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Listen up hedgehogs: Arla’s Lactofree ad is not misleading

By Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn , 19-Feb-2014
Last updated on 19-Feb-2014 at 14:38 GMT

Advertising Standards Agency rules Lactofree advert is sufficiently clear following consumer confusion
Advertising Standards Agency rules Lactofree advert is sufficiently clear following consumer confusion

Arla’s lactose-free TV advert is not misleading, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has concluded after receiving complaints from dairy-allergic consumers.

The advert shows an array of hedgehogs shopping in a supermarket, over which a voice on the PA declares: "Listen up hedgehogs, you're not intolerant to dairy, you're just intolerant to lactose, the sugars in dairy. Remove the lactose and, by jingo, it's dairy all round. Say yes to a milky latte, say yes to a really cheesy cheese pizza. Go on, say yes to dairy."

Media watchdog, ASA, received complaints that the ad is misleading and harmful because it does not make sufficiently clear that the product, which is suitable for those intolerant to lactose, would be dangerous for dairy allergy sufferers. Responding to the complaint, ASA backed Arla’s assertion that an on-screen footnote is enough to clarify this suitability and therefore does not violate any advertisement rules.

Lactose intolerance is an inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk, while millk allergy is an immune response to dairy proteins. Lactose intolerance is not commonly considered life threatening, whereas milk allergy can be.

Misleading and harmful?

One complainant said the product had been given to their seven-year-old son who is allergic to dairy by a relative who mistakenly believed it would be suitable. They said the advert's ambiguity is “misleading and harmful”.

Arla has denied breaching any ASA codes and says the advertisement was intended to raise awareness of the availability of lactose-free dairy products suitable for those suffering from lactose intolerance.

Lisa Attenborough, communications director at the firm, told FoodNavigator: "We are pleased with the outcome and clearly we feel it is the right decision. There are no plans to make any changes to our Lactofree advertising in the UK."

It said a footnote explaining the product is not suitable for people suffering from milk allergies remained on screen for around six seconds in a font size that complies with ASA requirements. The line appearing at the bottom of the screen also tells viewers to consult their GP if in doubt.

ASA agreement

After investigating the ad under codes of social responsibility, misleading advertising and harm and offence, ASA concluded that the on-screen text made sufficiently clear that the Lactofree products are not suitable for dairy allergy sufferers, only those intolerant to lactose. In its rejection of the complaint, ASA also made reference to Arla's suggestion that consumers in doubt should consult their GP and research further the Lactofree range.

“Furthermore, we considered that consumers suffering from dairy allergies, and those connected to them, were more inclined to be cautious when selecting products to purchase and would likely pay attention to the on-screen text in the ad or the recommendation to seek further information. We therefore concluded that the ad was neither misleading nor did it encourage or condone behaviour that prejudiced health or safety,” it said in its final ruling.

This is not the first time the Scandinavian dairy company has received consumer criticism for its Lactofree range. Back in 2008, ASA dealt with complaints over the marketing of the range's milk product as having “the full taste of real milk, just without the lactose”. Concerns were raised that the advert may be harmful and misleading since the product contained 0.05% lactose.

ASA also backed Arla in this earlier case, ruling that the trace elements had been properly labelled and fell within safe thresholds.