Tag Archives: advertising

Fluoridation: “Sciencey” sounding claims ruled unacceptable

chesterfield-cigarettes-science-advert

Today, “scientific” claims of advertisers and anti-fluoride propagandists can be just as misleading

Again and again I find myself getting really annoyed at the way science is used opportunistically in advertising. We are continually bombarded with claims that the effectiveness of a product is “scientifically proven.” Or that “scientists tell us” something which supports a product. Then there are those ads where actors dress up in white lab coats and wander around a fictional, but photogenic, laboratory while giving us a fairy tale explanation of the mechanism which makes their product so effective. And this misrepresentation is widespread – involving products from cosmetics and toothpaste to fertilisers.

This advertising exploits the credibility of science and scientists as trustworthy experts. Hence the use of white lab coats and sciencey sounding terminology. Even the citation of scientific literature, studies, and trials – with the full knowledge that the target audience has no way of checking these citations.

Many countries have bodies regulating what advertisers can and can’t claim. In New Zealand we have the Advertising Standards Authority(ASA). Our ASA welcomes complaints about advertising and its rulings can lead to adverts being removed. The complaint procedure is being used by members of the public. In 2014 the ASA received 871 complaints about 672 adverts – up 10% and 12% respectively from 2013.

The Society for Science Based Healthcare publicises the complaint procedure and has made many complaints itself on products like homoeopathic treatments and magnetic mattress underlays. One of their members, Mark Honeychurch, created a tool for accessing information from the ASA complaint database which provides useful information.

It turns out that one of the most complained about organisations is Fluoride Free NZ (FFNZ) – a group campaigning against community water fluoridation. It ranks 13th in  the  organisations having the most successful complaints made against them.

Bottom-organisations-FFNZ-full-screen

The data also shows that a relatively high proportion of those complaints against FFNZ have been successful. That tells me that the complainants have been able to present good arguments to support their complaints.

Anti-fluoride campaigners are well known to claim scientific support for their case. But analysis of their claims shows them to be based on misrepresentations and distortion of the science. They are a classic example of advertisers who opportunistically, but dishonestly, use science to promote their products.

I think the misrepresentation and distortion of science are widespread in advertising and the propaganda from activist groups like FFNZ. At times, the problem seems so immense it seems impossible to counter it. So it is great to see groups like The Society for Science Based Healthcare, and the many people making similar complaints, having this sort of success.

On the other hand, perhaps consumers are developing a healthy scepticism about advertising claims. That is also a good thing, as long as that scepticism doesn’t lead to denigration of the authority of science as the best way of understanding the world and testing claims.

That would be throwing out the baby with the bath water.

See alsoFluoride Free NZ ranks 13th worst NZ organisation by ASA complaints

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Activist’s anti-science adverts found misleading – again

The activist Fluoride Free NZ (FFNZ) organisation have had a bad year with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). They have had half a dozen complaints against them for misleading advertising upheld.

The latest complaint referred to FFNZ’s adverts for a meeting they organised in Rotorua last July. This advert claimed

“Informed Doctors and Dentists say:
KEEP FLUORIDE OUT
Keep Rotorua’s water safe. It’s our right to choose.
Swallowing Fluoride

Is unsafe for babies
Doesn’t protect teeth
Can cause harm.”

The complaint basically was that these claims were presented as matters of fact, rather than opinion. And the declarations of harm, danger to babies and lack of effectiveness protecting teeth were effectively claims implying scientific  substantiation. It also raised the issue of misrepresentation of the views of New Zealand doctors and dentists – implying that the claims are supported by a majority of these professional when they aren’t. Quite the opposite.

In fact, FFNZ can get only about half a dozen such professionals willing to promote their message. It is dishonest to then use these handful of mavericks to imply the whole profession supports the anti-fluoride claims.

The complainant also pointed out the advert was effectively indulging in scaremongering because it claimed there was harm, when there wasn’t any, and it appeared to be promoting the advice of professionals, when professionals weren’t saying what was claimed.

The ASA ruling concludes:

“The Complaints Board said the advertisement was likely to mislead as the claims were presented as facts, but were not substantiated by the Advertiser, in breach of Basic Principle 3 and Rule 2 and was not saved by advocacy, in breach of Rule 11 of the Code of Ethics. It said the advertisement unjustifiably played on fear, in breach of Rule 6 of the Code of Ethics and was socially irresponsible in breach Basic Principle 4 of the Code of Ethics and the Complaints Board ruled the matter was upheld.

It is good to see more people coming forward to make these sort of complaints. The anti-science lobby has been getting away with this sort of misrepresentation for years. Hopefully the experience of the ASA upholding such complaints will embarrass organisation like this to be more careful in their advertising.

In many cases all it takes is a simple sentence to clarify the advert is presenting the viewpoint or belief  of the advertiser, rather than scientifically established facts.

NZ Atheists Swap Buses For Billboards

This from the NZ Atheist Bus Campaign:

The NZ Atheist Bus Campaign will unveil billboards with friendly atheist slogans in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch this week.

The campaign has chosen the three winning phrases from more than 900 public submissions of billboard slogans. “We’re excited about this opportunity to promote these thoughtful slogans and hope they’ll get people to stop and think.” said Simon Fisher, spokesperson for the Campaign.

While the precise wording of the three new slogans is intended to be a surprise, Mr Fisher says that all three designs will include the text “There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life”
borrowed from the successful UK bus campaign.

