Cough syrup ad splutters over ASA’s ‘misleading’ decision

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Bronchostop can be used to relieve any type of cough. It is available as a traditional cough syrup or in pastille form. ©OmegaPharma
Bronchostop can be used to relieve any type of cough. It is available as a traditional cough syrup or in pastille form. ©OmegaPharma

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The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld complaints over a TV advertisement for Omega Pharma’s Broncho Stop cough syrup, which featured illegible on-screen text that viewers found ‘misleading.’

The ASA ruled it to be in breach of broadcasting rules and instructed the firm not be broadcast the advertisement in its current form and to “ensure significant limitations and qualifications are clearly presented in their advertising.”

Clearcast, an NGO which pre-approves most British television advertising, responded on behalf of Omega Pharma stating that the on-screen text had been checked for height, duration and legibility.

Checks were also made on the size of the on-screen text and that it conformed to relevant guidance outlined in the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code).

“The original text was on-screen for 17.76 seconds (with a minimum requirement of 14.6 seconds) and the full text was on-screen for 10.4 seconds (minimum 6.2 seconds),” ​Clearcast argued.

“All of the text was 32 lines in height, against a minimum requirement of 30 lines.”

Claims made in the advertisement’s voice over accompanied the on-screen text in question located at the bottom of the screen.

Omega Pharma 2
Omega Pharma Ltd was recently acquired by Perrigo Company plc and now trades as Perrigo UK & Ireland. ©Perrigo

The text stated, “Always read the leaflet. Mortar study 08/’15 - 36% of 2000 people. Traditional herbal remedy for the relief of any cough, exclusively based on long-standing use. Contains thyme herb extract”.

As the voice-over said: “Broncho Stop. To relieve any cough,”​ the words: “Winner Cough, Cold & Allergy Category. Survey 11,586 people by TNS”​ were then added to the on-screen text.

This text remained on-screen until the end of the advertisement.

Six complainants, who were unable to read the on-screen text, challenged whether the ad was misleading.

ASA agreed stating that on-screen text included material information that viewers needed to understand the basis of the claims.

“We considered that the number of people who participated in the relevant surveys would inform viewers as to the weight to give to the claims,”​ ASA said.

“We therefore considered that the on-screen text contained material information that must be presented clearly.”

Response to Clearcast

In response to Clearcast, ASA said that BCAP published specific guidance, in addition to the Code on the criteria that on-screen text should meet, with regard to size and style of presentation.

“We noted that it was a prerequisite for clearance by Clearcast that the text height met the minimum requirements of the guidance and, with respect to size, we did not consider the text to be problematic.”

Despite this, they noted the width of the text was very compressed with words appearing tall but narrow.

The text was also superimposed directly onto moving images and that, while at times it was set against solid colour, the white text was also shown over white bottle caps and a greyish image of a person’s lungs.

According to the ASA, this made the text particularly difficult to read.

Text troubles

Formatting changes also highlighted two lines of text that switched to three as the new information split across two lines.

ASA stated the effect appeared as a completely new set of text that had to be read from start to finish, rather than new information that had been added to what was there before.

This is not the first time Omega Pharma have fallen foul of ASA’s standards.

Ads for its weight management aid demonstrated an “irresponsible approach to body image and confidence”​ in February last year.

Complaints totalling 200 triggered ASA’s ruling, which believed the ads were irresponsible in their promotion​ of an unhealthy body image, particularly among young girls.

ASA then received 15 complaints later on in the year about the firm’s licensed Traditional Herbal Remedy (THR) Urostemol for Men.

The ASA upheld the complaint that the botanical ad discouraged viewers from seeking medical advice for nocturnal urination.

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