Canadian consumers are still being told that a Nivea skin cream will help shed unwanted pounds, even after the U.S. consumer protection commission recently reached a settlement banning the skin cream maker from making those claims in the United States.
Late last month, the settlement with the Federal Trade Commission forced Nivea skin cream maker Beiersdorf Inc. to pay $900,000 U.S. in compensation to consumers, as well as stop claiming that regular use of its Nivea My Silhouette! skin cream would help them slim down.
The product is available at Canadian drug stores, retailing for $15.99 at a Shoppers Drug Mart in Ottawa, and the company’s Canadian website claims that regular use of the cream will “slim and reshape” the user’s body, taking up to three centimetres off thighs, hips, waists and bellies.
Canadian consumers can log complaints about advertising of cosmetic and health products with the Advertising Standards Canada, the self-regulatory body that works to enforce the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.
Neither the standards commission nor the Competition Bureau — the federal agency that works to prevent abuse of market power — could say whether they are investigating claims against the skin-care product, since both bodies conduct investigations confidentially, their respective spokespeople said.
The basis of the U.S. decision was that “no cream is going to help you fit into your jeans,” the Federal Trade Commission chairman, Jon Leibowitz, said after the June 29 decision. “The tried and true formula for weight loss is diet and exercise.”
The commission’s complaint charged Beiersdorf with falsely claiming that consumers would slim down with regular use of the product.
Whatever claims a company makes, consumers cannot be misled, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia said.
“The information can’t be false,” JoAndrea Hoegg said, stressing that the onus is on the company to broadcast accurate information, and not the consumer to parse advertising messages. “So if a consumer is reading something that actually says they’ll see a three-centimetre reduction in certain body parts, then that’s a reasonable thing to believe.”
Although many consumers are knowledgeable and wary of marketing claims, everyone should be able to believe what they read, hear or see in advertisements — especially when the company supports its claims with test results, Hoegg said.
According to Nivea’s website, 68 per cent of 171 women backed up the claims made in the advertising.
But consumers need to take cosmetic and health product claims with a grain of salt, said Dr. Lisa Kellett, a dermatologist in Toronto.
“They may hold clinical trials. That’s one thing. But whether there is evidence-based medicine to support it is something else.”
Evidence-based medicine is the “gold standard” for testing to ensure health-care products actually deliver desired results — and that results aren’t a matter of chance, she said.
“And that’s what I think is missing,” she said. “But people will believe what they want to believe. They want to believe there’s an easy fix. But there is no magic cream. None.”
Leslie Kickham, a spokeswoman for Beiersdorf Canada Inc., on Wednesday said the company extensively tests its products and “aims to meet all federal, provincial and local steps necessary to substantiate the claims we make when marketing products.”