Saturday, November 23, 2019


Dear TV Watchers,
Dana Lebowitz of ADCOCO
          Are you being deceived by some of the advertisers on South Africa’s DStv?
          I concede that it can’t be expected to investigate every advertisement that is submitted, but it would surely be in its own interests to get those making outlandish claims to substantiate them before their ads are accepted.
          Carrying ones that are suspect casts doubt on the validity of DStv’s ads in general.
          As I expected it does not “judge the authenticity of advertiser’s claims.” This is what Fahmeeda Cassim-Surtee CEO of DStv’s Media Sales told me.
          They leave it to viewers to root out their advertising bad eggs by complaining to the Adverting Regulatory Board.
          Here are a couple of the most glaring examples where the advertiser can’t even back up it own claims with solid proof, so you know what that means – you are being conned.
Alpecin German Engineering for your hair: The manufacturers of this shampoo have been denigrating German Engineering with their advertisement for this shampoo, because this is far from being a hair raising story.
          Its TV ads were banned in Britain but that hasn’t stopped it’s promoters from telling the same lie half a world away to Africans on DStv.
          Alpecin is a caffeine shampoo produced by Dr Kurt Wolff’s family business GmbH & Co in Germany and distributed in South Africa by its agent ACDOCO.
          On DStv viewers were told: "If hair growth is waning more and more men choose the caffeine based shampoo by Alpecin. During hair washing the highly dosed Alpecin penetrates the hair follicle."
          Dana Lebowitz is ACDOCO’s Marketing Manager in South Africa, and as such I thought she would immediately be able to give me the evidence to substantiate the claims being made for this shampoo. So I put three questions to her.
          I asked for independent scientific evidence that Alpecin reduced hair loss and that it penetrated the hair follicle. I also wanted to know if the veracity of the claims being made for this shampoo in advertisements had ever been questioned anywhere in the world.
          She replied promptly saying that she had sent my questions to the manufacturer in Germany for “further information.”
          Surely when her firm agreed to market this shampoo it would have cleared up the points I was raising before it became an Alpecin distributor. I concluded she was just stringing me along. 
          I then asked when she expected to hear from Germany. On  November 8 I sent a third email telling her that if I did not hear from her by 11 November I would assume that neither her firm nor the German manufacturers had any independent proof that this shampoo reduced hair loss or that it penetrated hair follicles.
          She replied the same day with her idea of proof which was a list of eight names of people she claimed had done “scientific studies.” She gave no further details.
          The Wall Street Journal reported that this shampoo was tested in studies published in 2010 and 2013 in the Journal of Applied Cosmetology. It quoted dermatologist Leonard Celleno, one of those named in Leibovitz’s list, as saying: “There was a little bit of hair regrowth seen in the studies, but it does not mean your hair will grow like you were 20 years old.” 
          He is a researcher at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome. Significantly the studies were funded by the manufacturer, the paper revealed.
          Britain's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) stated: "Taking into account the body of evidence, we considered that we had not seen any studies of the actual product as used by consumers on their scalp using an accurate analysis of hair growth, in a well-designed and well-conducted trial."
          It didn't think much of the fact that some results were measured by a "hair pull" test. 
           Alpecin's case was so flimsy that the ASA banned it's makers from saying it can “help to reduce hair loss” in any adverts.  It ruled last year that this “had not been substantiated and was therefore misleading.”
          So much for all the “scientific studies” Dana Liebowitz referred me to.
Aquafresh Toothpaste: This is made and marketed in South Africa by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a giant British multinational, pharmaceutical company.
          Its goal, it claims, “Is to be one of the world’s most innovative, best performing and trusted healthcare companies.
          “Our values are Patient focus, Transparency, Respect, Integrity.
          “Everyone at GSK is focused on 3 priorities – Innovation, Performance, Trust” (Highlights are mine).
          This is what it tells us on its website. Now see how these all encompassing brags match up to my experience.
          Its Aquafresh ads that have appeared on DStv show a superman, cartoon like character in the red, white and blue stripes that are characteristic of this brand of toothpaste. He taps the side of a large tooth and tells us that he can “strengthen the enamel.”
          The ad appeared on Channel 135 on 17 October 2019 and on numerous other occasions.
          So I set out to see if GSK has any independent scientific evidence to back this unbelievable claim only to find that its public relations at its Johannesburg office was absolutely appalling. Over a period of perhaps three weeks I phoned almost every day in an effort to speak to the person in charge of the South African operation. 
          The woman on the switchboard assured me that Kimberley Hunt headed that office although Google gives the impression she is in America. Inappropriately in this case her title is Vice President, Commercial Excellence.

One of the Aquafresh ads
          I could only get Kimberley’s email address, I was told, by going through her PA Marie Visser. While trying to contact the elusive Marie I was repeatedly put through to her extension only to get an automatic reply. Leaving a message to return my calls got me nowhere and nor did I hear from her after I had given my contact details to the switchboard operator, who assured me that Marie would get back to me.
          Is this the PERFORMANCE the company is so proud of?
          Eventually I did get Marie on the phone. She told me I must contact their Marketing Manager Tanja Geyer at  
GSK's Tanja Geyer
          A fat lot of good that was.
          In an email I asked her what independent scientific evidence her firm had to show that their Aquafresh toothpaste “strengthens the enamel” of teeth, as claimed in the advertisements that GSK had been running on DStv.
          My email was dated 1 November and on 8 November, when I had heard nothing from her I told her in an email that if I did not hear from her by 11 November I would assume that her firm had no scientific proof that Aquafresh strengthens enamel, and I would write my story accordingly.  
          I got read reports on each occasion, but nothing more.
          How can this PERMORMANCE of Geyer’s possibly be described as a transparent backing of a product made by a company that can be trusted for its integrity? (See also: Are toothpaste manufacturer's claims true ) 

          Jon, a fearless Consumer Watchdog.  
P.S. GSK and Colgate-Palmolive have been involved in a long running legal battle since 2017 after Colgate accused GSK of false advertising for Aquafresh. Colgate argued that it could not substantiate its claim that this toothpaste offered 24 hour protection against glucaric acid, which was on the packaging and in adverts. South Africa's ASA initially found in favour of Colgate and ordered GSK to cease making this claim. GSK then took the matter to higher and higher courts where it has yet to be finalised             
P.PS. DStv is a direct broadcast African satellite service owned by MultiChoice that has about 12-million subscribers mostly in South Africa.                 

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