Ingenuous infomercials

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A Thanh Nien investigation finds unscrupulous entrepreneurs peddling fake junk over the airwaves while government regulators twiddle their thumbs

Minh, a Ho Chi Minh City housewife, purchased a "nano-active" bra because a flashy television ad promised it would enhance her breast size.

She spent VND3.2 million (US$153), on the undergarment and believed it would restore her breasts to their teenage shape.

"My dream was broken after it failed to enhance the size in any way," she said.

Soon after Minh realized she'd been cheated, she submitted complaints to a municipal consumer advocacy agency.

Thanh Nien received complaints from another woman, in District 3, who complained that she'd been conned by the same ad.

"The advertisement hooked me and I bought one," she said. "I was really disappointed when it arrived. It's just a simple pair of bra cups."

Complaints like Minh's are on the rise in Vietnam, where television infomercials now ply viewers with everything from "miracle mops" to new and improved precious metals.

A recent ad for bracelets and necklaces studded with "artificial diamonds" claimed the items had been wrought from something called "nano gold" - a special metal that had been discovered following three years of research.

The commercials ran on prominent networks, including HTVC, SCTV and ten other channels. A recent test conducted by QUATEST 3 - the HCMC office of Vietnam's Quality Assurance and Testing Center - found the "nano gold" is actually a mixture of copper, iron, lead and other non-precious metals.

The test was inspired by complaints from K., a HCMC resident, whose wife purchased one of the necklaces for VND2.36 million.

Suspicious of the item's value, K. held it under a flame, permanently darkening the object and proving it was, in no way, made from gold.

During the past several years, similar complaints have trickled into the paper about ingenuous infomercials. Following a sharp increase in such mail, Thanh Nien conducted an investigation and discovered that numerous false advertisements have been licensed for broadcast by government regulatory agencies and state-owned television stations.

Blame game

Le Duc Hung, director of the cable television center of HCMC Television Station, or HTVC, admitted that the station had broadcast deceptive advertisements.

Still, he feels, the station is not to blame.

Hung told Thanh Nien that all of HTVC's ads had been approved for broadcast by government regulators, a claim those agencies firmly deny.

"Cosmetics and pharmaceutical ads must be reviewed and approved by the municipal Heath Department," he said. "We always ask companies to submit their advertising materials to concerned agencies for approval; everyone has followed the required regulations."

In response to this claim, the HCMC Health Department charged that several television stations have broadcast advertisements without approval.

An official from the department said that they had failed to require Saigontourist Cable Television Company (SCTV) and HTVC to pull four ads in 2010 because the featured products were different from those named in their broadcast application.

The products included WII aFgF and WII Navores (alleged scar-removal creams) as well as Biohair Solution and Sper yuna BB Cream - both of which were marketed as skin whiteners.

A doctor in HCMC, who asked to remain anonymous, said that governmental agencies should take responsibility for false television ads.

"False advertising doesn't just cheat customers out of their money," he said. "Consumers are being cheated with open indifference or even support from [consumer advocates]. I wonder how they could allow such garbage to even enter the country for sale."


Starting February 24, Thanh Nien ran a series about deceptive television advertising,

Since then, the Ministry of Information and Communications has opened an investigation into the complaints.

Dao Kim Phu, a representative from the ministry, said that the inspectors had found several television stations guilty of wrongdoing, including SCTV and HTVC.

"We have ordered an inspection into all ad content," he said, adding that consequences for any violations will be severe.

Phu said that many television stations have repeatedly violated state regulations, despite a raft of inspections that uncovered similar discrepancies.

Doctor Nguyen Van Loi of the Health Ministry's Drug Administration, pledged to instruct all provincial heath departments to review their approval for cosmetic advertisements.

Nguyen Thanh Cong Esq, of the HCMC Bar Association, said that companies could face criminal charges for "deceptive advertising" - a crime punishable by jail terms of up to five years under Vietnamese law.

Another lawyer from the association, Bui Quoc Tuan, said that television stations which knowingly break the law could face fines of up to VND30 million per advertisement.

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