Here’s what Procter & Gamble ads for Iams cat food in the U.K. claimed:
- Vets know that catering to all your cats’ different needs isn’t easy – so 8 out of 10 vets recommend Iams
- Voted #1 recommended dry cat food brand available in supermarkets
- Small print said: “Based on an independent survey of vets at the Congress of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association on complete dry cat foods available in supermarkets (April 2007)”.
But the U.K. Advertising Standards Authority noted that:
- The survey asked vets if they would recommend any dry dog food, dry cat food or wet cat food brands. Only 31% of the 334 participating vets in fact recommended Iams (not 8 out of 10).
- The survey questions allowed participants to select a number of brands; they did not select only one brand.
- Two other cat food brands actually had more recommendations, but these brands were available in pet food shops instead of grocery stores.
- 80% of vets who recommended a brand of dry cat food available in supermarkets included Iams amongst the selection of all products recommended, but not necessarily over those other products.
And here’s what happened:
The Advertising Standards Authority ordered Procter & Gamble to remove the claims “8 out of 10 vets” and “Voted #1 by vets” from all future marketing.
The ASA did not comment on the irrelevancy of the survey (it should have surveyed cats!), the nature of the sample, the post-hoc hypothesis, or the fact that P&G did not reveal who had commissioned the “survey”.
While pitching cat food seems unrelated to more serious scientific misconduct, it’s important to get a sense that increasing profits, no matter what you have to do or say to do that, is the universal marketing mandate of all corporate life.
Yet another illustration of why consumer watchdogs need to be looking out for the gullible public, and why the gullible public needs to question the marketing ‘facts’ we encounter.