Nurofen has been a well-loved and trusted pain relief
brand...until now. The manufacturer of the brand, Reckitt
Benckiser, faces millions in fines following the outcome of
proceedings in the Federal Court over products in its Nurofen
The range promises to target specific sites of pain and is
branded accordingly. However, in the Federal Court proceedings,
Reckitt Benckiser conceded that its promotion of four Nurofen
products was misleading.
In fact, the active ingredient – 342mg ibuprofen lysine -
was the same in all of them, and is no more effective at treating
the particular type of pain described on its packaging than a
product advertised for general use.
Claims permitted for the active ingredient by the Therapeutic
Goods Administration include treatment of headaches, dental pain,
arthritis, aches and pains associated with the common cold or flu,
sinus pain, muscular and rheumatic pain, and reducing fever.
The Federal Court found that because none of the four products
is any more or less effective than the others in treating any of
the particular symptoms, consumers were therefore likely to be
misled into paying a premium price for a product which didn't
deliver as advertised. The Australian Competition and Consumer
Commission (ACCC) which was responsible for instigating the Court
proceedings was also concerned that consumers could not easily
check the claims made, and so the claims required greater
This decision indicates the subtlety which can be part of a
misleading or deceptive conduct issue. The claims made for each of
the four Nurofen products were accurate, to the extent that the
product would treat the particular type of pain mentioned, but it
was misleading to suggest that the products had some specific
virtue in treating particular types of pain such as a migraine,
when in fact it was equally good for a range of other pains.
In other words, the promotional material claimed a special
benefit which the product did not have. The lesson for businesses
in this is that you need to take a very broad view of what a claim
might mean, and think laterally as to how it might be perceived (by
consumers, competitors, and the ACCC), as well as the overall
impression that might be given to a consumer. There would have been
no problem saying "Nurofen is good for migraine, and a lot of
other types of pain too, such as ...", but giving the
appearance of being different from other pain killers, when it
wasn't, is proving costly for Reckitt Benckiser, with the
products to be relabelled in the interim, and withdrawn by
This incident will cause Nurofen headaches in more than one
area. A company the size of Nurofen could potentially recover from
any monetary fine imposed. However, time will tell whether
Nurofen's well known brand reputation will recover from this
experience. It serves as a timely reminder that short term gain
arising from a promotional campaign can easily be overshadowed by
long term brand damage and loss of good will.
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Businesses should ensure that any promotions do not cross a 'fine line' between acceptable and misleading or deceptive.
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