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Danone and the ASA lock horns

Written by Joanna Welch on 24 October 2009

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A recent decision by the advertising watchdog banning a TV ad that promotes a yogurt drink as "scientifically proven" to support children's natural defences will provide pause to companies relying on scientific studies to boost the status of their products.

The ad showed a bottle of Actimel bouncing over a skipping rope. In the background the voices of young children cheered, followed by a voice which stated "kids love Actimel and it's good for them too." As the ad closed, "scientifically proven" appeared as a stamp on the screen.

Danone, manufacturer of the product, argued before the ASA that its product contained Lactobacillus which promoted and supported the body’s natural defences to pathogens.

The company relied on 23 studies, involving 6,000 people, which it claimed produced "a body of scientific evidence" which when considered in totality proved the benefits of the product and thus supported the claims in the television advertisement. However, only eight of the 23 studies were conducted on children of school age.

Of the eight relevant studies, the ASA noted that two of the five studies were conducted on young children hospitalized in India. One of studies failed to support the company's claims. In a further two studies, the sample groups were too small to validate the study results. A final group of studies, submitted by Danone, relied on servings of Actimel that were far greater than a standard, bottle-sized serving.

The Adjudication, published on the 14th September, provided clear guidance to advertisers on the extent to which multiple scientific studies will be permitted to support product claims. The report stated: "it was necessary to review the accuracy and relevance of each individual study in order to assess the merits of the body of work as a whole," the adjudication reported.

In concluding the ASA found that the evidence produced by Danone failed to support the claim that its product was scientifically proven to promote the wellbeing of school-age children and to that extent the advertisement was misleading.

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