ASA Ruling on Phil Parker Group Ltd. March 2013

Re. Phil Parker Group Ltd
River Plate House
7–11 Finsbury Circus
London
EC2M 7DH
Date: 27 March 2013
Media: Internet (on own site)
Sector: Health and beauty
Complaint Ref: A12-210374
Complaint Upheld
https://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications/2013/3/Phil-Parker-Group-Ltd/SHP_ADJ_210374.aspx#.Vr4DMfkrLIU

Ad
The website http://www.lightningprocess.co.uk, visited on 9 October 2012, was headed “Lightning Process – Phil Parker’s Personal View”. Text stated “This is my personal site (for the official one click here) all about the Lightning Process’ development and my journey with it from a small clinic in North London to it being practiced across the world. In it you’ll find stories of those who inspired me with how they used the mind body connection to get over ME/CFS, MS, Depression, Anxiety, Chronic Pain and Eating Disorders and much more”.

Issue
Hampshire Trading Standards challenged whether the references to “ME/CFS, MS, Depression, Anxiety, Chronic Pain and Eating Disorders” misleadingly implied that the Lightning Process could treat or cure those conditions.

CAP Code (Edition 12)
12.112.23.13.7
Response
Phil Parker Group Ltd said the site was not owned by them but by Phil Parker personally and that nothing was being sold from the site, which was only for discussion and opinions. They said it did not include links to Lightning Process practitioners and their websites, did not provide information about how to take the training with either Phil or the team, did not use the corporate branding and logos which were used on their commercial sites and did not link to the shop where their products were available. They said the site had no commercial intent and was not a marketing communication within the remit of the Code.

They said there was an incredible amount of information about the Lightning Process on the internet, some of which was accurate and some of which was not, and that Phil Parker wanted to provide people with correct information about it. They considered it reasonable that Phil Parker, who had designed the Lightning Process and had qualifications relevant to the treatment of CFS/ME, was allowed to share his views on the Lightning Process in relation to CFS/ME, and other conditions, on his personal website. They said that to prevent Phil Parker discussing his opinions about the Lightning Process on the site would infringe upon his freedom of speech. Nevertheless, the challenged claims were removed from the site in February 2013.

Assessment
Upheld

The ASA noted that Phil Parker Group did not believe that the Code applied to Phil Parker’s “personal” website. The Introduction to the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the Code) stated that the Code applied to “Advertisements and other marketing communications by or from companies, organisations or sole traders on their own websites, or in other non-paid-for space online under their control, that are directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts, or which consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of their own fund-raising activities”.

We noted that the website’s URL was “www.lightningprocess.co.uk”; that there was an active link to the official Lightning Process website (www.lightningprocess.com); that the official Lightning Process website was headed “Phil Parker Lightning Process® – the mind-body connection training”; and that the content of the website was almost exclusively about the Lightning Process. We considered that Phil Parker was inextricably linked with the Lightning Process brand and that the content on the website would, as far as it related to the Lightning Process, be understood by consumers as a promotion by Phil Parker of his commercial proposition, in which he had a financial interest. We therefore considered that that content was directly connected to the supply of goods and services and was subject to the Code.

We noted that the home page of the website referred to Phil Parker’s “journey” with the Lightning Process and to the stories that consumers would find within the site about those who had used the “mind body connection” to “get over ME/CFS, MS, Depression, Anxiety, Chronic Pain and Eating Disorders and much more”. We considered that visitors to the website would infer from the home page that the Lightning Process could be effective in treating each of the conditions listed.

We had previously considered a complaint about the official Lightning Process website which made claims about the use of the Lightning Process in the treatment of various medical conditions, including ME/CFS, MS, depression, anxiety, chronic pain and eating disorders. In our adjudication we concluded that we had not seen a suitably robust body of evidence to demonstrate the efficacy of the Lightning Process in the treatment of any of those conditions. We also concluded that references to medical conditions, for which medical supervision should be sought, including MS, depression and eating disorders, had breached the Code, because of the risk that they might discourage readers from seeking essential treatment for those conditions. Phil Parker Group had said Phil Parker was a registered hypnotherapist, osteopath and psychotherapist and, while we noted that he might be qualified to treat conditions such as depression, we also noted that the official Lightning Process website (which was linked to from the home page of the “personal” site) was intended to direct prospective customers to find their local Lightning Process practitioner, who need not be similarly qualified.

Because we considered that the website was subject to the Code, and because we had not seen evidence to show that the Lightning Process could treat ME/CFS, MS, depression, anxiety, chronic pain and eating disorders, we concluded that the website was likely to mislead consumers regarding the benefits of the Lightning Process in the treatment of people with those conditions. Furthermore, because the mention of MS, depression and eating disorders could discourage readers from seeking essential treatment under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional, we concluded that the reference to them was misleading for that reason also.

The website breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 12.1 and 12.2 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

Action
The claims must not appear again in their current form. We welcomed the decision to remove the claims. We told Phil Parker Group not to make claims on websites within their control that were directly connected with the supply of their goods and services if those claims could not be supported with robust evidence. We also told them not to refer to conditions for which advice should be sought from suitably qualified health professionals.

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