Michael Masterson Answers a Member's Question About Health Promotions

I received the following e-mail from an AWAI member the other day. His problem is one that is shared by many copywriters in the health market.

Hello Michael,

"I recently began the Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting. In my research for part IV, I'm experiencing great difficulty finding good information to support taking supplements. Other than [claims made by] online marketers, most clinical trials express skepticism about products like 'Foodstate's Daily Supplement For Men.' I would appreciate any advice."

Thank You,
Charles M.

Dear Charles,

Let me start by saying there are no regulatory requirements (that I know of) requiring supplements – or any natural health products, for that matter – to be backed up by clinical trials. That's a good thing. Because if there were such regulations, all kinds of good natural products would be outlawed and unavailable for use.

Because of the nature of natural medicine, clinical trials are often impossible to conduct (because of the variables) or impossible to fund (because natural supplement producers don't have billion-dollar coffers to spend on them).

Still, contrary to what you seem to think, there is a ton of science behind natural medicine. In some cases, it does indeed include clinical trails; in other cases, it is statistical or evidentiary.

Would it surprise you to know that many of the most accepted practices in modern medicine – mammograms, heart bypass operations, popular knee surgeries, etc. – have no clinical evidence behind them? Even the concept of the importance of the early detection and treatment of cancer is based on completely unscientific, unsubstantiated logic.

The kind of evidence you need to provide in your copy – be it for a natural health product, a publishing product, a financial product, or a washing machine – is dependent on the kind of claims you are making.

As an example, if you're selling a book about health, you can pretty much make any claim in the copy that the author makes in the book … so long as you make it clear that you are selling the book and not any supplements or procedures the author might be recommending.

If you write copy for an ingestible product, you are restricted by the FDA in the kind of claims you can make. The main restriction is that you can't make disease-related claims. This has nothing to do with the availability or lack of clinical trials. It is rooted in the way our laws are written – that is, as a result of the drug industry's successful lobbying to maintain its control of the health market.

For example, there's a ton of evidence supporting the benefits of saw palmetto, an ingredient in many men's supplements – and that evidence includes clinical trials. But because the FDA classifies saw palmetto as a natural product and not a drug, you're not allowed to make any disease-related claims about it or quote those trials. What you can say is that it has been proven to aid in building a healthy prostate.

There are all sorts of FDA and other regulations regarding drugs. Because I'm not an expert on those regulations, I've asked Katie to include the following essay from industry expert Karen Reddel that addresses this question more specifically.

Meanwhile, there's another general point I want to make here: Though you don't need to rely on clinical trials to sell natural products, you DO need to believe in those products to write good copy about them.

If you buy into the conventional, drug-company-supported view of medicine, you will have a difficult time believing that your client's natural supplements will work.

Here's the most important thing about being a successful copywriter: You MUST believe in the product you are selling. If you don't believe in it or can't open your mind to believing in it, you will feel like a fraud when you do your work. And it will show in your writing.

If you do believe in what you are selling, you'll find the proof you need. It’s out there if you know where to look. And once you make up your mind about which niche you want to specialize in (no matter what it is), you will be able to locate those sources through the AWAI programs or by talking to other, more experienced copywriters.

Good luck, Charles. Don't lose faith.

– Michael Masterson

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Published: March 19, 2007

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