Omega Pharma: 'We weren’t clear enough'

The dangers of normalising a medical taboo

By Annie Harrison-Dunn contact

- Last updated on GMT

'Our ambition was to offer a very sympathetic message to consumers,' says company following second ASA run-in. iStock.com / Melpomenem
'Our ambition was to offer a very sympathetic message to consumers,' says company following second ASA run-in. iStock.com / Melpomenem

Related tags: Advertising, Asa

Food supplements are often presented as a 'softer' alternative to health than pharmaceutical treatments. Yet Omega Pharma experienced first-hand the dangers of trying to normalise a medical taboo when its advertisement for a night time urination botanical treatment was called up by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for discouraging essential medical treatment.

The ASA received 15 complaints​ ​that the advertisement of the licensed Traditional Herbal Remedy (THR) Urostemol Men was irresponsible and potentially harmful in that it could prevent men from seeking medical attention for night-time urination, which could be a symptom of prostate cancer, diabetes or urinary tract infections.

Holly Turner, Omega Pharma’s senior director of marketing and former global marketing director for GlaxoSmithKline, told us the intension was to normalise an otherwise taboo condition and the backlash had been a learning curve for the company.

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“This is an issue not really being talked about by many manufacturers. Our ambition was to offer a very sympathetic message to consumers,”​ she said.

Yet the marketing strategy backfired and the company was criticised for offering an over-the-counter (OTC) solution for potentially very serious ailments – a balance Turner said was a challenge for many in the supplement arena.

“We weren’t clear enough,”​ Turner concede. “As we look to the future, we will take these learnings and put them into practice.”

This complaint was the second case against the company this year.

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Back in February the company came under fire for pushing poor body image​among young girls in its advert for its slimming medical device, XLS Medical.

After receiving 200 complaints, the ASA concluded the advert represented an “irresponsible approach to body image and confidence”.

However Turner said the company had simply wanted to highlight that weight challenges occur throughout life and in different ways.

Asked if she agreed the girls in the advert were too young and of a healthy body weight already, Turner said this was a matter of “perception not reality”.

Nonetheless this advert will not appear again, unlike the Urostemol Men advert which will be modified with the ASA’s feedback in mind before rolling the product out in markets beyond the UK where it is currently sold.

Turner said the ASA had a “collaborative approach”​ and were “committed to upholding standards”. 

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