Mangaluru, July 20, 2017: The Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has considered the Narendra Nayak’s complaint against an advertisement of Coconut Developement Board published in The Week magazine on May 2017.
Mr Nayak said, while the choice of oil for cooking purposes in one’s personal choice, health considerations also do come in. But, making tall claims to sell one’s products is not ethical. This ad in The Week (which is as an attachment) drew my attention by its wild claims and a complaint was lodged with the Advertising Standards Council of India which is a regulatory body for advertisements. They had issued a notice to the advertisers whose replies were not satisfactory and they could not produce any evidence to substantiate their claims.
Consumer Complaints Council have been ordered to modify their ads.
The following complaint has been upheld by the Advertising standards council of India and their communication is as follows:
Dear Mr. Narendra Nayak,
Re: CCC Recommendation– 1705-C.379 – Your complaint against the advertisement of Coconut Development Board – Coconut Oil
The complaint was considered by the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) at their meeting.
The ASCI had approached the advertiser (yourselves) for their response in addressing the grievances of the complainant and forwarded the full details of the complaint, verbatim, to the advertiser with a request to respond to the same. The Advertiser was offered an opportunity for Personal Hearing with the ASCI Secretariat which they did not avail, but submitted their written response as stated above. The advertiser had stated in their response that they have published this advertisement for promoting coconut, coconut oil and Farmer Producer organizations (FPO) with the consent from Dr. D.M.Vasudevan, MD, FRCPath; Head, Post Graduate programs & Research who has conducted a project on coconut oil at Amrita Institute of Medical Science, Kochi. As claim support data, the advertiser submitted item wise reply with literature citings and published research papers, Text book reference; USDA Nutrient Data base, and Research work conducted on coconut oil by Amrita Institute of Medical Science. The claim support data submitted by the advertiser was reviewed by the technical expert of ASCI. The CCC carefully viewed the print advertisement and examined the complaint and the detailed response given by the advertiser as well as the opinion of the Technical expert presented at the meeting. The CCC noted that the advertiser had on one hand stated in their response that their advertisement does not deal with coconut oil and whole coconut separately; but on the other hand, it is seen that in the print advertisement that all the benefits are featured under “The multifarious benefit of coconut oil” under a very prominent headline: “From farm to your home, invisible hands are at work to bring you the world’s healthiest oil, the coconut oil”.
In view of the above, the CCC opined in respect of each of the claims as follows:
(1) Claim - “Highly nutritious, rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals”: It is seen that the advertiser has not adequately substantiated the said claim. Furthermore, coconut oil does not contain any fibre, mineral and vitamins. The CCC therefore concluded that the claim was untruthful, and misleading by exaggeration.
(2) Claim – “A natural antiseptic boosts energy immune system”: The advertiser has in respect of this claim stated that Coconut oil is rich in Lauric acid which is a C12 acid; and that the high percentage of lauric acid and Monolaurin content in coconut oil gives it a natural antiseptic property and ability to strengthen the immune system. It was however seen that the advertiser did not submit any supporting research papers or any evidence of clinical research conducted by any well recognised independent agency to prove that coconut oil has the above properties. In view of the above, the CCC concluded that the claim, “A natural antiseptic boosts energy immune system”, is not adequately substantiated with authentic clinical data; and was misleading
(3) Claim - “Restore thyroid function and increases metabolic rate”: In respect of this claim, the advertiser stated that “Finally, Is coconut oil a thyroid cure? Not by itself. Can it help people with low thyroid function? Yes, because it stimulates metabolism and boosts energy.” The CCC carefully examined the justification given by the advertiser as well as the technical opinion, and opined that the advertiser has not adequately substantiated this specific claim for the product with clinical research data conducted by independent agency. In view of the above, the CCC concluded that the claim “Restore thyroid function and increases metabolic rate” was not adequately substantiated and was misleading by exaggeration.