With the launch of the billboard campaign, the organisation is also reopening its call for donations from people who want to see the billboards moved to other cities. “While the bus campaign would have been limited to main centres, the great thing about these canvases is that once printed they can be toured to other centres” said Mr Fisher.
“If a community wants to put one of our billboards up in their area they can contact us, arrange a location, and we’ll be delighted to lend them the canvas”.

Despite similar campaigns being run internationally, the organisation’s plans to place ads on buses in New Zealand hit a brick wall earlier this year when NZ Bus accepted and then rejected the billboards, leading to the Campaign’s decision to take the issue to a tribunal. “The Campaign is still committed to the discrimination case against NZ Bus through the Office of Human Rights Proceedings. “We have kept funds in reserve for a bus advertising campaign if this is successful.” said Mr Fisher.

Interested Kiwis can see the billboards in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch from Friday this week.

For more information and to donate, see NZ Atheist Campaign

Thanks to Toby Ricketts for the photos of two billboards just installed in Christchurch.

Here’s one billboard I missed:

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New Zealand has bigots too

I actually thought this wouldn’t happen in good old New Zealand. We are a tolerant lot and seem quite happy with our largely secular society. But there’s always some die-hards wanting to spoil it, isn’t there?

This press release from the NZ Atheist Bus Campaign describes how the NZ Bus company has reversed their approval of the adverts because of public complaints.

The NZ Atheist Bus Campaign, which late last year raised in excess of $20,000 from public donations, has met a set back in their plans. Nationwide bus company NZ Bus, who had tentatively approved the campaign’s ads on buses in major city centres, have now rejected them.

NZ Bus stated that they have received a number of complaints from the public about the proposed ads, which read “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Spokesperson for the Atheist Bus Campaign Simon Fisher says “It’s concerning that peaceful atheist messages are not allowed on buses while religious messages are often seen on buses and in public. Messages of atheism are rare in New Zealand and we aim to raise awareness for the one-third of New Zealanders who are unconvinced by the claims of religion.”

Organisers of the Campaign tried to reach a resolution with NZ Bus, and later attempted mediation sessions through the Human Rights Commission. NZ Bus refused to participate in these mediation sessions. Because they are refusing to discuss the matter and reach an agreement, the organisers of the Campaign are now investigating the possibility of taking this case to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

Simon Fisher says “we’re disappointed at the response from NZ Bus and plan to look at options going forward. We owe it to the thousands of Kiwis who have supported this campaign with donations and messages of support.”

Advertisements with identical wording ran in the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and Spain. Similar campaigns also ran successfully in Croatia, Finland, Holland, Italy, America and across the Tasman in Australia.

“We are gravely concerned that in New Zealand we’re unable to present an atheistic message, showing that we do not have the same practical freedom of expression as in other first world countries. It highlights why this campaign is so necessary.” said spokesperson Simon Fisher.

The Campaign will continue to accept donations for advertising, see http://www.nogod.org.nz for further details.

Why don’t these complainants identify themselves? Let us hear their arguments. A complaint to the Human Rights Review Tribunal might provide us that opportunity.

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NZ Atheist Bus Campaign reaches fund raising target in under a week

Below is a press release from the organisers of the NZ Atheist Bus campaign. The current total raised is over NZ$20,200.


Proposed ad for NZ buses

The NZ Atheist Bus Campaign is one step closer to placing atheist ads on buses, with their fund raising target of $20,000 having been easily reached in less than a week.

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Bus adverts and the 2011 NZ census

What is it with these atheists?

I go out of town for a few days and they launch their NZ bus adverts campaign.  When I get back I find that I almost miss my own chance to make a donation! Because they are going to cap it off after reaching $20,000!

Its obviously hit a spot because their original target of $10,000 was reached in less than 48 hrs (see $10,000 and growing fast).

But isn’t it strange that an appeal like this should be capped? Haven’t heard of any religious organisation doing this. They always have their hand out. Their “targets” seem to have no limit.

Anyway, good on the people who launched this campaign. They have decided to use the inoffensive slogan “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The same as used in the successful UK campaign. The organisers say “This campaign is about challenging people to think critically about their beliefs, and especially to think critically about how much control they give over their lives to a supernatural being for which there is no evidence.”

The launch seems to have got a fair bit of media coverage. And most commenters on  blogs, etc., seem positive. There are of course a number who, for their own religious reason, attempt to damn it or label it as a waste of money, ineffective, or pointless. One of the funniest I saw was from blogger Macdoctor (see Zealots) who spent some time denouncing the campaign and then appealed to Christians to ignore it!

One can easily overestimate the effectiveness of these sorts of campaigns in changing the long held beliefs of people. But I think this misses the point. Many welcome these adverts because it shows the public face of non-theistic beliefs. It establishes the fact that we are there, we are normal people – no worse and (possibly) no better than others and should be accepted as normal members of society.

However, here’s one tangible result that we might see. Just imagine if more and more people come to think that it’s OK not to declare a religion. All those times people put C of E, Presbyterian, etc., on official forms because they somehow thought that “should” have a religion. They had seen having a religion as nothing to do with belief, but to do with family  or culture. And necessary for respectability.

So what will these people do when the next census comes around? Will they answer the “religion” question more honestly this time?

Already the number people claiming a Christian religion was down to 49.5% in the last, 2006, census (after correction for double dipping – see Is New Zealand a Christian nation?). Could that number really plummet in 2011?

See also:
Battle of the bgus ads
Givealittle – NZ Atheist Bus Campaign.
NZ Atheist Bus Campaign
“Is there a god” NZ poll

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