  • The Plavsa testimonial from ‘Jessica Jones (41) Sales Assistant’ appears in the Bonsal advert as coming from ‘Mary Miller (41) Sales Assistant.
  • The Plavsa testimonial from ‘Sarah Harris (49) Housewife’ appears in the Bonsal advert as coming from ‘Nancy Fisher (49), Housewife’.

It follows that at least one, if not both, of the Plavsa/Bonsal testimonials is bogus.

3(b) Testimonials from 2002

Actually, both are bogus. Despite the claims that Plavsa and Bonsal are new products, both testimonials are copied almost verbatim from the American advert, published in 2002, which I refer to in 1(c) above.

Here is part of the current testimonial from ‘Sarah Harris (49) Housewife’ [for Plavsa] and ‘Nancy Fisher (49), Housewife’ [for Bonsal]:

The best thing about [Plavsa/Bonsal] is that my waist size is 3 inches smaller, now only 26 inches. And it has taken quite a few inches off my bottom (5 inches) and thighs (4 inches). My hips now measure only 35 inches. I still wear the same bra size though.

And here is part of a testimonial from the advert published in America in 2002.

The best thing about [the product] is that my waist size is 3 inches smaller, now only 26 inches. And it has taken off quite some inches from my butts (5 inches) and thighs (4 inches). My hips now measure only 35 inches. I still wear the same bra size though. The fat has disappeared from exactly the right places.

Reproduced on p5 of US Federal Trade Commission Report on Weight-Loss Advertising Trends, September 2002

There are only two differences between the supposed testimonials:

  • In the Plavsa/Bonsal adverts, the American-English word ‘butts’ has been replaced with the European-English word ‘bottom’.
  • In the Plavsa/Bonsal adverts, the phrase ‘The fat has disappeared from exactly the right places’ has been deleted. [As an aside, this deletion may be because, as the FTC Report points out, there is no evidence that weight loss can be targeted to specific parts of the body. However, the current Plavsa/Bonsal adverts still imply this claim, by suggesting that ‘Sarah Harris’/‘Nancy Fisher’ lost weight from everywhere except her breasts.]

3(c) Bogus Image of a Consumer

Furthermore, the Bonsal advert (which is inextricably linked with the Plavsa advert) is available online, and it includes pictures of the people allegedly supplying the testimonials. At least one of these images is certainly bogus, and is probably taken from a set of stock images published in Germany.

Check this out at http://www.bournemouth-pharmacy.com/bonsal-capsules.htm

  • The testimonial images are supposedly of ‘Mary Miller (41) Sales Assistant’ and ‘Nancy Fisher (49), Housewife’.
  • If you right-click on the images and select ‘Save as’, you can see the original names of the images.
  • The ‘Mary Miller’ image is named ‘Miller’
  • The ‘Nancy Fisher’ image, in which ‘Nancy’ is holding a pill, is named ‘fraumitpille-web’, which is German for ‘woman with pill’.

[This may, of course, have been changed by the time you read this, but I have saved a copy of the image.]

 

Plavsa Ad Slogan

4. The advertisers say that chitosan is the active ingredient in the supposedly ‘new revolutionary’ Plavsa. But chitosan is neither new nor revolutionary, and its use as a supposed slimming aid has a controversial history, including a different company making a $10m settlement for deceptive advertising in the USA in 2000.

4(a) Chitosan in the Enforma System

In 2000 in the USA, the marketers of ‘the Enforma System’ agreed to pay $10m in refunds to settle Federal Trade Commission charges of deceptive advertising. The system combined ‘Fat Trapper’, a chitosan-based product which claimed to prevent the absorption of dietary fat, and ‘Exercise in a Bottle’, which claimed to increases the body’s capacity to burn fat. The original settlement prohibited the marketers from making unsubstantiated claims that any product, service, or program: (a) provides weight control without dieting or exercise; (b) prevents fat absorption; (c) increases metabolism; (d) burns fat; or (e) allows weight loss even if users eat high-fat foods.

