In my last post I described an advertisement for Scientology based on its supposed ‘disaster relief’ activities, and suggested that it was so misleading it broke the rules enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority.
This advertisement appeared in a free (ad-supported) ‘newspaper called “Metro” and I had hoped that nobody else would lower themselves. I was wrong.
It seems it is also appearing in “New Statesman”, a respectable political magazine.
After the break there is a detailed, step-by-step illustrated guide to how to complain to the UK Advertising Standards Authority via an easy-to-use online form about this advertisement.
The full text and a high-definition image of this advertisement is included in my previous post, along with good grounds for complaint – i.e. that the combination of text and image are misleading, suggesting that the ‘Volunteer Ministers’ operate as a major relief organisation, when they are actually few in number, unqualified, provide no supplies, expertise or medical services.
This post will show you how to complain (from anywhere in the world) about this advertisement. Your identity will be absolutely confidential.
Step One of Five
NB: If, like me, you use an alternative browser (e.g. Firefox or Chrome) switch to Internet Explorer for this occasion – the ASA form fails to submit in Firefox, forcing you to start over.
Go to the first page of the Advertising Standard Authority’s online complaints page at
At the bottom of the page you will see this form.
Step Two of Five
If you are a UK resident, simply enter your Postcode, and click on ‘Find your address’. If you are not, select that option and the form will adapt to enable you to manually enter a postal address (only one line is required).
Don’t forget to enter an email address – this will be the only means the ASA have to contact you.
In the ‘Data Protection’ section, tick the last box, and leave the others alone. Then, nobody will contact you or offer information that is not directly concerned with your complaint.Choose an option. For those outside the UK, this would probably be the default, ‘ I was already aware of the ASA’
Select ‘I do have a copy’ and an option to upload an image appears.
There is an image of the advertisement that you can download here. Download it to your computer, then attach it your form by clicking the first ‘Browse’ button and navigating to the file. When you have selected a file, don’t forget to click the ‘upload’ button before moving on.
First Text Box (‘Where did you see/hear the advert?’)
In a copy of the “New Statesman’ for 13-19 February 2015 – Cover headline “Assad vs Isis.
Second Text Box (‘When did you see/hear the advert?’)
Enter a time – obviously after the 13th of February 2015
Third Text box (‘Who was the Advertiser?’)
Church of Scientology
Forth Text box (What was the brand?’)
Church of Scientology
Click the ‘Next’ button.
I strongly suggest that you stick to the facts, citing exactly which rules have been broken and why. Telling the ASA that Scientology is a bad thing is pointless. They can only take action according to their rules, so please keep it simple and don’t preach.
If you are not familiar with the rules, you can copy and paste the text between the lines directly below in to the ‘Description of Complaint’ box.
I believe that this advertisement is in breach of rules 3.1, 3.3 and 3.7 of the CAP code for the following reasons:
3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
The text of the advertisement speaks of “natural disasters” and claims that “Whatever the misfortune – large or small, natural or personal […] Scientology Volunteer Ministers […] stand as one of the largest independent relief forces on Earth. In conjunction with the background photograph (which shows “Volunteer Ministers” in their yellow T-shirt ‘uniform’ posed in front of a military helicopter that was part of the Haiti relief effort) . This is seriously misleading because it suggests that Volunteer ministers are directly comparable with international organisations such as the Red Cross. In actual fact, the ‘relief efforts’ mounted by Volunteer Ministers are modest typically involving only small groups of individuals, with no internationally recognised credentials
Volunteer Ministers typically apply a form of ‘healing hands’ (‘touch assists’, in Scientology parlance) and distribute leaflets (“The Way to Happiness”, a Scientology ‘moral code’). They bring no substantial expertise, supplies or equipment. A reasonable person would likely characterise these activities as religious proselytism, not disaster relief.
3.3 Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
The advertisement states that Volunteer Ministers are “a movement that operates worldwide and linked through a network of groups”. This statement misleadingly inflates the actual number of people engaged in relief efforts by including the large number of ‘social betterment’ organisations operated by Scientology which operate in completely different areas.
3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation.
As Volunteer Ministers are small in number and do not perform services that a reasonable person would recognise as disaster relief, I submit that there is consequently serious doubt that objective documentary evidence exists for the claim that Volunteer Ministers […] stand as one of the largest independent relief forces on Earth.
The only acceptable documentary evidence that would support this claim would have to demonstrate the deployment of large numbers of personnel with internationally recognised qualifications in disasters relief and the provision of supplies (e.g. food and shelter) and services (e.g. medical treatment by qualified doctors).
That’s it. Click on ‘Submit your complaint’ – and good luck.