Superdrug has been reprimanded by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for indirectly promoting prescription-only medicines (POM).
The ASA ruled last week (February 11) that an online advert by Superdrug, which claimed its erectile dysfunction treatment was “up to 76 per cent cheaper than competitors”, was an “implied reference” to POM products.
Superdrug told C+D it had not breached MHRA guidance for consumer websites offering medicinal services. But it said it would ensure its adverts were designed in accordance with the ASA's ruling.
The ASA acknowledged that the advert, which was brought to its attention by online business Pharmacy2U, did not name a specific POM. The regulator also accepted that the erectile dysfunction treatment offered by Superdrug could consist of free advice and information instead of a POM.
Superdrug had argued that the advert directed consumers to its Online Doctor service, which was operated by a company specialising in online diagnosis and treatment services, the ASA said. The health and beauty company had claimed this meant there was “no guarantee that a customer would be prescribed a POM”, the regulator said.
Superdrug also highlighted that its savings claim was in accordance with MHRA guidance, which allows companies to feature indicative prices for medical treatments on their homepage. Although the advert appeared next to Google search results rather than solely on Superdrug's website, the company considered that the MHRA guidance showed that comparative pricing for erectile dysfunction treatments was permissible, the ASA said.
Advert 'clearly related' to POM
But the ASA ruled that the advert's claim of the low cost of its erectile dysfunction service "clearly related to Superdrug’s POM treatment”, as it was the only option available at the time for consumers to achieve the advertised saving.
“While its price accounted for the cost of the consultation and advice, it was nevertheless ultimately a POM treatment. For that reason, we considered that the ad focused on the availability of POM treatments at lower prices than elsewhere, as opposed to presenting POMs as a potential outcome of the consultation process,” the ASA said.
The regulator ruled that the advert breached rule 12.12 of the Code of Advertising Practice, which prohibits POMs or POM treatments being advertised to the public. It told Superdrug that the ad must not be used in its current form again and that the company must not directly or indirectly promote POMs in its future advertising.