Post Tagged with: "chemical-free"

Is ‘Chemical-Free’ Nonsense?

Back in 2008 the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruled that an advertisement for an organic fertilizer  claiming to be “100% chemical free” was not misleading because:

“When there is a colloquial understanding of a word, we can take this into account when reaching our decision. In this case, we believe that most viewers are likely to understand the term ‘organic’ as meaning no man-made chemicals have been used to manufacture, or are present in this product. For this reason, we believe that most viewers are unlikely to be misled by the claim.”

To many this seemed like a largely illogical statement, including the Royal Society of Chemsitry. Their  response  was to offer a £1 million bounty for anyone who could present them with a truly 100% chemical free material.

Five years later and needless to say  the RSC has not had to cough up. Meanwhile the term ‘chemical-free’ is still being banded about (including articles in mainstream media(chached page) , eliciting periodic complaints and some highly amusing satire  from bloggers (and not just the chemistry crowd, a Mum’s blogs have joined in as well). In short not much has changed.

I figured it might be time to see if the ASA might reconsider it’s position. And a brand of ‘chemical-free’ deodorant that’s stocked in Holland and Barrett (a health food shop in the UK) seemed like the perfect test bed. I completed the ASA complaints form, making all the usual points about how it can’t possibly be chemical free, and this is the response I got.

While we appreciate your point that all material consists of chemicals, there do not appear to be grounds to suppose that this means that consumers will be misled by the claims in this ad.  We note that the claim is qualified by a list of ingredients next to the product description.  We consider that consumers are likely to generally interpret claims such as this in the practical sense that no synthetic chemicals, as opposed to the organic constituents of the product, have been added to the product rather than in the literal sense that the product includes no chemicals whatsoever.

On this basis we are satisfied that consumers are unlikely to be misled to their detriment by this ad and that the advertisers are not in breach of our Code on this occasion.

So pretty much the same stance they took 5 years ago, which does rather grate. But does it really matter? Maybe the consumer does understand that “chemical-free” is nonsense and  I should stop getting irritated by it.  The comments in the blog seem to back this up: The general feeling seems to be  an understanding that shampoo etc.  can’t be ‘chemical-free’ , combined with annoyance at products that use the term. One particular comment sums it up nicely..

Could anyone be more contemptuous of the public’s intellect than people marketing “chemical free” products?

Seems like “chemical-free” marketing might be backfiring. Let’s hope so.



By April 6, 2013 15 comments general chemistry, Uncategorized