When I received through the mail a coloured brochure from Time/Life advertising a series of videos and cassettes titled “Growing Younger”, I was surprised to see that I could learn from Time/Life via their series how to develop an “ageless body”. In addition I could learn to “help reverse ageing” and that the series could “open the door to a life free from the effects of aging” (sic).

When I read Time/Life’s promises I was reminded once again of the shysters’ creed that “no-one ever got rich overestimating the intelligence of the general public”.

I was similarly reminded of a newspaper advertisement advising readers of the presence of the Advertising Standards Authority.

The Authority is a body that is set up to maintain ethical advertising standards. In their words the Authority “…is dedicated to ensure that not only does advertising comply with the law but is also truthful and not misleading or deceptive, and that it is socially responsible.”

Surely, I thought, Time/Life must be in breach of the Authority’s regulations. I therefore requested and received the Advertising Codes of Practice. In it I found the Code of Ethics containing the following:

Rule 2 Truthful Presentation

Advertisements must not contain any statement or visual presentation which directly or by implication, omission, ambiguity or exaggerated claim is misleading or deceptive, is likely to mislead or deceive the consumer…

I therefore laid a formal complaint to the Complaints Board, mentioning Rule 2 of the Advertising Code of Ethics, and Time/Life’s promises of “an ageless body”, “a life free from the effects of aging” (sic), and the claim to “help reverse ageing”.

To my astonishment, after deliberating the Board ruled not to uphold the complaint.

The Board were apparently entirely in agreement with Time/Life who said in defence of the brochure, that the guru concerned with the series, Dr Deepak Chopra, was not speaking in “chronological” terms with regard to ageing, but rather in “biological” and “psychological” terms. In addition, said Time/Life, Dr Chopra had a “worldwide reputation in both traditional and alternative medicine” … “with great demand for his products.” Furthermore, said Time/Life “…I am satisfied with the integrity with which we have represented “Growing Younger” to our New Zealand customers.”

Yes, but what about claims of an “ageless body”, “a life free from the effects of aging” (sic)?

Mere “puffery” said the Board, “as opposed to claims that were capable of substantiation”. In addition they were of the opinion “…that the advertisement would not mislead consumers…rather the statements were the advertisers’ hyperbole about the perceived benefit of the product.”

Time/Life and Dr Deepak Chopra are presumably wealthy and influential. It would be interesting to read how many millions of dollars are spent advertising their publications. It is, to my mind anyway, quite impossible to publish such outlandish claims without being in breach of the Advertising Code of Ethics. Surely this is a classic “exaggerated claim” likely to “deceive or mislead the consumer”.

I have written to the Board formally objecting to the decision and requesting a review. To my mind the decision raises a precedent that invites advertisers to treat the consumer (and the Board) with disdain. The decision similarly downgrades the Board as a consumer watch-dog.

The time is well past that claims made by health care providers of all shapes and hues must be examined. Any cursory glance in a “health store” or new age crystal merchant’s premises will reveal a mass of laughable gibberish masquerading as “health advice”. Most of it is aberrant nonsense, not likely to be taken seriously. Some of it though defrauds the gullible, and endangers health.

Why on earth do we have statutory bodies such as the Advertising Standards Authority if we cannot rely on them to uphold their own Code of Ethics?

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