I asked Holland & Barrett’s ‘Owls’ – They told me to ask someone else!

Over the past few days I have been enjoying watching Holland & Barrett’s ill advised #askourowls social media campaign get rolled over by the completely foreseeable steamroller of sceptical questions and requests for evidence about their products.

See amiable, Healthydose of scepticismNukapai and Skepticat’s posts discussing this monumental clusterf*** of a campaign which will surely be referred to in the future as a case study in how not to use social media.

I though it was worth publishing in full the awful response I received to a very specific question I posed. Holland & Barrett sell Nelsons ‘Noctura’ a Homeopathic remedy to provide “Relief from sleeplessness.” which is shown on their website under ‘Nelsons Noctura for Insomnia’. As someone who has suffered with this I thought I would ask what is on the face of it, a reasonable question

After a few hours, I didn’t seem to be getting an answer so I gave them a prompt and eventually Holland & Barrett asked me to follow them so they could send me the following over a series of DM’s

“Hi Slipp, we provide 5,000+ lines in-store, including many traditional and alternative therapies and specialist products like homeopathy.”

“Our customers ask us to stock alternative products, because many find benefits in using them for a range of conditions.”

“We know homeopathy has hundreds of years of traditional use behind it, and while we also know its effectiveness is much debated”

“Because Holland & Barrett doesn’t manufacture or produce these homeopathic remedies ourselves,”

“we suggest you visit Nelsons  http://bit.ly/1547IbS  or BHA http://bit.ly/19zNnlq 

“I hope this helps, and as per the Ts and Cs of the promotion, if you want to ask a question about a specific product in a store that we”

“can’t answer, you would receive 20 per cent discount off your purchase.”

They could have told me the real answer: there is no robust evidence at all.

Instead they gave an answer which is pretty close to ‘we don’t know’ absolves themselves of responsibility and directs me to two rather biased sources of information.

The first Nelsons – who manufacture the remedy – don’t hold, or indeed actually need to hold any evidence that Noctura is efficacious to market it. The second, the British Homeopathic Association cite three ‘Insomnia’ studies in their research section under the rather oddly titled ‘Tentatively positive direction of RCT evidence’. None of these appear particularly relevant to, or use the specific product in question.

For a campaign that was intended to

“…demonstrate Holland & Barrett’s USP of  considerable staff expertise”

it has simply reinforced two things: Holland & Barrett really don’t know much about the products they sell and neither do they appear to care – they are willing to take the commercial view selling customers whatever they demand.

And secondly, staff who are well trained in selling woo, will sell woo well.

As I found that response rather lacking I thought it only appropriate to pose #askourowls one final question, something a little more rhetorical

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