‘Two quick sprays to your tongue release the natural energy you need to find inner calm again. Restoring your centre and focus, even after you’ve reached the end of your tether. With the natural formula created by Dr Bach, in a bottle sized to fit any handbag, Rescue Remedy is the calming exercise you can do any time, anywhere. Look for Rescue Remedy at leading pharmacies, health food and grocery stores.’
Or so I read on a London Underground train earlier this week. The claim was made on an advertising placard posted above passengers’ heads. I took down the words of the claim for later study. This claim is not true. The strongest boast conceivably consistent with the truth is that two quick sprays to the tongue may release the natural energy we need to find inner calm again. There may be individuals for whom, and there may be circumstances in which, whatever is contained in Dr Bach’s Rescue Remedy spray does bring calm, centredness and inner focus. But there will be others for whom it does not; otherwise most of the troubles of the human race would be over.
So why do the rules — ‘Legal? Decent? Honest? Truthful?’ — policed by the Advertising Standards Authority permit the placing of such claims on public transport? I suppose the basis on which this ad has passed the test is that the claim amounts to what is called a ‘puff’: the sort of statement which is plainly not meant to be taken literally and so runs little risk of seriously deceiving many readers. Politicians make puffs all the time (‘One cross on the ballot paper — a nation reborn’ — T. Blair, 1997) but the practice is also sanctioned, up to a point, in commercial advertising. Persil may not always wash whiter, Heineken may not always refresh the parts other beers cannot reach, and Disprin will only bring ‘fast and effective pain relief’ in a limited range of circumstances, but people know this.