The drink brand fell into hot water with the ASA after an internet user challenged its claims surrounding the benefits vitamin A and C in its product content conveyed.
Although the ASA did not dispute that the drink provided health benefits, it criticised the brand for rewording EU health claims and exaggerating the effects.
The claims were made while the Ribena brand was still owned by previous owner GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), prior to its sale to Suntory Beverage & Food last year.
Its wording of four health claims permitted under the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code 15.1 and 15.1.1 was investigated by the advertising watchdog.
The ASA ruled: “The claims must not appear again in their current form. We told GSK to ensure they retained the meaning of, and did not exaggerate, any authorised health claims if they reworded them to aid consumer understanding.”
It accepted that rewording the health claim “Vitamin A contributes to the maintenance of normal vision” to “Vitamin A … helps keep your vision in tip-top condition” had retained the original meaning. But it added that ‘tip-top’ condition would be understood by consumers to mean very best or optimum rather than maintenance of normal vision.
It noted that “Vitamin A … is important … for immunity too” was unlikely to have the same meaning for consumers as the authorised health claim “Vitamin A contributes to the normal function of the immune system”.
GSK had altered the meaning of the authorised health claim “Vitamin C contributes to the normal function of the immune system” by rewording it to “Vitamin C … it helps immunity”, the ASA ruled. This could wrongly suggest to consumers that vitamin C would optimise general immunity, it stated.
Finally, it ruled that the wording “Vitamin C … it’s an antioxidant” did not convey to consumers the full meaning of the authorised claim “Vitamin C contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress”.
‘Have to be sympathetic’
A spokesman for the ASA told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the body was sympathetic towards food and drink firms that broke the code by rewording health claims.
“You have to be sympathetic to advertisers because there are very fine lines [of what you can get away with] and you are always going to have to tread carefully,” he added. “Anything that misleads and exaggerates will be picked up on.
“It’s very competitive out there and advertisers are well in their right to put themselves out there. Advertising, in its nature, is all about pushing the boundaries; however when it becomes misleading and exaggerating that is, when the ASA takes action.”
The ASA and the CAP regularly run advice and training sessions to help advertisers understand the code.
“We are absolutely focused on giving help and advice to advertisers,” the spokesman added. “We are not looking to catch them out, but help them stay within the code.”
During the ASA’s review of the offending ad, ownership of the Ribena name and product transferred to Lucozade Ribena Suntory Ltd.
The new owner was involved in the latter stages of the review. However, the ASA considered GSK to be the primary advertiser, because it was responsible for the advertising at the time it was published and initially responded to the complaint.
GSK claimed in rewording the health claims to make the language understandable and more consumer friendly it had remained faithful to the authorised health claims and complied with the code.