This page is an archive. For more recent developments, from March 2011, see Misleading treatment claims.
BSA Chair Leys Geddes has been involved in a campaign against advertisments that give false hope by offering to 'cure' stammering. You can help by flagging offending YouTube videos.
Many organisations claim in their advertising that they can 'cure' or 'eliminate' stammering. But it is not possible to 'cure' a stammer, in the accepted medical sense of the word (see Is there a cure for stammering?). Accordingly, we believe such claims not only give false hope to those who stammer, but also give people who don't stammer the false impression that stammering can easily be rectified. We would, though, welcome any evidence to support these claims.
'Tell Us The Truth About Stammering' is a video Leys has published as a part of BSA's campaign to stop organisations claiming that they can 'cure' stammering. (Link to video on YouTube)
Respectable healthcare companies carry out independent trials on large numbers of people, over long periods of time before they are allowed to claim any kind of benefit for their products or services. It should be the same with claims to cure stammering.
ASA rules against another "cure" advert
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled against a company claiming "100 success rate" with a "cure" for stuttering. The advert had been referred to the ASA by the British Stammering Association. The company did not respond to ASA's enquiries.
The ASA says in its adjudication: "We understood that it was sometimes possible for stammering to be managed and controlled. We noted, however, the ad stated "Cure Stuttering", "#1 Stuttering Treatment" and "100% Success Rate", which we considered implied it was possible to entirely eliminate it, a breakthrough claim, for which we had not seen evidence in support of this."
In the absence of robust evidence consisting of clinical trials to support the company's claims to offer a 'cure' or 'treatment' for stammering, the ASA concluded that the ad was likely to mislead. It said the ad must not appear again in its current form.
Adjudication by Advertising Standards Authority (on ASA website)
News article in The Guardian (link to guardian.co.uk), 9/12/09
Help tackle YouTube videos
for International Stammering Awareness Day, 22nd October 2009
We started out with Google ads and have had some success (see below). However, some advertising has now migrated to videos on YouTube. Examples come up if you search there for words such as stuttering cure.
22nd October is International Stammering Awareness Day (ISAD). This type of advertising spreads the false impression that there is a quick fix for stammering. You can help get over the message to YouTube that videos advertising a stammering cure should be taken down, by clicking the 'Flag' link below the relevant video. When you click the link you get a drop down menu. The most appropriate flagging option is usually: 'Spam', then the 'scams/fraud' option - when, for example, the video is a blatant ad for a treatment and no support is provided for the claims made.
Alternatively or additionally, you could post a comment on videos making doubtful claims, by simply saying, for example: "This claim is misleading. There is no instant cure for stammering."
You might also come across videos which show the 'mickey' being taken out of someone who stammers. In these cases you might want to flag them as 'Hateful or Abusive Content' - 'bullying'.
Do let us know what you have done - you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
Update: June 2009 - adjudications by Advertising Standards Authority
Following BSA's complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has has made adjudications against five more ads from two organisations. You can read the adjudications on the ASA website: Adjudications, 10th June.
These adjudications have been made because the organisations in question did not respond to the ASA's requests for data which might have supported their claims.
An additional benefit of these adjudications is that Google, who ran these ads, are deemed to be affiliate marketers, and thus bear responsibility for accepting ads which infringe the advertising codes.
So we have written to Matt Brittin, the Country Director of Google UK, pointing out that, once again, Google has been found to be taking money for ads, without taking responsibility for their content. We also reminded him that, in addition to the British Stammering Association, many other authoritative people and organisations - including the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and the Stuttering Foundation of America - have already advised Google that stammering cannot be 'cured'. That is why we have all asked that stuttering/stammering should be included in the Google 'Miracle Cures' policy (see below under Google AdWords), so that ads of this kind will no longer be accepted by Google.
We will carry on reporting ads to the ASA which feature misleading claims about stammering treatments. Google, we hope, will reconsider their position.
Update: February 2009
There have been further representations to Google asking it to change its policy. John Bercow, the Member of Parliament who led the Government's recent review of speech and language services for children, has written to Google asking them to do so. The Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists has also done so.
