The UK advertising watchdog, Advertising Standards Authority, raps GlaxoSmithKline fot its Horlicks ad that claims children become ''taller, stronger, sharper" if they consume the drink. Dhruv Tanwar reports
Mumbai: An error on the part of broadcaster Nepali TV has lead to GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare's (GSK) largest brand in India, Horlicks, landing in a soup on account of unsubstantiated claims.
Horlicks, a big brand, has revenues exceeding Rs1,000 crore, but that did not cut much ice with the UK's advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The ad, created in India by advertising agency JWT, claims that by consuming Horlicks, children become ''taller, stronger, sharper'' than other kids who do not consume the product.
The ASA rubbished the claims made by the company in the ad, saying they were ''unsubstantiated''.
The Ad's Storyboard:
The ad, broadcast in Bengali, was broadcast on Nepali TV in the UK.
The ad featured children during school assembly. Three men with backpacks get out of a car and the voice-over says, ''The Horlicks challenge starts at a famous boarding school''.
Children were shown in various classroom settings being taught by different teachers. The voice-over states, ''869 students were given the same quality of teachers, the same kinds of food, with the children were shown eating in the school canteen, dheresh, no, dharosh and similar types of physical exercise as children were shown swimming and being timed by one of the men.
"The difference? Only one.
"Half of the children were given Horlicks and the rest, provided with an unbranded drink are shown looking longingly at those drinking Horlicks. Then, after 14 months comprehensive research, came the day of result.
"Would the Horlicks challenge be successful? Would the children be taller, stronger and sharper? Children were shown cheering and running across a giant scrabble board and being timed by one of the men. Other children were shown with painted hands, running up to a wall and making a hand print as high as they could reach.
"Other children were boxing or performing the ballet. One of the men assessed the height of the hand prints, as the children wait for the results of the trial.
"Finally, the three men emerge from behind a big set of double doors, jump in the air and cheered. Yeahhh! Proof has been found! Children raise their arms, cheer and run out of the school following the men.
"Children have become taller, stronger and sharper. The Horlicks challenge – now proven! See for yourself!''
The ASA said that monitoring staff challenged whether Nepali TV held evidence to substantiate the claim that Horlicks made children "taller, stronger and sharper." In response, Nepali TV did not comment but eventually withdrew the ad.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) explained that the ad had been broadcast on Nepali TV without their knowledge, or consent as part of a re-broadcast deal organised by Nepali TV with a broadcaster in Bangladesh.
GSK said Horlicks was sold in Bangladesh on a nutritional platform and was carefully fortified.
They contended claims were true for children in that part of the world, and were supported by clinical studies undertaken by the National Institute of Nutrition in India. (See: GSK makes a ''horlicks'' out its media meet)
They added that the product complied with the regulatory requirements in Bangladesh, the product was not available in the UK and the company had no intention of advertising it here.
History in India:
At a press meet in India in 2005, to launch the "taller, stronger, sharper" campaign, the hollowness of the campaign came to the fore.
Addressing the press, the general manager, marketing for nutritionals, Shubhajit Sen had told the media that the company jointly with the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, had conducted a 'clinical trial' spread over 14 months on 869 children (6-16 age group) studying in a boarding school in the same city.
The children were divided into two groups with one being served Horlicks every day and the other with different beverage. At the end of the study, he claimed, the children who drank Horlicks were taller, stronger and sharper than the non-Horlicks drinkers.
Sen had specifically drawn the attention of the media to the words 'clinically proven' in one of the power point slides he presented.
Soon after, questions from reporters flew thick and fast.
Asked whether the company had the permission of Drug Controller of India to conduct the clinical study, Sen replied in negative saying, such studies did not require permissions. However, he added that the permission of the parents had been obtained.
Asked to share the study report, he replied that the National Institute of Nutrition would do that soon. However, no representative of the institute was present at the press conference.
Sen was also silent on the nature of the drink given to the other group of children, whether it was a competing brand available in the market, its mode of preparation and other details.
Even in terms of visual representation on the new Horlicks pack, the logo `Now proven- taller, stronger, sharper' is displayed, but the label was silent on the name of the agency that conducted the study.
With the press questioned GSK's claims and general manager Sen could offer nothing but a spin, an official of the company's public relations agency wanted to end the meeting abruptly leaving a behind the foul odour of fobbing semi-scientific studies on the media.
Sen also declined to share any numbers as to the volume of Horlicks sold in 2004. Horlicks had been repositioned as an energy drink for children in 2003, while the company's website in the UK positions the product as a bedtime drink that enables good sleep (www.horlicks.co.uk). Even in India, for the better part of a century, Horlicks has been known as a drink for the sick and the elderly.
The ASA upheld the compliant, nothing that Nepali TV held an Ofcom licence, which required it to comply with the CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code.
The Introduction to the Code states "This Code applies to all the Ofcom licensees ... [including] satellite television services provided by broadcasters within UK jurisdiction (whether or not their main audience is in the UK)."
The ASA made it clear that the unavailability of the product in the UK intended for the Bangladesh market did not mean the Code did not apply, especially given that Horlicks-branded products are available in the UK.
The ASA also voiced its concerns over the fact that Nepali TV broadcast ads without the advertiser's consent. Nepali TV had also not been able to submit a translation of the ad, and had not explained why they thought the ad was acceptable. It had not submitted evidence to substantiate the claims either.
The ASA said that the ''taller, stronger and sharper'' claims made by GSK as a result of drinking Horlicks was equivalent to a health claim as defined by the Regulation.
While it acknowledged that GSK would not have applied for permission to use the claim under the Transitional Provisions in the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation because it had not intended the ad to appear in the EU, it noted that the requirement for ads that make disease risk reduction claims and claims that refer to children's development and health to be authorised before use.
It also acknowledged that the ad had been shown without GSK's knowledge or consent, but since there was no evidence to substantiate the claims, the ASA considered that the ad was misleading and that Nepali TV should not have broadcast it in the UK.
Reports quoting an unnamed GSK India spokesperson said that the contents of the advertisement contain facts that do not apply to audiences in the UK. They said that the ad was shown in the UK ''by mistake'', even though GSK does not have plans to change ad for the Indian market.
For its part, the ASA has banned the ad from being repeated again in the UK in its present form, and has ruled that the the product should not be advertised without adequate substantiation for the claims made for it.
It now remains to be seen how GSK plans to substantiate the claims of being ''taller, stronger, sharper'' by drinking Horlicks.
Given the history, there would be no point in holding one's breath to wait for either GSK, or the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, to come out with the results of the study that ''clinically proves'' their claim, or carry label markings to clarify their claims for the benefit of consumers of the product.
For now, it remains just a claim, or rather, a market repositioning exercise for a brand that was said to ensure ''good sleep''.