5 October 2010
The Consumer Agency has imposed a marketing injunction on NaturaMed Pharma, which markets natural products. The injunction concerns a letter campaign that is disguised as consumer research.
NaturaMed Pharma AB, which markets natural products, has sent consumers letters with the heading stating that they are a part of consumer research. The letters ask consumers to participate in the research and influence the company’s product development or product range. Participants are also promised a reward.
The letter features a section with a pre-checked box, according to which the consumers participating in the research will receive, as a thank you gift, a 30-day dose of a LaxoMarine fish oil product for €0. However, reading the letter more closely reveals that the respondent also becomes a subscriber of LaxoMarine, which is subject to a charge. The respondent does not automatically participate in the lottery of prizes either but must check the empty box on the second page of the letter to become eligible.
It is the Consumer Agency’s view that the purpose of NaturaMed Pharma’s campaign has been to make consumers commit to ordering natural products without realising it or against their own will. This is in breach of the Finnish Consumer Protection Act.
The Agency forbade NaturaMed Pharma to use any marketing material in consumer research or in other such material which is not immediately recognisable as an advertisement. Furthermore in future, the company must not give a misleading image of the offer being free of charge. In marketing, it is forbidden to state that the consumer will get one product batch free of charge, if in reality the offer will become a subscription subject to a charge that the consumer must discontinue separately. A fine of €100,000 has been set for the injunction.
In addition to the Finnish Consumer Agency, the Consumer Ombudsman of Sweden and the Council on Market Ethics in Sweden (MarknadsEtiska Rådet) have taken action against the marketing practices of NaturaMed Pharma.
Consumers who receive marketing letters that claim to be some sort of consumer research should read the letter carefully. Especially, they should check what they commit to by ordering a sample package.