In my few years as a skeptic I have started to make complaints about false advertising. It’s important that someone does this as advertising is a self regulated industry. Adverts aren’t checked before being shown, they are only investigated if someone complains about them. This is why Ryan Air have made outrageous claims and then been told to remove adverts, but by that point the adverts have done their job.

The Advertising Standards Authority “regulates” advertising but they only check something out if there’s a complaint about it. I’ve seen Virgin Media complain about BT Broadband adverts and vice versa.

Virgin Media rulings here.

BT Broadband rulings here.

You can see it’s like inter-ISP warfare with each company making outrageous claims and the other deciding to take them to the ASA.

In principle the ASA covers things like TV, print media, and internet advertising. Also they cover any claims made on websites and posters and leaflets. The cover the UK. There can be some issues where a website based in another country fails the basic standards of human decency but the ASA can’t do a great deal about it except inform their counterparts in the host country. Other countries sometimes don’t give a shit about the quality and factualness of advertising.

If there are specific claims in an advert then the company must have specific evidence to back those claims up. So, if I make ethically sourced soap then I must have the evidence to back up that claim or I risk censure by the ASA. I can still make those claims, I just need to worry about a complaint being made. You might argue it would be unethical for me to make false claims but you obviously don’t understand “marketing”.

Some words have no real meaning in term of advertising:

  • “wellness” isn’t defined in law and means nothing
  • “nutritionist” isn’t a protected term and anyone can call themselves one
  • “health balance” is bullshit terminology
  • “natural” doesn’t mean shit
  • “energy” doesn’t mean what you think it means
  • “traditional” isn’t
  • “good bacteria” it depends

And so on. When products or companies use certain words you might think they mean something specific but they don’t. The companies rely on the fact that you will think they mean a very specific thing but in law and advertising they don’t. How often do you hear the term “energy-balance” or similar? You might think it means something specific but it is a bullshit term and so advertisers can use that whenever they want.

Advertisements can’t make specific medical claims unless they have specific medical evidence and this is how the ASA became the arbiter of what is and what isn’t science in this messed up world. Let’s start with an hypothetical:

Suppose I had magical healing hands. I might use a radio advert to claim I can improve your energy-balance [means nothing] and that you will feel more relaxed and ready to take on the world [also means nothing].

Healing Hands Therapies

None of the claims in that advert mean anything specific in terms of advertising. It is perfectly ok to use that advert. I haven’t made any specific claims and I haven’t used any protected terms that mean real things. Now imagine if I made the following advert:

Healing Hands Therapy will improve your life-balance and also cure your arthritis. Our therapies are so powerful they can cure colic and even remove cancers.

Healing Hands Therapies

Those are some very specific claims and so I need to have evidence to prove that those things can be cured with the healing hands modality. If I can’t provide evidence to the ASA for the claims I have made then I will be expected to remove the advert from circulation. Meanwhile thousands of people may have heard the advert and be gullible enough to think it works.


I have made two complaints to the ASA. One was a product advertised in a magazine and it claimed to help with teething issues with babies. It was a necklace for the baby made from amber beads. Now, I’m pretty sure putting something around the neck of a baby is pretty bad but then claiming the vapours it releases as it is warmed by bodyheat calm teething pains is utter bullshit. Like this one on a page I just found:

Amusingly on this page, just before the reviews section, the company makes clear that they aren’t responsible for any claims made in the comments. This is a lovely get-out clause but I think they are wrong. The company is publishing the comments on that page and so they are responsible. The comments clearly imply that people buy this shit for teething issues with very young children. Don’t put things around a baby’s neck.

My complaint to the ASA about the original company was upheld and they were told not to advertise in that format again. But, as we know with Goop, there’s an awful lot of bullshit out there and plenty of people unaware of how sciencey sounding claims might be bullshit.

I also made a complaint about a leaflet I found in a children’s nursery. It was for the John Wernham College of Classical Osteopathy in Maidstone. They made specific medical claims about osteopathy and they are wrong. I complained to the ASA and the College had to provide the medical evidence for their claims. They could not because Osteopathy is bulshit. The ASA told them they had to remove the leaflet from circulation. However all those leaflets were already out there.

The “College” still runs. I’ve just browsed their website and I can’t find any dubious claims, only a rather large amount of bullshit non-specific language.

A few years ago the British Chiropractic Association [chiropractic is like osteopathy but even more bullshit] sued Simon Singh for a minor comment he made. Eventually the BCA lost the case and had to withdraw all the claims they make. At the time they sent an email out to their members saying that chiropractors shouldn’t make any medical claims on their websites and to remove those claims. A computer specialist created a program to scour the internet for chiropractic pages, search them and look for certain medical claims. There were plenty. That person then reported all those chiropractors to local trading standards. Here’s The Guardian article about that issue.

It is only by having astute members of the public that harm within adverts can be defeated. Please be aware of the problems with advertising and please take take anything you see advertised as legitimate.


