Soap not a silver bullet against coughing kids

17 December 2017 - 16:20 By Petru Saal
Reckitt Benckiser lodged a complaint about a soap advert which claimed to prevent sickness. File photo.
Reckitt Benckiser lodged a complaint about a soap advert which claimed to prevent sickness. File photo.
Image: 123RF/Pauliene Wessel

Unilever South Africa has voluntarily withdrawn a television commercial that promotes soap as a germ-fighting product that can be used to treat a sick person.

Reckitt Benckiser‚ a business competitor‚ lodged a complaint about the advert – screened on SABC 1‚ SABC 2‚ and eTV – with the SA Advertising Authority.

In the advert‚ a coughing boy and his mother consult a man dressed in a white coat who resembles a doctor. "He’s unwell again‚” says the mother.

“Next time‚ bathe him with silver‚” says the man‚ adding that silver – which is used in some surgical instruments – is “a really strong germ fighter”.

Lifebuoy Activ Silver Formula soap is then described as providing "protection from stronger germs that’s ten times better”. The child uses it to wash and is surrounded by a protective sphere that repels germs.

Reckitt Benckiser argued that the soap was a cosmetic product but the emphasis was on its claimed healing or medicinal properties. This was misleading.

Unilever elected not to respond to the allegations in detail but after “extensive consideration of the matter”‚ voluntarily undertook to withdraw the advertisement. This‚ said the company‚ should not be construed as an admission of liability or wrongdoing.

The advertising watchdog accepted the product withdrawal in a ruling on Friday.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blacklisted 19 ingredients commonly found in antibacterial and "anti-germ” soaps in 2016 after tests found no evidence to support the claims made for such products.

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