Here is the FTC press statement.

In 2000 in the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint against an advert for the Enforma System. The ASA concluded that, because of shortcomings in the reports of the trials, the ability of chitosan to prevent the absorption of enough dietary fat to affect energy balance in humans had not been substantiated. The ASA told the company to advertise the product on an availability basis only, and to include a statement in future adverts explaining that the product had not been shown to help weight loss.

Here is the ASA Adjudication

In 2002 in the USA, The Federal Trade Commission filed a second civil contempt action against the principals of the Enforma Natural Products, and the company, for continuing to violate the terms of the above settlement. The company was continuing to advertise products, making the same claims, under different brand names.

Here is the FTC press statement

In 2005 in the USA, both of the second FTC actions were settled. One settlement banned the principals of the company from advertising weight loss products except exercise programs and equipment. The second settlement required, among other things, that the company have competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate future claims for any dietary supplement, food, drug, or device.

Here is the first FTC press statement
Here is the second FTC press statement

4(b) Chitosan in the UK

As far back as July 1998, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had said the following about chitosan:

Advertisements for slimming pills containing an ingredient called chitosan came to the ASA’s attention during the first health and beauty survey in spring 1997. Complaints were also received from members of the public who challenged whether the slimming claims made for chitosan could be proved. After investigation, the ASA Council upheld the complaints on the grounds that the weight loss claims were not supported by sufficient evidence.

ASA Health and Beauty Report July 1998

In 2000, the ASA upheld a complaint against the chitosan-based Enforma System, which I refer to in 4(a) above.

In 2007, the website of the UK Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) says the following about chitosan:

Over the years, the Advertising Standards Authority has upheld several complaints against marketers of products that contain chitosan. Marketers have claimed that chitosan works in the human gut and prevents the absorption of fat into the body. Despite sending several published articles and many documents in support of the claimed mode of action and results, no marketer has convinced the ASA or CAP about the weight loss effect of chitosan. Until a marketer gives CAP rigorous human trials proving its efficacy, chitosan and similar ‘fat binding’ products should be advertised on an availability-only platform, without any efficacy claims whatsoever.

CAP Online Database, November 2007

In 2007, the UK Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) produces guidelines for the press on advertisements for slimming aids. This includes:

Unacceptable claims: claims that products can, for example, boost metabolism, inhibit dietary fat absorption, melt fat, soak up fat, break down fat, suppress appetite, block fat etc, are almost always unproven and are likely to break the Code. [The guidelines then list several ingredients, and say that the CAP has seen no evidence that products containing them can assist in weight loss. These ingredients include chitosan.]

CAP Slimming Guidelines for Press, November 2007

4(c) Independent Trials

In 2004, the University of Auckland Clinical Trials Research Unit in New Zealand analysed fourteen separate chitosan trials involving a total of 1131 participants. It concluded that results obtained from high quality trials indicate that the effect of chitosan on body weight is minimal and unlikely to be of clinical significance.
Cochrane Database of Sytematic Reviews Online, 2005 Jul 20;(3):CD003892

If its active ingredient is chitosan, it is biologically impossible for Plavsa to block as much fat per day as the advert claims.

