Wellness regulation: an urgent need
The last 10 years the wellness industry has boomed. The problem is that wellness regulation hasn’t managed to follow suit. A by-product of this growth is that we have all been introduced to a new list of jargon, buzzwords and most importantly, claims made by a new crop of wellness companies.
All of this new marketing and adverting speak has a profound influence on our choice of exercise, clothes, cosmetics and nutrition. The last couple of years, many wellness brands have made headlines for making controversial claims about their products and services which has started to erode public trust in the industry.
Currently, in the UK, advertising is regulated through a combination of consumer protection legislation and industry self-regulation. The UK’s self-regulatory framework is based on the rules set out in the Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing – (the CAP Code for short) – and the Code of Broadcast Advertising (the BCAP Code). Both are published by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and are enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The CAP Code normally excludes products and packaging unless an image of it is used in advertising. However, the code does cover paid-for advertising conduct by influencers on social media, which is commonplace in the wellness scene. Sanctions from the ASA are limited, and the consequence of a breach boils down to a reputational fallout resulting from any unfavourable rulings.
Instinctively we all know that isn’t enough. There is a reason why the pharmaceutical and financial sectors have industry-specific regulators and fines issued with a breach. Where is wellness regulation? The wellness industry, like any other industry, must self-regulate to avoid falling foul of any of unethical conduct. In terms of questionable conduct, there are three main areas of contention in wellness: causing offence or fear, misleading claims and unauthorised claims.
We all remember Protein World’s “Are you beach body ready?” 2015 ads on the London underground. In that instance, those ads were pulled on grounds of concern about “a range of health and weight loss claims”. But the public uproar was really caused by the body shaming aspect of that marketing campaign.
2017 was the year of #ad which started to heavily appear on all of your Instagram favourites feeds. It started to dawn on regulators that consumer may be getting exploited by influencers failing to make it clear when a paid partnership was involved or by exaggerated claims in their captions. Organic still remains a grey area in the UK, for example, there is no standard for organic cosmetics, so consumers could mistakenly believe that the proportion of organic ingredients in a particular product is higher than it actually is.
Unauthorised claims often plague the food start-up scene due to lack of wellness regulation. There are strict requirements in place regarding health and nutrition claims made in relation to food and food supplements. At present and for the foreseeable future, only health claims listed as authorised in the EU Register may be used in marketing communications. For example, products advertising themselves as ‘sugar-free’ must contain no more than 0.5g of sugars per 100g or 100ml.
For brands, the answer is very simple, substantiation. Lack of adequate evidence if often at the heart of most credibility issues. Brands need to focus on collating data which substantiates claims about their products or services, or any other advertising claim which could be misleading, in case this is called into questions. One way to go about this is to choose to meet the standards set by independent certification bodies – such as the WellSpoken Mark – who require evidence that credibility measures are built int to the framework of all claims before the logo can be affixed to a product. Full blown wellness regulation is next.