It was a beautifully simple idea. No more need for smelly lotions, chemical gases, smoke or rolled-up newspapers, listeners to Brazilian station Band FM were told – all you need to do to beat mosquitoes is to stick close to the radio.
The station broadcast a high-frequency 15kHz tone under its music in April this year. Inaudible to most adults, the tone was supposed to repel mosquitoes, allowing listeners to relax in the open air without fear of getting bitten.
The broadcasts were sponsored by the magazine GoOutside, as part of a radio marketing campaign which went on to win the Grand Prix in the radio category at the Cannes Lions in June – perhaps the most prestigious awards in advertising.
There’s just one problem. Scientists say it’s nonsense.
The evidence is damning. A highly credible Cochrane review of the studies for these devices that emit high-pitched sounds almost inaudible to the human ear concluded these electronic mosquito repellents (EMRs) simply do not work.
According to the excellent piece by the BBC, the sound frequency is supposed to mimic a dragonfly warning mosquitoes to stay away but that isn’t even credible. These products are marketed to people in malaria prone countries as viable altenatives to mosquito netting and pesticides. There are devices that are designed for babies’ cribs. The hazard, obviously, is that people rely on them to repel mosquitos and forego actually useful methods. They get bitten and malaria continues to spread. These products, as do many garbage consumer products, rely on customer testimonial. As anyone who has ever bought anything from an infomercial knows, this is a completely unreliable form of “evidence”.
The article also mentions smart phone apps that emit the sound. The only thing this high frequency pitch tends to do is annoy younger ears. For a fun experiment, try playing the sound at home and watch your teenager freak out whereas you can’t hear it at all. (I tried this, it was hilarious.) Maybe mosquitos can hear it but it does not them from grabbing a meal off you.
The award was bestowed upon a radio campaign that played the tone. The award will not be rescinded because it was given for a successful marketing campaign which has apparently nothing to do with the fact that it was nonsense. This is serious and deadly deceptive advertising. Pass it on to those people you know who use these device for insect control.