UK Advertising Watchdog Cites Sanofi for Instagram Promotion
Posted 05 July 2019 | By
In a ruling published Wednesday, the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint against Sanofi UK ruling that a paid promotion of the company's pharmacy-only Phenergan Night Time (promethazine hydrochloride) tablets on a parenting blogger's Instagram in February violated its advertising code.
While the ASA is a self-regulatory body and not a statutory authority with enforcement powers in the UK, it works to ensure that advertising is "not misleading or unfair" and can refer companies that break its advertising codes to other oversight bodies, such as the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Specifically, ASA ruled that the post violated the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code), which states that "marketers must not use health professionals or celebrities to endorse medicines."
According to ASA, the now-deleted post included a picture of the blogger in bed smiling with a packet of Phenergan Night Time tablets in the background, along with a caption that read:
"AD | Sleep. Who needs more of it? I'm really lucky in that I don't actually need a lot of sleep to get by and manage to cram all sorts into my evening, being the night owl I am. Every now and again though, daily life can get a bit overwhelming and I often find it's my sleep that ends up suffering. I end up going to bed even later than I usually do and am not able to fall asleep. The worry of not sleeping then adds to it all and I end up a complete and utter zombie!! Last time this happened I tried out Phenergan Night Time, which really helped. It is a pharmacy only, short term solution to insomnia for adults which works by inducing a sleepy effect thanks to its active ingredient, promethazine hydrochloride, helping you to sleep through the night. Do you guys fall asleep easily or are you night time over thinkers like me? #AD #sleep."
Sanofi argued that the blogger's account, @ThisMamaLife, was not a celebrity account as it "had a small and niche following which was unlikely to influence a medicinal decision taken by a consumer" and just 32,000 followers as of April 2019. Sanofi cited other Instagram accounts, including the accounts of British actor and comedian Stephen Fry (359,000 followers) and soccer star David Beckham (55 million followers) as being recognized celebrities.
However, ASA argues that the @ThisMamaLife account had more than 30,000 followers on Instagram and "her Instagram feed featured over 1000 posts that included recommendations on different products."
"We noted Sanofi’s argument regarding the comparatively low number of followers @ThisMamaLife had in contrast to notable celebrities. However, we considered that over 30,000 followers indicated that she had the attention of a significant number of people. Given that she was popular with, and had the attention of a large audience, we considered that @ThisMamaLife was a celebrity for the purposes of the CAP Code," ASA writes.
ASA also notes that the text of the post implied that the blogger had taken the medicine and recommended its use.
In its ruling, ASA says that "the ad must not appear again" and that it has instructed Sanofi not to use celebrities to endorse its medicines in the future.