Zoe Harcombe vs The Advertising Standards Authority: Introduction (Part 1)

I submitted two complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about Zoe Harcombe. The first was in September 2013 regarding claims made about her diet on her blog [1], the second in July 2014 about claims made on the Harcombe Diet Website [2] and the Harcombe Diet & Health Club Website [3].

I am writing this introductory post as there are likely to be a  number of subsequent posts over time, and I wanted to establish the full accurate chronology of events and my motivation for submitting these complaints before looking in more detail at the ASA investigation and the responses given to them.

The key dates in the complaints were as follows:-

  • September 2013: Complaint submitted about Zoe Harcombes Blog. Five claims investigated.
  • November 2013. Zoe Harcombe responds to the ASA and provides the evidence to support her claims.
  • June 2014: ASA produce draft recommendation for ASA council to consider, which suggested upholding four of the five complaints.
  • June 2014: Zoe Harcombe reaches an informal resolution with the ASA [4] and agrees in writing to amend the advertisments and to not make the claims again. As a consequence the draft recommendation was not published.
  • June 2014: ASA remind Zoe Harcombe that the commitments in the informal resolution apply equally to her other websites.
  • July 2014: Potentially misleading claims remain. Second complaint submitted about claims on the Harcombe Diet Website and the Harcombe Diet Club Website.
  • October 2014: Zoe Harcombe responds to the ASA and provides the evidence to support her claims.
  • December 2014: Final adjudication published upholding the complaints about five of the six claims [5]

The motivation for the complaints – contrary to the lurid, unsubstantiated ad hominem attacks which assert that I am in the pay of Big Flora, or a narcissistic psychopath [6] – was rather simple: I didn’t believe that the claims made were based upon high quality evidence, or that the arguments put forward were logical and coherent.

Additionally, with a significant twitter following, coverage in national press and a range of popular diet books, regardless of what any of us may think about the merits of her advice, Zoe is in a position where she directly influences peoples decisions about diet and health. This brings with it certain responsibilities which are above and beyond compliance with advertising codes, because bad advice can lead to harm.

The approach of challenging claims is one I would hope Zoe herself would agree with, her biography [7] states that her personal values are (my emphasis):

…health, relationships, personal development, mutuality and integrity

and she notes on her blog [8] that she likes to:

…expose non-evidence based nutritional messages

These are admirable values and demolishing dogmatic beliefs is a worthwhile endeavour. Zoe therefore should have had no problem with – and arguably should have actively embraced – a reasonable request from the ASA for the evidence which supported her ideas and claims.

In Zoe Harcombe vs The Advertising Standards Authority: Weight loss (Part 2) I will be looking at how the responses to the ASA stand up to the burden of proof, whether the evidence submitted was robust and how they relate to the CAP Advertising Codes.


References

[1]http://web.archive.org/web/20130910075438/http://www.zoeharcombe.com/

[2] http://web.archive.org/web/20140805170422/http://theharcombediet.com/

[3] http://web.archive.org/web/20140709084502/http://www.theharcombedietclub.com/30dayblitz/

[4] http://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications.aspx?SearchTerms=zoe%20harcombe#2

[5] http://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications/2014/12/Zo%C3%AB-Harcombe/SHP_ADJ_274813.aspx#.VIGOkNKsXHU

[6] http://www.zoeharcombe.com/2014/11/the-asa-trolls-working-together-to-censor-progressive-thinking/

[7] http://www.amazon.co.uk/Zoe-Harcombe/e/B003ANDBNM

[8] http://www.zoeharcombe.com/

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