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If it's not true, don't claim it about credence goods

A guide on misleading, therapeutic and credence claims when listing on Trade Me.

By Trade Me 5 February 2021

There’s someone who sits across from me every day who cracks a diet coke as they open their emails at 8.30am.

They are team aspartame. They love the stuff.

But what if they read that aspartame was really bad for them and, while seeking a cure, they discovered a lozenge that promised to remove any trace of the chemical from their body?

Would they try it out, even though they couldn’t verify this claim themselves?

Fun fact: this lozenge existed. Unfortunately, there was no evidence to support their unlikely credence claim, and the Advertising Standards Authority had to get involved.

A credence claim is a claim that’s made about a product that can’t be easily verified by consumers

If you choose to buy a product because you trust the seller when they say it’s fair trade and cures eczema, and you find out those claims can’t be proven or are untrue, you’d feel cheated, right? Right.

When making a claim about a product you’re selling, you need to have ‘reasonable grounds’ for making it.

You can’t just say an egg is free range and organic without having evidence of that being true. Nor can you sell heat pumps with unsubstantiated claims about how energy efficient they are.

As a seller on Trade Me, there’s an easy question to ask yourself to check the risk of being accused of making a false or misleading credence claim:

“Can I prove what I’m saying?”

If there’s evidence from credible sources to prove what you’re saying, then go ahead. Better yet, show your evidence when describing the product.

If your claim is anecdotal, pseudoscience or contested, then don’t say it.  

You also need to be able to prove your claim at the time you make it – proving it later won’t cut it.

The best proof you can provide is being able to track the product you’re selling to its origins. Independent certification is also an awesome way to substantiate your claims.

And remember – the bigger the claim, the stronger the grounds for proof need to be.

However, if you said that Trade Me HQ’s coffee is the most delicious beverage in the world, you won’t be asked for proof that there isn’t a more delectable brew in existence. The Commerce Commission reassures us all that this is called ‘puffery’ and is an obvious exaggeration and unlikely to mislead.

Our coffee is pretty good though!

Therapeutic claims

The dos and don’ts of therapeutic claims can get tricky. Luckily, there’s a great blog post on ear candles that also gives a run down on therapeutic claims in general. And if you need a break from the Trade Me colour scheme, check out the guide from the Association of New Zealand Advertisers (ANZA) website.

If you are a big therapeutic product seller, then it might be worth your while to use the TAPS service. This is a therapeutic advertising pre-vetting service that ANZA supports.

The Commerce Commission enforces misleading claims

In terms of consumer protection,  the Commerce Commission has your back. Credence claims are a focus area for the Commerce Commission.

They have in recent times taken a number of credence cases – yoghurt that wasn’t yoghurt, alpaca products that didn’t contain alpaca, and ‘made in New Zealand’ bee pollen that was actually made in China.

Trade Me cares about being a trusted and safe marketplace, and we think it’s fair to expect listings to be accurate and free from misleading information.

You can’t call a healthy looking ice cream frozen yogurt, and you can’t market an alpaca duvet if you don’t know if the wool is from an alpaca or a sheep. These fall under the misleading or false claim umbrella.

You can’t say amber beads relieve teething issues or that ear candles relieve pain, as these claims are unsubstantiated.

Members who making mislead claims can expect to have their listings removed.

Watch out for any unsubstantiated claims