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The Drum

Amazon and Protein World rapped by ASA over 'misleading' health supplement claims

Amazon's product category headers have been criticised by the ASA. / Amazon

Ads from Amazon and Protein World directing consumers to health supplements have been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after the watchdog ruled that web page headers and signposts were "misleading" consumers.

Amazon’s UK site sells a number of food supplement products, including meal replacement shakes, protein bars and detoxing tablets. The ASA challenged the way these products were labelled, after finding that Amazon listed the products under the heading ‘Slimming Aids & Weight Loss’.

Similarly, Protein World’s site featured a number of food supplement products under the headers ‘Weight Loss’ and ‘Weight loss products’.

The CAP Code, the set of rules which ensure British consumers are not misled by advertisers, states that claims concerning food supplements must be backed up by documentary evidence, and that marketers are only allowed to use health claims listed in the EU Register, an index of products with proven health and nutrition benefits.

The ASA said: “A statement about weight loss, presented in a category heading, would be understood as a claim about the function of the products contained within that category, which was likely to influence a consumer’s decision to purchase those products.”

Amazon argued that its website headings operated as signposts which allowed customers to navigate through the website, and that customers did not use the headers to make purchasing decisions.

A spokesperson told The Drum: “While we disagree with the ASA’s assessment we have removed the ‘Slimming Aids & Weight Loss’ category heading from our website.”

The ASA consulted with four industry bodies, including the Council for Responsible Nutrition UK (CRN UK), the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA), the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) and the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB). Each of the bodies agreed with Amazon’s judgment that the website headers were not advertisements.

Both retailers were told that the web pages must not appear again in the form complained about.

While Amazon has complied with the ASA’s request, Protein World’s website still listed 46 products under the ‘Weight Loss’ heading. The retailer did not respond to the ASA’s inquiries.

The ASA takes a harsh view of unsubstantiated health claims made by advertisers. Earlier this year, the watchdog banned an Oral-B ad and investigated a Max Factor TV spot.