The ads claimed that plant sterols in Flora pro-activ were clinically proven to significantly lower cholesterol and that no other food could lower cholesterol more.
However, the ASA said that these assertions were outside the wording an EU-approved health claim on plant sterols and ordered Unilever never to broadcast the ads again.
In one ad, 46 year old Isabelle showed a scorecard that read 6.8 followed by another that showed 6.2. During the scene, a voiceover said: "When my doctor told me that my cholesterol was high I started using clinically proven Flora pro-activ, now it's considerably lower.
Text on the screen also read: "Flora pro-activ contains plant sterols. A daily consumption of 1.5 - 2.4g of plant sterols can lower cholesterol by 7-10% in 2-3 weeks as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Individual results may vary".
The final scene showed a tub of Flora pro-activ on a kitchen worktop. The voice-over and on-screen text said, "No other food lowers cholesterol more".
Unilever also had a second ad which used the same format.
No food does it better?
Two complainants challenged whether Unilever’s claim "no other food lowers cholesterol more" could be substantiated.
Unilever said that it had not implied its product was better at lowering cholesterol than any other food, only that no other food could lower cholesterol more.
It submitted scientific studies to try to support its claim and pointed out that the EU Register of nutrition and health claims authorised foods containing plant sterols to claim lowers cholesterol to an effect of 7‒10%, under a daily consumption of 1.5‒2.4g over 2‒3 weeks, as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Altering meaning of approved plant-sterol claim
The ASA said: “We noted the scientific evidence submitted by Unilever, but because the claim ‘no other food lowers cholesterol more’ was not listed as authorised on the EU Register we considered that the inclusion of that statement was in breach of the Code.”
The watchdog added that both ads breached its advertising code by failing to say “high cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease”, which it said changed the meaning of the EU registered claim.