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Yesterday I was sitting in the chemist waiting for a prescription when I noticed an advertisement for “Inner Health Immune Booster for Kids”, a product which contains probiotic bacteria.

The advertisement claimed that

“A clinical trial has shown that, when taken daily, the exclusive probiotic strains in Inner Health Immune Booster for Kids MAY:

  • reduce the frequency of symptoms of colds and flu
  • reduce the duration of colds and flu symptoms
  • boost immune system function”

The emphasis of the word MAY is mine. What the use of this word suggests to me is that the results of the clinical trial were so inconclusive that they didn’t show anything statistically useful, otherwise wouldn’t they have used the word “WILL”?

After all what does it mean when you use the word “may”? It is a very non-commital word. If I say I “may” go to the movies, then it is just as likely that I may not. Given this reasoning wouldn’t it be just as legitimate to suggest that Inner Helath Immune Booster for Kids MAY NOT:

  • reduce the frequency of symptoms of colds and flu
  • reduce the duration of colds and flu symptoms
  • boost immune system function”

Though this probably would not be considered a very effective advertising campaign!

Alternatively would it be just as legitimate to say that this product MAY cause a child to become a genius or to develop superspeed?

This may seem like a dig at Inner Health Immune Booster for Kids, but there are many, many health products that make use of this sort of vague advertising. Surely if they are going to make claims about a product they should be more reliable, e.g. “research has shown that this product reduces …….”

Perhaps readers have other examples of similar non-commital examples of advertising which they would like to share?