CARU and NAD are sister self-regulatory agencies under the BBB’s ASRC umbrella, NAD aimed at truth in advertising generally and CARU focusing on child-directed ads. Both NAD and CARU reviewed ads for WhoNu cookies in 2012 and came to different conclusions as to similar ads based on the maturity of the audiences. It is a good reminder that ads needs to be reviewed through the lens of the intended or likely audience and a less sophisticated group may be more inclined to takeaway an unintended but also unsupported implied claim. And for advertisers to look at their media buying practices to make best efforts to ensure ads for grown ups are not shown during kids programs.
NAD opened as a monitoring case an inquiry into WhoNu cookie ads claiming the goodies had as much vitamin C as a cup of blueberries, as much iron as a cup of spinach and other quantitative nutrient comparisons to reference foods. NAD inquired whether these express claims were substantiated but also whether the ads imparted a message that eating the cookies was the same in all respects as eating blueberries, spinach etc. The NAD found there was no such implied message in this case, distinguishing similar claims in other cases because of use of clear statements limiting the comparison to the vitamin/mineral and not the fruit/vegetable in large bold text. Supers were used encouraging the cookies to be enjoyed as part of a diet rich in fresh foods. There were no health benefit claims accompanying the nutrient content claims. NAD also flagged that WhoNu did not use pictures of the reference foods but rather “cartoonish sketches”.
When CARU looked at similar ads very recently, it came to a different conclusion. While the ads said the WhoNu has “as much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal” and “as much calcium as a glass of milk” and used animated images of the reference foods, CARU found kids could take away a message that eating a cookie was as good for them as eating oatmeal and drinking milk. Children were not likely to appreciate the subtleties that adults would and instead would simply view the cookies as just like eating food their parents encouraged them to eat. The fact that the reference foods were shown in animated form may actually be more appealing and taken more seriously by kids, according to CARU.
WhoNu asserted its ads were not child-directed because while they appeared on cartoon programs, almost 60 percent of the viewers were over 18, while 35 percent were under 12. CARU looked at the content of the cartoons and the other ads that appeared during the same shows and found that while WhoNu was focused on its ads reaching moms that the ads were on programs directed to kids. WhoNu agreed to refine its media buying process to make sure its ads do not air on programs with significant viewership under 12.
WhoNu implied claims could vary depending on the audience? Now you do!