Advert for Contraceptive App Banned for Misleading

After a thorough investigation, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has decided to ban the advertisement of Natural Cycles, a contraceptive app that promoted itself to be a “highly accurate” method of birth control.

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Advert for Contraceptive
Natural Cycles: The “not-so-accurate” contraceptive app

In today’s age, digital marketing of a product is an important aspect to ensure commercial success. However, seldom do companies base their advertisement on concrete facts – instead relying on superlatives and hyperbole to promote their product. Often, tags such as “the best in the market” or “revolutionary” are thrown around casually – as these that draws the attention of the finicky consumer. Most of the times, such advertisements expire without causing much trouble to the consumer. However, products based on science have a greater potential of attracting attention in case of exaggerated claims. Natural Cycles, a contraceptive app, had their advertisement banned – in which it claimed to be a “highly accurate” method of birth control.

Natural Cycles, a much-hyped Swedish company, promoted its mobile application as a non-hormonal and non-intrusive form of contraception. A user could either pay $50 a year or $7 a month, to avail subscription to the app along with a thermometer. The thermometer is used to measure the temperature of the uterus at the same time every morning, while a set of algorithm tracks the phases of ovulation and menstrual cycle. At the end of the analysis, it displays by means of “red” or “green”, the days in which a woman is at risk of getting pregnant in the event of unprotected sex.

Through several publications, the company claimed that the app had a 99% efficiency rate if used perfectly, and 93% otherwise. The values were at par with any hormonal contraceptive pill available in the market. They also put up an advert on Facebook, which ran for four weeks in mid-2017. The advert claimed, “Natural Cycles is a highly accurate, certified, contraceptive app that adapts to every woman’s unique menstrual cycle.”

However, in January 2018, Swedish authorities were informed about the app by a Stockholm hospital. The hospital stated that out of the 668 abortions that took place, 37 women claimed that they have used the app as a method of contraception. The Swedish authorities reported the incident to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), who themselves had received five complains about the app. After conduction a thorough investigation into the content of the advertisement, they finally decided to ban it – on grounds of being misleading and exaggerating the app’s effectiveness.

The ASA quoted, “In the context of the ad, the claim ‘highly accurate contraceptive app’ would be understood by consumers to mean that the app had a high degree of accuracy and was therefore very reliable in being able to prevent unwanted pregnancies.”

The banning of the advert punched Natural Cycles in the gut, and also dampened their credibility in the market. Many experts have noted that the company’s publications might have been based on a self-selected pool of users. Moreover, many users also failed to follow the strict routine of taking temperatures.

Substituting contraceptive methods for mobile apps could ultimately lead to potential problems. Bekki Burbidge, of the Family Planning Association, has said, “It’s important when using Natural Cycles that women are aware of all the things that might make it less effective, so we’re very cautious about using apps to prevent a pregnancy without getting help and support from a trained fertility awareness teacher.”

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