/ Health

Will the Nurofen ad ban set a precedent for a marketing claims crackdown?


A Nurofen ad has been banned for implying it could specifically target joint and back pain. So are we seeing the start of a change in the way companies can market their painkillers?

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has told Reckitt Benckiser, the manufacturer of Nurofen, that it must stop showing a TV advert that misleads people into thinking that Nurofen Joint and Back could target pain in a specific part of the body.

In fact, the ASA ruling stated that the ad breached three rules (3.1, 3.9 and 3.12), meaning that not only was it misleading but its claims were unsubstantiated and exaggerated. The banned advert showed an anatomical image of a woman with the Nurofen moving down her body to her back, while a voiceover said: ‘Just a single dose of Nurofen Joint and Back provides you with constant targeted pain relief for up to eight hours’.

But this wouldn’t be the first time painkiller marketing claims have been brought into question…

Nurofen targeted pain relief

Back in December we reported on Nurofen’s ‘targeted’ pills as part of our research into this market.

We highlighted that the products Nurofen Migraine and Tension Headache are exactly the same as each other and – available until recently – Nurofen Express caplets (342mg of fast-acting ibuprofen lysine, which is equivalent to 200mg ordinary ibuprofen), yet are marketed differently.

Last year, the Australian Federal Court ordered the manufacturers of best-selling painkiller brand Nurofen to remove its targeted range of painkillers from Australian shops and face a potentially heavy fine for misleading consumers.

We think this is about more than just marketing. One pain expert said:

‘It’s a waste of money to buy so-called targeted painkillers, and potentially dangerous as you might be misled into taking a double dose for two main pain types [thinking they’re different medicines].’

Nurofen defended the sale of targeted painkillers, saying that they can help consumers choose the right one, just as it has defended the marketing of its Joint and Back saying it showed it could provide backache relief rather than implying this was all it could do.

Misleading marketing

But it’s also surely about the way we spend our money. Nurofen Joint and Back is actually licensed for a range of pain, including rheumatic or muscular pain, backache, neuralgia, migraine, headache, dental pain, period pain, feverishness, symptoms of colds and influenza.

Considering that extensive list, do you really need a plethora of painkillers in your cupboard all making different marketing claims? Do you feel mislead by these marketing claims, or do you consider yourself savvy enough to see through them?


I will question its use on migraine headaches while this might help some people I have suffered intense migraine headaches since a young teenager doubling me up in pain for 1 to several days . Every conceivable remedy you could buy in a chemist I have tried , been to hospitals for brain scans etc but it was only in the last 25 years that a pill came out that helped . It is not available over the counter as it has some serious side -effects but it works ,its called Sumatriptan but is not for everybody , if you have HBP/bad heart /liver /etc so it is limited in its use to the public , did I try the above Nurofen -yes but it didnt work . My migraine is due to an incurable organic problem not a mental tension problem although it helps that too. So beware those one pill “cure it alls ” are just advertising fodder and if you suffer over a long period -see your doctor not an advert on TV .

Robert C says:
3 July 2016

clearly 1 tablet does not cure all (and I am glad you have found one that works for you) but one that has a general use should not be advertised as specific to a particular pain, when it is not.


Manufacturers of medical products seem to be playing subconsciously on the concerns of people about the pressures on the NHS and GP surgeries by suggesting that you can cure anything by buying packets of pills. People are led to believe that they will have to wait ages for a clinical appointment so it would be better for them to get an off-the-shelf aches and pains remedy. If people are tempted, at least speak to the pharmacist who will probably suggest an approved over-the-counter remedy [as distinct from an off-the-shelf one] to address the specific condition and supply the correct quantity and dosage guidance for the advisory duration before seeing a doctor if there is no relief or improvement.


In a word it’s another modern day big company rip-off.


“marketing & sales” is two words plus an ampersand – but otherwise I agree with your point. (I suppose “advertising” is only one word though…)

As John Ward said, when you need good medicine it really does make sense to go and talk to your local pharmacist. If the stuff you need is only available on prescription, they’ll tell you that too.


I support speaking to the pharmacist too. A good pharmacist should ask whether you have taken a drug before, what the problem is and what other medications you are taking.


I suspect the claims made could mislead. One reason for that might be that we (subconsciously) assume we live in an era where advertising is well regulated and must, therefore, be truthful so we no longer expect advertising to be completely inaccurate. It comes as something of a surprise to discover that many companies are just as deceitful as they ever were. They’re just increasingly cunning about finding ways around the law.

This is really at the core of why we pay our Which? subscription. We need independent bodies like the Consumers’ Association to oversee consumer matters like this and deliver their verdict accordingly and openly.


The Guardian refers to this case as a landmark ruling: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jun/29/nurofen-tv-ad-banned-over-painkilling-claims-in-landmark-ruling

Maybe the real achievement is that the new ruling has overturned the previous ruling by the ASA that failed to uphold complaints about Nurofen targeting pain relief. I suggest that ASA conducts an internal review because Reckitt Benckiser has been able to continue to make false claims for four years.


I have been critical of the ASA because of their failure to tackle the general misrepresentation that pervades marketing, but at least they do respond to complaints – sometimes to a single complaint. Their website has a searchable database of complaints and each ruling is explained concisely and in plain English. Anyone not familiar with the ASA website might find it interesting to read some of the rulings.

If the ASA can respond to a single complaint, I wonder why companies are able to make hundreds of thousands of nuisance calls over an extended time period before action is taken.


I often think that the Australian consumer body “Choice” is more effective than our “Which?”. This excerpt from a site shows how responsive the manufacturer was – not. However it is good to thing that highlighting it made the whole matter more visible.

In 2010 CHOICE (Australian Consumers Association) awarded Nurofen caplets targeting migraine, back, tension headache and period pain a Shonky award.

In 2011 the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Complaint Resolution Panel (CRP) upheld a complaint by Professor Paul Rolan that the claims “targeted relief from pain” and “goes straight to the source of the pain were misleading. Reckitt Benckiser (Australia) was requested to withdraw them. The company declined to do so.

In 2012 additional complaints were submitted and upheld by the CRP but still the company declined to comply. The matter was referred to the TGA and certain orders were made. More complaints ensued.

There is more in the history here:

Reading this speech you can see a seemingly much bolshier attitude by the Aussies to companies.


Everyone should watch this, very funny , very informative.


We have still got Miele’s advertising that suggests products will last for 20 years, despite the standard guarantee period being only two years in most cases. In Australia, Miele was instructed to withdraw their advertising.

I liked the video, DT. Which? could do the same to ridicule those companies that behave irresponsibly.


In the spirit of consumerism I bet the Australians would have been very pleased and agreeable if Which? had asked to use it.

Scoring on grounds of cheapness to us and also illustrating that with multi-nationals you need a global view also.


Maybe we will align the Disunited Kingdom more with Australia following the Referendum.