Nurofen ad banned for misleading pain killer claims

Reckitt Benckiser has been rapped by the Advertising Standards Authority for a TV ad for Nurofen Joint & Back, in a ruling that is likely to set a precedent for how general painkillers can be marketed.

The ad from Havas Worldwide London, seen in April, shows a woman experiencing back pain.

She takes some of the ibuprofen painkillers, which appear to then travel through her body to the area of the pain – her lower back – with a glowing ball radiating pain relief from this point.

The spot’s voiceover, meanwhile, says that the product provides "constant targeted pain relief for up to eight hours".

The ASA received 18 complaints suggesting that the ad misleadingly claimed that the painkillers specifically targeted back pain – when in fact they are equally suitable for other types of pain.

In its response, RB said that the capsules contained liquid ibuprofen, which meant it was more soluble and readily absorbed than standard Nurofen – and therefore, it "targeted" pain regardless of where that pain occurred in the body. RB also said that the ad did not claim that it was specifically aimed at back pain.

But the watchdog decided that given the name of the product, and the choice of motion graphics in the ad, viewers would be likely to conclude it had been specifically designed to relieve back and joint pain.

It found that the ad breached the Code for misleading advertising, substantiation and exaggeration, and ruled that it must not be shown again in its current form.

Royal pain for Nurofen

The ASA decision follows a related ruling against RB in Australia last December, when the country's high court ordered the supplier to pull some of its "targeted" Nurofen products from shelves.

The court found that four products - Nurofen Back Pain, Nurofen Period Pain, Nurofen Migraine Pain and Nurofen Tension Headache - were identical, and that labelling them as separate products was misleading to consumers. 

Products with the same or similar names are sold in the UK, but here each is a slightly different product; although all have ibuprofen as an active ingedient, the format of the tablets and capsules and the chemical form of the iboprofen vary. 

Around the same time as the Australian ruling, the ASA announced it was investigating a separate TV ad to the one banned today, for Nurofen Express.

With the ad having last been shown last June, the ASA closed the case and considered the matter resolved after RB provided assurance the ad would not be broadcast again, and that RB would not create an ad in future that could imply that the product has a special mechanism that makes it especially effective for headache pain.

That pledge, however, did not extend to other products in the Nurofen range - leading to today's ruling. 

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