Misleading health copywriting is something we see all too often, whether on Facebook, online ads, print ads, TV ads – you name it.
I’m not (only) talking about simple grammatical errors. Online health copywriting is filled with examples of spiels and tidbits of information that subtly or deliberately misinform the reader.
Key offenders are often product-related, but even reputable medical organisations can fall victim to inaccurate or misleading copywriting.
It’s often the case that these powerful statements, carefully crafted to meet the confines of an impossibly short advertising word limit (and designed to entice a user to click without a second thought), often omit crucial facts and don’t make sense.
I’m going to talk you through an example to explain what I mean using an ad that I saw last year on Facebook.
Take a look at this example of misleading health copywriting
This picture, I believe, is an example of misleading editorial.
I’ve blocked out the company name because this isn’t a naming and shaming exercise, it’s a copywriting case study.
So let’s take a look at this ad in detail. A 40% greater chance. Than what? Than if a woman was to try and conceive naturally? For 6 months? One year? With the same or multiple partners?
The use of the word ‘offers’ also makes me feel uneasy, because, as we know with fertility, there are no guarantees.
Upon further investigation of the company’s homepage, I find that the vital statistic appears again. Accompanied by a big, fat asterisk. Reworded as a “40% better chance of having a healthy baby”.
Is misleading health copywriting just semantics?
Now, this isn’t a debate of semantics, though we could all take a moment to think about whether better and greater mean the same thing, and to what extent specifying that a baby is healthy affects the percentage chance.
Nitpicking aside, the answer can be found further down the page. “Than the average of other clinics combined, according to analysis of the latest available data (2011) released August 2013 from the Australian & NZ Assisted Reproductive Database.”
So, if the statistic is being used to differentiate the company from its competitors, why not mention this in the advertisement, then? Is it not a compelling argument?
The questions continue
Now that I’ve found my answer, I actually have more questions about this piece of health copywriting.
Which other clinics? Where? All of them? And if the average is combined, does this skew the results? Because it’s likely that some of those other clinics probably have the same if not better 40% chance.
This is why I think this little line of copy is misleading. It’s a statistic that doesn’t really mean anything in isolation. I know you can argue for and against every statistic, but this statistic is vague – plus, it’s playing on vulnerability. It’s targeting women who are emotional, because they’re trying to conceive and can’t, by being inadvertently misleading.
I’d like to think that this company isn’t deliberately cavalier. My concern is, of course, for the emotional target audience, who are likely to take in the “40% greater chance” message without thinking about what it actually means, where it came from, and how it applies to them personally.
The same goes for something else I noticed on the company’s website:
Need a second opinion? 7 out of 10 people** whose IVF failed at another clinic had a baby [under our care].
And according to the double asterisk, a study showed that 66% of patients under 36 who were unsuccessful at other clinics took home a baby with this company.
Great if you’re under 36. But what about those who aren’t? Which is, no doubt, a large proportion of IVF-seeking women.
I’m sure this company obviously have the skills and experience to get great results for their patients. Perhaps their health copywriting and promotional materials just need to explain it better. Or more accurately.
What do you think?
(If I were writing this spiel, it would be something like “World-leading fertility, helping thousands of women to conceive”.)