CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/HEALTH CLAIMS IN ADS - What's good for you might be good for the client. Using the health benefits of a product in advertising works, Camilla Palmer says

Advertisers looking to differentiate food brands within a crowded

market have found a new way of attracting consumers' attention -

promising them good health.

Last week saw the launch of two campaigns for unremarkable everyday

products - Orbit chewing gum, through Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, and

Juice-Up, created by HHCL & Partners. Both chose not to focus on the

products' obvious selling points such as taste or image. Instead they

opted to concentrate on less instantly apparent health benefits.

Of course, the argument that a product is good for you is nothing


Kellogg has been advertising cereal brands such as Special K and

All-Bran along these lines for years. However, the volume of

advertisers' medical claims seems to be increasing - witness the recent

science-drenched campaigns for the cholesterol-lowering Benecol - and

the 'product-a-day-keeps-the-doctor-away' line is being applied more and

more widely.

When Danone starts marketing its bottled water as a groundbreaking

potential source of calcium, you start to ask what can't be advertised

as a health product. Food and drink that we used to guzzle in simple

ignorance now sounds increasingly like it should be prescribed by a


Making medical or health claims on food packaging or in an ad campaign

is a well-documented minefield. But coming up with new formulations of

health benefits in substances that you never thought of as healthy

before is even trickier. For this you need original medical research.

And even that is no guarantee of success.

Legislation concerning health claims is restrictive and defending the

claims extremely costly. Glaxo SmithKline took the Advertising Standards

Authority to court after the ASA upheld complaints from consumers over

claims that Ribena ToothKind did not encourage tooth decay. The company

had spent pounds 19 million and four years investing in and researching

the product, obtaining endorsement from the British Dental Association,

but can no longer use the claims in its marketing.

AMV says Wrigley's watched the Glaxo SmithKline case with interest in

the run-up to the relaunch of Orbit. Jo Wisbey, the agency's senior

account manager on the Orbit business, said it was impossible for the ad

to make claims about the effectiveness of the key new ingredient,

Xylitol, as the research done by Wrigley's had been completed outside

the European Union. However, she points out that the product already

benefits from a well-established health heritage. 'Obviously, Orbit has

a heritage of being healthy since it was launched in the 70s as a

sugar-free gum,' she says. 'The brand advocated the benefits of chewing

to the teeth, and has grown with the backing of dental


Britvic's category director, Andrew Marsden, is hoping to build just

such a heritage for the Juice-Up brand. He says that the ad strategy

developed with HHCL aims to achieve this by targeting both the children

who consume the product and the parents who buy it. 'It's a two-pronged

strategy,' he explains. 'We have to make children want to choose it over

other brands, so image must be addressed as well as the taste, but to

attract parents, we have to focus on its calcium content.'

Marsden claims that there are two approaches (educational and

inspirational) to health-orientated advertising and warns that choosing

the right one can have dramatic results on the success of the


'Food is instantly personal - the message you give in an ad is crucial,'

he argues. 'It is possible to overstep the mark by preaching to


The secret is getting the benefits over fast and accurately, without

being patronising. Potential customers are in adult mode when health

issues are addressed - they don't want to be flattered or cajoled, and

it's essentially difficult to be creative about things like fibre.'

However, as the number of products advertised in this way increases, it

seems that more attention is being paid to establishing a creative

balance. After all, it becomes difficult to achieve standout in a food

category if every product's spots drily inform the consumer about

vitamin make-up.

AMV's spot for the Orbit relaunch, featuring a man with a giant chewing

gum packet crushing confectionery, is perhaps the most experimental

example of health advertising seen yet, and a healthy distance from the

traditional chewing gum spots featuring line graphs of tooth decay


Similarly, the campaign created by BMP DDB's French office for Danone

goes for a creative approach intended to appeal to adults and children

alike. Whether animated skeletons on skateboards is everyone's idea of

how to sell calcium-enriched mineral water is more open to question.

Kellogg may have recently withdrawn its Ensemble range of enriched foods

following poor sales, but there are plenty of other examples of the

medical approach reviving a product.

PepsiCo saw its Tropicana fruit juice brand surge to dominate the US

market after it was divided into separately packaged products, marketed

with specific health benefits. Consumers could choose between orange

juice with additional vitamin C, vitamin D or calcium among others. The

resultant surge in sales saw Tropicana eclipse its rival MinuteMaid.

Now it appears that the UK is developing a similarly wide-ranging taste

for functional foods - provided the marketing strategy is sound. Glaxo

SmithKline does not appear to have been deterred by its Ribena ToothKind

experience. The company aims to train the marketers for consumer

products such as Lucozade to use the same strategies as for the

company's pharmaceutical products.

In the final analysis, the commercial gains to be made for forging a

path through the choppy waters of medical claims marketing are just too

big to ignore. As the race to offer the healthiest product in a given

sector hots up, agencies will be asked to sail closer to the wind of

Food Standards Agency and ASA regulations.

Kate Purcell, the communications director at McNeil Consumer Products,

which launched Benecol, says: 'When the product was launched it was

alongside a rival, Unilever's Flora Proactiv.

It was crucial for our marketing and advertising strategy to be



Tropicana: Banks Hoggins O'Shea/FCB: 'It's making a claim for the

content of multi-vitamins. It should be self-evident really. It's

important to remember that none of these ads are making comparative

claims against other products in the category.'

Orbit: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, London: 'We have sought expert advice

on this one. There's no doubt that chewing gum does produce saliva and

that is helpful in reducing incidence of cariogenic (tooth decay)

occurrences and cavities. That's a proven fact. Because Orbit is

sugar-free, it is even better in that respect.'

Danone Activ: BMP DDB, France: 'It's making claims for added calcium

content in water and calcium is proven to help in bone formation and in

delaying the onset of osteoporosis. Again, we sent the details to a

consultant and asked them to assess benefits on quality of product.'

Benecol: Saatchi & Saatchi, London: 'We sought expert advice again here.

Obviously it's quite a complex claim and lots of evidence was produced

in favour of it. Our expert agreed it does have an effect on lowering

cholesterol levels.'

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus