There are several steps you can take to challenge misleading claims:
- Find claims you think are misleading
- Confirm they are misleading
- Find out if the claims are covered by any standards or regulator
- Find out who is making the claims and check if he/she is a member of a statutory or voluntary regulator
- Gather information and decide how to challenge the claims
- Write your complaint
- Submit your complaint
- Tell us the results!
Find claims you think are misleading
This is easy. They are all around us!
See Where to find misleading claims for further details.
Confirm they are misleading
This could be easy or difficult. Many claims are obviously misleading because they are scientifically implausible (eg claims about homeopathy, crystal healing, ear candles). Others might take a bit of research to see whether the claims have already been tested. But remember that in most cases you do not have to show claims are misleading: all you have to do is question claims that might be misleading. It is up to the regulator to make a decisions whether they breach the rules, regulations and laws.
However, although you may find good evidence that specific claims are inaccurate, the regulator or the organisation overseeing the advert will have rules about what is and what isn't considered to be misleading and will only be concerned about whether these rules are being breached.
As so many of the misleading claims that appear in advertising to the public are made by practitioners of complementary and alternative therapies, you may want to find out more about these. The following books are recommended (with links to amazon.co.uk):
There are many websites that deal with alternative therapies and misleading claims:
See Robert Carroll's The Skeptic's Dictionary for excellent information on all sorts of alternative therapies
See ebm-first — a comprehensive resource of what alternative health practitioners might not tell you
It is also worthwhile checking previous decisions by regulators to see if there have been any similar cases in the past. But don't limit your searches to just the regulator you think is relevant to your complaint; you may be able to learn from what other regulators have said and be able to improve the effectiveness of your complaint.
Find out who is making the claims
It will usually be obvious who is making the claim, whether it is an individual or a private or public company. If a product or service is being sold, then you should have an address or contact details. However, some investigation may be required. Most newspapers and magazines require advertisers to give their details in the advert, but you may come across some adverts on the Internet where it's not clear who is responsible for the website.
Coming soon: How to find out who the directors of a company are.
Check if he/she is a member of a statutory or voluntary regulator
Who you submit a complaint to depends on what the claim is, where it is being made and who is making it.
Read Who to complain to for details of the different organisations you can complain to.
Remember that if the misleading claims you have found fall within the remit of more than one regulator, you can complain to them all.
Write your complaint
Read Writing a complaint for advice and helpful hints.
Complaints should be made in your own name: even though you may have used advice from our website, please do not suggest that you are submitting a complaint on our behalf or imply that you are associated with the Nightingale Collaboration.
Submit your complaint
This can be done either on the Internet or by letter, depending on what the organisation provides.
Remember to keep copies of everything you send them.
Tell us the results!
Tell us so we can highlight your results to others. Even if your complaint was not successful, tell us so others can benefit and make future challenges more successful.
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