On my recent trip to the Lake District I had breakfast in The Filling Station cafe. It’s a lovely little cafe with nice food and a classic soft rock playlist that could shock you.

  • Jack and Diane(John C-M)
  • Jump (Van Halen)
  • New Sensation (Inxs)
  • I come from a land down under (Men at work)
  • Stuck with you (Huey Lewis and the news)
  • Alive and kicking (simple minds)
  • Manic Monday (the bangles)
  • I died in your arms tonight (the cutting crew)

At that point I stopped recording what played. It’s almost the same content as my Hits 4 album from 1986. There is also Now That’s What I Call Music 6. These were my first foray into compilation albums. I expect I recorded them onto tape to listen to on a “walkman”.

So, in the cafe they have a free motorbike magazine and as an ex-biker I perused this rather than spend time staring at the mess and disaster on my phone twitter account. Nothing in the magazine was a particular surprise, it looks as though bike technology has moved on quite a bit since my 2001 Super Blackbird and bikes now seem pretty expensive. They are definitely a middle-class weekend thing. It’s not sensible to have one that is your only form of transport as mine was. Racking up over 12,000 miles a year on a motorbike is expensive in terms of servicing, tyres and depreciation. I digress.

So, in this magazine I spotted an advert for TankChip. It struck me as bullshit almost straight away but I am willing to see what evidence there is. Here’s the advert:

TankChip Bullshit
TankChip Bullshit

The advert seems to claim that by adding this device to the petrol tank you get more power, performance and acceleration along with an improvement in economy. Now these are some pretty impressive claims. I mean, a device that is cheap and can be added to any petrol tank and improves most characteristics of your engine? It’s almost as if it worked then manufacturers would be adding it to your tank anyway. It’d be a pretty impressive device. IF IT WORKED.

It doesn’t.

On the web page about the technology involved there are zero specific claims about the tankchip. There are plenty of claims and sciency sounding things but not one single claim about the chip itself. go and read it and see if it actually says anything about the chip. There are no testable claims.

So, here’s what happens. You see this advert, believe it, and purchase a crappy piece of plastic. Then you put it in your tank. From that point onward you are pre-disposed to see an improvement. You have paid money. You expect it to work. It will work, in your observation. What happens in reality is that it doesn’t work.

It’s like buying a nice wine. You look at the bottles and decide which one will taste nice. Then you pay plenty of money for that and, surprise!, it tastes nice. More expensive wines taste better than cheap ones. Expensive TVs look better than cheap ones because you are bought in to them.

So, riding your motorbike you expect results and so, unconsciously, drive a little more restrained but also it’ll feel like you are accelerating at a better rate, your engine will feel smoother, because you expect it to. You end up believing that this tankchip has made a difference when in reality nothing has changed. Expectation is a powerful thing.

Another clue that this is a scam is that they offer a money back guarantee. So, you buy this thing. Two things probably happen. You convince yourself it does work or you decide it doesn’t work but either forget about it or are a bit embarrassed you bought it in the first place. Either way, it’s quite likely you won’t bother to get your money back.

I have emailed the company for some information about the testing they performed and here is the response.

Can send you a some extracts from recent tank.chip customer emails when in the office.
As far as testing documents I’m not sure what you are looking for exactly.

So, I explained what I wanted. Testimonials don’t tell me shit. People’s thoughts are the worst way of collecting data because of all the biases of the human brain! That’s why we have science.

Since adding a tank.chip to my Royal Enfield 500 Bullet, performance wise it is more responsive and most importantly the engine has much less vibration at speed, which can be an annoyance when riding a single cylinder retro machine. I don’t know what or how it does it, but wow it sure does. An excellent product.
Barry H, Lincolnshire

I have purchased a tank chip, it seemed a small price to gamble! I am pleasantly surprised. Touring Wales on my Street Triple R ABS my average mpg has gone from its usual 56-58 mpg (at touring speeds) to 64.4 mpg (readout from the dash). That gives me at least an extra 20 miles from my 3gallon tank. Many thanks for a product that really works.
Clive T-B, Essex

Here’s what I asked for:

I was after a more serious test, such as some dyno testing or third party test of the product. Maybe something by a magazine?

Here’s the response I got back. It is a bank holiday weekend here so I expected to wait a little while:

Fast Bikes were setting up a dyno test but not heard anything.
Quite a few bike dealers and tuners repeat buy so I guess they have tested.
We won’t send out our data just yet for a number of reasons but will put something on line in the coming months.

I’m happy to wait for the details and if they get sent to me I will amend this communication. I doubt that any serious testing of this device will give any information or evidence that it works. If it did, then all manufacturers would already fit it. I did see one thread that it may actually include some lead which used to be added to petrol in the olden days to help with combustion and reduce “pinking”. Then we knew that lead poisoned people and campaigners worked to get it removed from petrol.

This device is very similar to the fuel magnets my father gave me about 13 years ago and they secured my descent into skepticism and you can read about that in this communication from six years ago!