Medicine and the Media

Miracle pills and fireproof trainers: user endorsement in social media

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e4682 (Published 19 July 2012)
Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4682

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  1. Adam Smith, freelance journalist, London,
  2. Greg Jones, freelance journalist, London
  1. Correspondence to: A Smith adam{at}adamesmith.co.uk

Adam Smith and Greg Jones investigate the marketing of sports products in social media in the UK and the US

“Boosted metabolism” and “increased stamina” are but two of the many benefits promised to wearers of ion emitting wristbands. These claims were made on Facebook by the wristband manufacturer Ionic Balance—until the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) took a look. In October 2011 the authority ruled that the evidence provided by Ionic Balance was “not sufficiently robust to substantiate the claims.”1

Ordered to stop making claims of effectiveness unless they could be supported by science, Ionic Balance removed an entire list of assertions from its Facebook page. But the company continued to allow consumers to post their own messages about wristbands, ions, and health.

In fact, Ionic Balance relies on consumer conversation as part of its marketing. “Beware of companies with no online reviews,” the company states on its website.2 “Do they have a Facebook page for user feedback? Are any of the reviews praising customer service as well as product performance? Are the reviews recent? Do the reviews even have a date on them?!”

Although Ionic Balance may appear to be concerned about the information that consumers receive, the company’s behaviour remains a cause for concern at the ASA. The regulator told us: “Ionic Balance is currently on our list of non-compliant advertisers3 for continuing to feature problematic claims on its website and Facebook page, in contravention of the ASA ruling.”

One of the key problems faced by regulators used to adjudicating in traditional, not social, media is “user generated content” (UGC), such as that left by Ionic Balance’s customers. The ASA says that it does not adjudicate on private individuals’ opinions. However, a company that removes negative feedback from its social media presence could be …

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