In the States, the Stuttering Foundation of America have agreed '100%' with the principle that there is no cure for stammering/stuttering and they are thinking about the text of a possible letter to Google. Also in the States, ASHA (the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) are considering whether to take action.
Update: January 2009
The ASA are now taking action against ads for another four websites which we have reported for 'cure' claims. All of these ads are on Google. The ASA now say that if they keep appearing on Google and "if we were to have a number of decisions which breached the Code, we may contact Google with our concerns".
Leys wanted to get greater support for this issue around the world - as ads on Google reach the whole world. He has now been interviewed by Stutter Talk which is based in the US, and most of the 45 minutes was devoted to this issue. See www.stuttertalk.com, Episode 82.
Meanwhile, Leys' original video, 'Stammering Is No Joke', has now been viewed over 40,00 times and is still the first video to come up when searching for 'stammering' on YouTube.
Original article: 2008
Success with advertisers
We identified numerous adverts claiming to cure or eliminate stammering. Following direct discussions, all of the UK advertisers except for one, and some in the States, agreed to change the wording of their adverts. This one exception was reported to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and, after a discussion with them, agreed to change their ads.
A number of new websites and new ads then popped up, and these too have been reported to the ASA. However, rather than dealing with each advertiser individually, it became apparent that a direct approach to Google, who carry nearly all of these ads, might be more effective.
Therefore, we contacted Google AdWords who provide the advertising you see when using Google Search, which accounts for about 65% of all searches. They have a policy against what they describe as 'miracle cure' advertisements. However, they say that "We monitor [ads submitted for] specific diseases for Miracle Cure such as Cancer, AIDs (sic), Psoriasis, Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Cystic Fibrosis, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), leukemia, bipolar and schizophrenia. We have not included stammering under miracle cure and therefore they are approved to run."
We have asked them to review this policy. They have currently refused (see the blue box below).
Email to Google AdWords
"There was a time when stammering was thought to be simply an outward sign of a nervous disposition and that people who suffered from it could stop it quite easily if they had the necessary 'strength of character'. Thus people who stammer have long been seen as weaklings and many are still laughed at. So, in addition to the frustrations involved in knowing what you want to say, but not always being able to say it, we also suffer from teasing as children and prejudice in later life. But recent research, including brain scans, have showed that the root cause of stammering is a neurological condition; in other words our brains don't work normally, the wiring is faulty and, as a result, we cannot maintain the rhythm of our speech, and it keeps breaking down. You can check any authoritative source you want, and you will see that there is no cure for stammering - although, usually with therapy, we can learn to speak more fluently.
"So, if you carry ads which claim to 'cure' stammering, you give false hope to those who stammer and help perpetuate the false impression amongst people who do not stammer, that we could cure ourselves quite easily. And this increases the prejudice against which we have to fight. For example, one of the ads you are currently carrying claims 'Breakthrough cure takes 9 minutes - 100% guaranteed - eliminates cause'. This is entirely impossible: as impossible as it is to cure bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or Tourette's."
Response from Google AdWords
Google responds that their Policy team has not approved stammering to come within their 'miracle cure' policy. "Advertisers are responsible for the content of their adverts which they place on our systems. Our terms and conditions make very clear that all adverts must not violate any applicable law, regulation or code of practice (including the CAP Code in the UK enforced by the ASA)." Also Google's advertising policies are not designed to be exhaustive statements of law or best practice. "We currently apply our miracle cures policy in respect of claims made about very serious medical conditions such as cancer, AIDs and leukaemia. However we keep all of our policies under review, and thank you for your comments."
Google have a duty to demonstrate leadership and the power to change public perceptions. But, instead, one of the world's most loved brands is happy to sit there, saying that, yes, it does have a no miracle cures rule, but no, it doesn't apply to stammering, despite all the evidence that there is no cure for stammering. So the advertising department will carry on taking the money for ads which encourage false hopes and feed false impressions.
It's not a good day for corporate responsibility.
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