(4) Claim – “Reduces obesity”: The advertiser stated in respect of this claim that the ‘medium chain fatty acids’ (MCT fats) are metabolized differently than the ‘longer chain fats’; coconut oil is thermogenic, and when humans replace the long chain fats and eat MCT fats, they burn more calories; and that coconut oil reduces appetite and boosts fat-burning. The advertiser further sought to support their explanations with published literature citings and text book reference. The CCC examined the response of the advertiser and concluded that the above claim that coconut oil “Reduces obesity” was not acceptable since obesity is due to several reasons such as hereditary, food habits, hormonal functions, etc.; and further, the claim is not substantiated by clinical research data conducted by independent agency with requisite scientific rigour. In view of the above, the CCC concluded that the claim was not adequately substantiated, and was misleading by exaggeration.
(5) Claim – “An antioxidant, improves digestion and bowl movement”: The advertiser stated that the “highest amounts of antioxidants in coconut oil are found in virgin coconut oils produced by the wet-milling process”, and that, coconut oil that undergoes refining process is stripped off of the natural antioxidants. While the advertiser had submitted a number of literature citings to support this claim, they have not submitted any clinical researchdata to show how ‘virgin coconut oil’ prevented oxidative stress in in vivo condition, or that coconut oil is easy to digest for people with impaired fat- digestion which includes people without gallbladders or with gallbladder problems. In view of the above, the CCC concluded that the claim, “An antioxidant, improves digestion and bowel movement” was not adequately substantiated and supported with clinical research data and was misleading.
(6A) First part of the Claim – “Good for Kidney”: Coconut Board have published research paper citings in support of this claim by. The CCC however observed that these studies are conducted on animals and not on humans, and that it requires to be substantiated with detailed clinical research data proving that a diet based on coconut oil is beneficial to diabetic patients with control on creatinine, urea, and blood urea nitrogen. In the absence of substantiation in this regard, the CCC concluded that the claim, “Good for Kidney” has not adequately been substantiated, and therefore was untruthful, and misleading by exaggeration.
(7) Claim – “Will not increase cholesterol and heart attacks”: The Advertiser cited several references to the clinical trials conducted in animals to show that coconut oil plays no role in cholesterol formation, and also referred to clinical trials conducted by Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences on humans, conducted on Type II diabetics vs Normal people using coconut oil and sunflower oil for comparative study on a group of selected south Indians. The Coconut Board also cited a few studies published in Indian Heart Journal on patients having coronary artery disease and the study results. The Board had conducted trials on humans with and without Type II diabetes, and they had summarised the results of clinical research study giving references of publications in which these results were published, in the annexure. It was however seen that a copy of such published articles was not attached as annexure to support the above claim. The advertisement was also not carrying any reference to the published article on which basis above claim was being made. Given the fact that heart attack is a lifestyle disease and there are several reasons for the same, connecting cholesterol and heart attack with coconut oil consumption regularly to prove that formation of LDL is controlled and HDL is improved, leading to no risk of Heart Attack, requires detailed clinical study reports. The CCC therefore opined that from the supporting documents submitted by the advertiser, one could not arrive at a conclusions that coconut oil does not increase cholesterol and the risk for heart attack. The CCC concluded that the claim, “will not increase cholesterol and heart attacks”, was not adequately substantiated and therefore was untruthful, and misleading by exaggeration.
The advertisement contravened Chapters I.1 and I.4 of the ASCI Code. The above complaints were accordingly UPHELD.
(6B) Second part of the Claim: “Coconut Oil is good for skin and hair”: The CCC concluded that coconut oil is generally accepted universally as being a good lubricating oil for human body and hair. This part of the complaint, was accordingly NOT UPHELD.
We have advised the advertiser to withdraw or modify the said advertisement by July 27, 2017. You may note that while ASCI believes in persuation to ensure self regulation in advertising content, in case of continued non-compliance, alternate remedies are available to consumers to approach an appropriate forum such as State Consumer Forum.
Thank you for having referred this complaint to us.
Assuring you of our services in the pursuit of Self-Regulation in Advertising.
Executive - Complaints Handling
The Advertising Standards Council of India