Of food, food supplements and fools…

There’s been a spate of “food” and “food supplements” being advertised unethically. So, yes, this post is dedicated to the Ad Standard Council (ASC) of the Philippines, whose one and only job is to regulate and screen the advertisements we see in the country. They can’t even get that right.

Examples include the advertisements of vitamin E supplement purporting to create an “inner glow” and at that instance an element of “beautification” is taken clearly out of context. Children supposedly taking “chlorella growth factor”-laced multivitamin supplements for that extra growth spurt is another example of the spurious claims not backed by science but marketing skills hidden under the guise of “no approved therapeutic claims”. While the ASC may think that there is probably nothing brazenly wrong with some of these advertisements, the bottomline is simple. When the consumer is deceived to purchase a product whose claim is not backed by any form of science, this form of deception is ethically and morally wrong. Even if it means it is financially remunerating for the manufacturing company.

It was not until a few weeks ago when “Lola Remedios” was emblazoned all over media for the indication of “lamig“. According to a blog site, “ph.theAsianparent.com”, Dr. Randy Dellosa is quoted to interpret that “lamig” is a form of mild muscle spasm. In short, the diagnosis is based on a complex of symptoms including fatigue, pain, and numbness of certain muscle areas. This folkloric diagnosis, otherwise called “ngalay” is a tale as old as time. The recognition of “lamig and ngalay” as part of the Filipino (and Mexican) culture has propagated from generation to generation. Yet the manufacturers indirectly imply that these Tagalog words describing a symptom is therapy for these symptoms. Taken into context, it is, in actuality a therapeutic claim.

A concoction made up of ginger, honey, mint, clove, and fennel, I am not quite sure if it was really a grandmother’s recipe to start off with. While they capitalise on the ad with an old woman endorsing this as a food supplement, they also say that it is IMPORTED and distributed by a local company. As the picture depicts an elderly taking this product to the next level, they go on to claim that one doesn’t have to fear about side effects in the long term, yet place a stern precaution that it is not intended for pregnant and lactating women and those with allergy to menthol flavours. They are silent when it comes to pediatric patients (and I don’t think that it’s their market but staying silent about something yet claiming it is effective even for the elderly is dangerous stuff). So if the product is not therapeutic in nature and has issues on safety, why then place a warning?

What is most disturbing is how little the public values taking “supplements” without looking at the contents of the supplement and how dangerous this is when people are taking therapeutic agents concurrently, resulting in a drug interaction, adverse reactions, or therapeutic failure. And that’s not fair to the public.

One thing you have to hand it to this group is how good the marketing is.

The other day, Del Monte Pineapple Juice launched an ad that would top the insane. A family eating the favourite Filipino food – Lechon Kawali! After a few seconds, they zero in to pointing out the cholesterol dangers of that delicious oily fatty meat. Before you can even blink, there is Del Monte Pineapple Juice, indirectly (or directly?) available to scour all that cholesterol away!

While we understand that advertising is supposed to be an avenue for marketing and eventually selling a product, we all know that demonstrating truth in advertising is something that is wanting nowadays. That is why there is a product endorser who acts as the mascot, or there’s a weird, funny, sad, emotional, happy or phantasmagoric story line bordering on lunacy to catch the attention of the gullible consumer.

Technology and social media have practically changed detailing of a product. Whether it is ethically right or simply for profit has the lines of moral principles all blurred in this capitalistic environment. But let’s not make these marketers get their sales simply because we didn’t ask the right questions before purchasing the product.

There is a Chinese proverb that goes:

one who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; one who does not ask a question is a fool forever.

The people in the respective agencies that need to oversee the compliance of the advertisements on any form of media, should do their job. Because they are, in the end, equally accountable for this lapse by the ASC. Perhaps self-regulation is a foolish idea after all.

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