ASA Adjudication on Incognito
29 February 2012
Health and beauty
Number of complaints:
A magazine ad for an insect repellent spray was headlined "The GREEN way to keep insects at bay". Further text stated "Incognito spray is made entirely from natural ingredients and is more effective than DEET, a pesticide now thought to be a major factor in declining bee numbers" and "incognito is a safer, more effective natural alternative [to DEET]".
The complainant challenged whether the efficacy claims for the product could be substantiated because he understood 100% DEET products were the most effective mosquito repellent.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
incognito stated that many health professionals were unaware that DEET no longer afforded total protection against mosquitoes whereas incognito mosquito repellent had been scientifically proven to give 100% protection.
They provided a report which examined the active ingredient (citrepel75) which they believed demonstrated 100% efficacy against mosquito bites and stated that this ingredient constituted 20% of their product. They provided a recent report from a company experienced in insect research and stated that these tests demonstrated a 100% efficacy rate for the product over a period of up to three hours. They provided a summary of the design and outcome of this trial but did not provide the trial in full. They stated that the tests took place on the most aggressive type of mosquito on the planet called Anopheles gambiae and that the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), along with many other testing institutions, considered the results on this species to be indicative of all other species of mosquito. They argued that the results of the trials could therefore be extrapolated as having at least equal efficacy for virtually all 3,000 species of mosquito.
They stated that further testing had been carried out by the LSHTM on Citrepel75 and on the product itself and that these tests were carried out under laboratory conditions. They stated that these trials were carried out under enclosed environments where the insects could not escape and that the results were therefore likely to translate to much greater success in the field. They provided a copy of this trial which reported 100% efficacy in the caged tests for a period of one hour and effective protection over a period of 3.5 hours. They also provided an additional report that had been published in the British Medical Journal which examined the effect of malaria nets impregnated with insecticide, and which examined the additional protection given by an insect repellent containing the same percentage concentration of the active ingredient (Citrepel75) as found in incognito, against a placebo repellent. They believed this showed that the substance was clinically proven to protect against malaria because of its high efficiency and that outcomes held sufficient statistical significance to support the advertising claim because if individuals did not get bitten when using a repellent, they were unlikely to contract malaria or any other mosquito-borne disease.
They also provided a trial summary of their own research which compared the efficacy of incognito and three concentrations of DEET against a control and which they believed demonstrated a 99.99% efficacy for incognito (1 bite in 94) compared to 85% protection for the highest concentration of DEET.
They stated that mosquitoes had been steadily building up a tolerance or resistance to DEET for a number of years and recent scientific tests had been shown that it was not 100% effective. They provided clinical trials and links to articles on online medical publications which discussed the decline in the efficacy of DEET and argued that it had been shown that DEET did not offer the same level of efficacy as incognito. They stated that although 100% DEET products did offer longer protection than the lower concentration DEET products, the level of peak protection remained the same regardless of whether the product contained 50% DEET or higher. They stated that collectively the reports demonstrated that DEET had a 94% (or below) efficacy rate which was 6% less than the 100% efficacy achieved by incognito. They believed that it was therefore acceptable to make a claim that incognito was more effective that DEET.
The ASA noted controlled laboratory tests carried out by LSHTM tested a control substance against the active ingredient of the product which was in the same concentration as that of the product being advertised. We noted the results were taken from tests carried out both on caged insects and on insects contained within a room. We noted the results reported a reduced number of bites on the test subject's arms following the application of the two substances containing the active ingredient. We noted these experiments reported protection against bites over a six hour testing period of 30 seconds per test and that results reported a reduction from 100% protection for the first hour, 80% for two hours and down to 40% protection for the substance containing the same concentration as the active ingredient following five hours of exposure in the test area.
We also noted the summary of the trial carried out by the experienced test centre reported positive results and also noted incognito's comments that they had been carried out on a 20% concentration of Citrepel75. However, we noted the summary of the trial itself did not include any information about the substance being tested (or the active ingredient within the substance) and noted that it did not provide details of whether it had been tested against a control substance or placebo. Despite some of the positive results from the tests that had been supplied, we noted they were carried out on a small number of individuals and did not specifically state, or provide sufficient information to demonstrate, that the results were likely to be statistically significant.
We noted the field report published in the British Medical Journal in association with LSHTM examined over 4,008 individuals and considered that, whilst it did not specifically compare the number of mosquito bites between the test and control group, it did report on the incidents of malaria which decreased significantly in the group which were treated with both the product and the malaria nets, compared to the control group which had been treated with a placebo repellent (alongside the malaria nets). We also noted the report stated that the plant based insect repellent had been used in the study alongside the impregnated nets over the commonly used DEET because it offered high protection and had the potential for local production resulting in it being cheaper and more readily available for large scale use in the area. We considered it likely that whilst the LSHTM report could be used to support claims for protection against malaria, it did not specifically compare the efficacy of the product as an insect repellent against a product containing DEET (of any concentration) and therefore did not substantiate the specific efficacy comparison being made in the ad.
We noted incognito provided a recent trial of its own which compared the efficacy of incognito and DEET and reported that the efficacy for the incognito product was at 99.99% compared to an 85% efficacy rate for the higher concentrations of DEET. However, we noted the trial did not provide information to demonstrate that the results were statistically significant and that it had not been published or peer reviewed. We therefore considered that the trial could not be used to substantiate the comparative claim.
Although published articles reported an increased resistance against DEET, we considered that multiple trials supplied by incognito that had been carried out on DEET over the years had not been carried out under directly comparable test situations to the trials that had been carried out on incognito and as such, could not be used to directly compare the efficacy rate of products containing DEET against the incognito product.
We concluded that, because incognito did not hold statistically significant clinical evidence which specifically compared the differences in efficacy between the product and DEET (or products containing DEET), the claims "Incognito spray is made entirely from natural ingredients and is more effective than DEET, a pesticide now thought to be a major factor in declining bee numbers" and "incognito is a safer, more effective natural alternative [to DEET]" had not been substantiated and that the ad was therefore misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.7 (Misleading advertising)., 3.11 (Exaggeration) 3.38 (Other comparisons), 12.1 and 12.10 (Medicines, Medical devices, health-related product and beauty products).
The ad should not appear again in its current form.