Bald Assertions: Touted 'Effectiveness' in Campaign Refers to the Ad, Not the Product

MSD, the U.K. subsidiary of Merck, sells an anti-balding treatment called Propecia, but the law prohibits mentioning the names of specific drugs in ads.

Ronny Linder
Ronny Linder
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Ronny Linder
Ronny Linder

A campaign targeting balding men with the slogan "With this kind of effectiveness, it's hard to stay skeptical!" apparently isn't making any claims about the company's anti-balding treatment. No, according to the fine print on the ad, the company is trumpeting the effectiveness of its own marketing campaign.

The campaign by a company called MSD is based on the premise that many men have lost faith in anti-balding treatments because they're well, ineffective. It includes slogans such as "Skepticism may leave you bald - set an appointment with your dermatologist today," "He who doesn't believe loses hair" and "Prince William has a way to hide his skepticism. You're better off consulting a dermatologist."

'With effectiveness like this, it’s hard to stay skeptical!' About what? Hint: Not his hair growth.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

MSD, the U.K. subsidiary of Merck, sells an anti-balding treatment called Propecia, but the law prohibits mentioning the names of specific drugs in ads. Instead, companies highlight a specific medical problem and their own name, calling on potential customers to consult their doctors.

MSD, whose ads are running on billboards and online banners, states in the fine print: "The Israeli Marketing Union and The Israel Management Center chose 'fighting skepticism' as the most effective in 2011."

Is this misleading? The Israel Consumer Council's legal advisor believes that it is. "The council believes consumers could confuse the effectiveness of the ads with the purported effectiveness of the product," said Attorney Zeev Friedman. "Consumer protection laws forbid false or misleading advertising," he added. "This ad could be fixed by doing away with these slogans."

But the Health Ministry has no problem with the ad: "The ad contains only the name of the manufacturer, and due to advertising regulations, this cannot be considered an ad for a medication. In addition, this is a medication registered with the Health Ministry as a treatment for male baldness, and we do not consider this ad as a violation of the medication's registration terms."

MSD recently had to drop Dr. Tzahi Shelkovitz from its ads at the demand of Israel Medical Association Ethics Committee chairman, Avinoam Reches. The ethics department had forbidden doctors from appearing in ads for medical products.

MSD stated in response to comments by the Council: "For several years, MSD has been fighting the charlatanism in the field and reinforcing the public's belief in their ability to treat the problem through effective medical means by going through the proper medical authorities. It is doing this through a publicity campaign published in different media outlets. This campaign does not address a specific product, but rather is intended to raise the public's awareness that there are proven medical treatments to combat balding."

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