  • The advert claims that Plavsa alone can block up to 6.5 lbs a week, or just under 1 lb a day (Quote: ‘7 weeks ago I weighed 12 stone 8 lbs, now I am down to 9 stone 4 lbs! During this time I didn’t change my eating habits at all; the pounds must have disappeared only due to the new slimming tablets’).
  • The Plavsa claim would require malabsorption of about 3,250 calories, or about 360 grams of fat, every day. This is more calories than most people consume in a day, and considerably more than they consume in fat alone. And you cannot malabsorb more than about a third of your fat calories because, above that level, there are significant gastrointestinal effects.
    Page 10, Deception in Weight-Loss Advertising Workshop, FTC 2003
  • In any case, the most that one clinical trial has shown is that chitosan might block up to 10 calories, or 1 gram of fat, every day. This was in 2003, when the University of California Davis Departments of Nutrition and Internal Medicine tested the claim that chitosan results in absorbed fat being defecated, with 15 males over a 12-day period. It concluded that the effect was clinically negligible, the product would have no significant effect on energy balance, and that the fat trapping claims associated with chitosan were unsubstantiated. Obesity Research 11:683-688 (2003)
  • You could lose the equivalent of 10 calories every day by eating one less slice of bread every week. It would take almost a year for chitosan to do what the Plavsa advert claims it can do every day, which is in any case biologically impossible. And even that would have no effect on existing fat; all that it would do is have an extremely insignificant impact on new fat.

 

Plavsa Ad Slogan

Conclusion

I would like to thank everybody who complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about this advert, and also thank the ASAI for upholding the complaint. It is important that such claims are subjected to rigorous investigation before they are foisted on an unsuspecting public.

Here is the original post about Plavsa, with Comments

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Entry filed under: Culture, Ireland, News.

Monday Quiz 25 – Litter Louts and Silly Surfers Papal Offer Makes Plavsa Claims Seem Credible

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. john  |  December 18, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    Are you the one the advertisers referred to when they said the complaint was based on a campaign or similar wording?
    John

    Reply
  • 2. Michael Nugent  |  December 18, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    I don’t know for sure, John, but probably yes.

    The advertisers told the ASAI that they ‘could ascertain the identity of one of the complainants from the contents of his complaint, and they believed that the complaint was based on activist issues and not on the content of the advertising’.

    My complaint used more or less the same wording as my original blog post on the issue, which appears fairly high up if you google the word Plavsa, so the advertisers could probably have identified me from that.

    I am an activist, which does not make my complaint less valid (as it would if, for example, I was a competitor of theirs), and my complaint was quite clearly based on the content of their ad, and on the sections of the ASAI code that I believed the ad contravened.

    Reply
  • 3. john  |  December 19, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    “The advertisers told the ASAI that they ‘could ascertain the identity of one of the complainants from the contents of his complaint, and they believed that the complaint was based on activist issues”

    Yes that is what i meant. Saw it cos I complained too as the ad was displayed in a poster form in a chemist window, some joke that chemists are selling that.

    Reply
  • 4. john  |  December 22, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    The poster is still -22 December 07- on the chemist door

    Reply
  • 5. sharon kennedy  |  January 24, 2008 at 9:44 am

    If a complaint has been made against this company and brand how are they allowed to advertise this product. It costs a bit of money to purchase and by all accounts it is obtained by fraudulent means.

    Reply
  • 6. john  |  February 4, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    http://www.asai.ie/complaint_view.asp?CID=422&BID=19

    Reply
  • 7. John Wiliams  |  February 29, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    See our link for update
    http://thekilganeykhronicle.blogspot.com/

    Reply
  • 8. angel  |  July 1, 2008 at 12:19 am

    Anyonegot any comments on tone and slim tabs and shakes

    Reply
  • 9. Slimming Pills  |  September 25, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    I do:) Slimming pill can be advertise at any time on any place – the real question is: who gonna buy them and if he or she will – is this gonna be the right solution for them?

    This is a large market and I think that the net is the best place to get any kind of weight loss advise before buying or turning to some diet product.

    Reply
  • 10. Slimming Pills Revew  |  October 10, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    Yeah, the weight loss market is overstatured with different slimming pills that all claim to help you lose weight quickly. You need to think twice before buying.

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A blog by Michael Nugent

Welcome to my blog about living in the maddest country on earth. Please feel free to leave a comment.

I also write Bionic Bohs, a blog about following Bohemians football club in the 1970s.

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Bionic Bohs

As mentioned above, if you like Irish football and/or cultural nostalgia, I also write Bionic Bohs, a blog about following Bohs in the 1970s.

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