Pfizer multivitamin TV ads mislead consumers about healthy diets, says UK watchdog

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food supplements Nutrition Asa

Pfizer multivitamin TV ads mislead consumers about healthy diets, says UK watchdog
TV advert claims for Pfizer owned Centrum multivitamins that used EU-approved health claims were still misleading because they did not make clear that a balanced diet could be achieved without supplements, the UK advertising watchdog has found.

“We told Pfizer to ensure their future advertising did not imply a balanced and varied diet could not provide appropriate quantities of nutrients in general and that it did not encourage individuals to swap a healthy diet for supplementation,”​ the ASA ruled.

The campaign made claims like, “He'd like immunity support, so would she. But while he needs more B vitamins, she needs more iron and folic acid.”

Such claims have won positive opinions​ from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) NDA health claims panel which in one stated vitamin B6 could benefit, “normal protein and glycogen metabolism, normal function of the nervous system, normal red blood cell formation, normal function of the immune system and regulation of hormonal activity.”

The ASA’s Natasha Downes told us while the claims were similar to approved EU health claims, there was an obligation to be clear about the place of food supplements in broader diets.

“We expect all advertisers to comply with this rule and bear this ruling in mind when creating their ads,”​ Downes said.


She pointed to article 13.7 of the Broadcast Code which says: Advertisements must not state or imply that a balanced and varied diet cannot provide appropriate quantities of nutrients in general. Individuals must not be encouraged to swap a healthy diet for supplementation.”

Article 7 of the EU Food Supplements Directive​ backs up this interpretation as it states: “The labelling, presentation and advertising of food supplements shall not include any mention stating or implying that a balanced and varied diet cannot provide appropriate quantities of nutrients in general.”

centrum multivitamins

“Tough approach”

But UK-based food lawyer, Owen Warnock, partner at Eversheds, said the ruling indicated an increasingly hard line being taken by the ASA over food and supplement-oriented claim making under the EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR).

The ASA is taking a tough approach to applying the NHCR to advertisements – where there is room for argument about the message conveyed by words or images they are tending to rule against the advertiser.”

“It does seem that a small tweak would have saved this advert: ‘Wants’ rather than ‘needs’.”
He said the ASA is also taking into account how images can alter or embellish the meaning of words in advertisements.

The ruling

Pfizer said the adverts did not imply directly or indirectly that food supplements were necessary but spoke of the health benefits of multivitamins, and how they could be tailored to men and women.

It said the advert had been approved by the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), a group that represents large food supplement manufacturers, as well as by Clearcast, which specialises in broadcasting advert compliance.

But the ASA found, “the ad implied the advertised products were the solution to providing those nutrients and therefore that appropriate quantities of nutrients in general could not be obtained from a balanced and varied diet…”

Downes said Clearcast and the ASA differered in opinion in only 1-in-a-1000 cases.

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