The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has challenged the impropriety of content featured on the websites www.wholesome-choices.com and www.trustworthy-reviews.com in May and April this year, that appeared to disproportionately favour owner brands while giving the impression reviews were based on independent opinion and product testing.
The ASA also challenged whether paid-for Google search ads falsely implied the marketers were “acting for purposes outside their business and did not make their commercial intent clear”.
The issues identified concern two Google ads for Wellness Explorer review site (www.wholesome-choices.com) and the search terms ‘best collagen supplement’ and ‘vitamin b complex’, where featured content listed Purolabs products in the number one spot – even though corresponding text indicated reviews were independent and “grounded in research and product testing”. The website also offers information and advice on how to choose between products on the market.
Search pages listed the advantages of Purolabs products and provided a link to the brand’s homepage. Content included a disclosure on the commercial link between website and brand.
Meanwhile, the issue with ads linked to HeyNutrition-owned website Trustworthy Reviews, considered three search terms (‘best turmeric’, ‘best ashwagandha’, and ‘best vitamin d’) and various references to a resident healthcare expert and to scientific studies that suggest independent, expert input and clinical support for content claims.
Results also included a notification indicating the website owner “may receive a commission from the sale of certain products featured”.
When approached by the ASA, Purolabs confirmed ownership of the website and agreed the commercial ads was “not sufficiently clear” on this point; it therefore indicated it would “discontinue” the link connecting the ads to the review site.
HeyNutrition initially contested the issue and maintained content was adequately signposted as advertising, however upon further review, it took the decision to enlarge and revise the text to explicitly disclose that Trustworthy Reviews and HeyNutrition “had the same beneficial owners”.
However, in spite of these remedial actions, the authority upheld both issues under CAP Code (Edition 12) and determined each company breached four specific rules relating to marketing communications (2.1, 2.3, 3.1 and 3.9).
The ASA considered the changes implemented were insufficient “to counter the overall effect of content layout and name and gave the false impression that [either site] was an independent reviews website”.
In addition, it considered the paid-for Google ads search criteria would frequently be used by consumers interested in buying the items mentioned and looking for specific product recommendations from an authoritative source.
Furthermore, both websites gave the impression reviews originated from reliable independent sources and consumers would not expect either website to be owned and operated by a brand whose products it featured.
As such, the authority ruled the ads contravened CAP Code regulations pertaining to transparency and clarity of marketing, in terms of being “obviously identifiable” as such, and in relation to false claims or implications “that the marketer was acting for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession”.
Ad content also breached regulations on marketing communications that “materially mislead or be likely to do so” and highlighted “significant limitations and qualifications”. Qualifications should clarify but not contradict the claims that they qualify, the Code states.
The ASA therefore declared both companies failed to make their commercial intent clear in the Google ads and that neither should appear again in their current form.