Danone cautioned over UK Actimel adverts

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Danone Scientific method

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has told French dairy
giant Danone to remove or alter a "misleading" probiotic
yoghurt drink TV advert.

The ASA upheld two complaints that Danone's website did not provide full consumer access to the scientific studies referenced in its Actimel advertising and therefore told Danone the "ad should not be broadcast again in its current form." ​In light of the complaints, Danone has discontinued the advert as well as removed offending text from its website. The ASA said it was content with Danone's assurance that versions of the studies were now generally available online. "We also noted from evidence submitted in a previous investigation that Actimel had a proven probiotic effect,"​ the ASA said in its adjudication. The breach ​The Actimel advert stated, "Actimel is scientifically proven and you can see that proof for yourself on our website".​ But on its website further text stated, "The disclosure of these studies is restricted to Health Care Professionals not the general public". ​ The voluntary watchdog determined that viewers would infer "that evidence in the form of scientific studies, rather than summaries and references, was available on the website for the general public to assess for themselves without having to undertake further research."Because that was not the case we concluded that the claim 'Actimel is scientifically proven and you can see that proof for yourself on our website' was misleading. Defence ​In its defense, Danone said its website presented enough information to vindicate its health claims under sections entitled, "What is Actimel?", "How does it do it?", "How it works" and "What is the evidence?" Given the information was designed to be understood by consumers, not industry or academia, Danone said this was "relevant, meaningful and understandable information to aid in the understanding of Actimel and its benefits."​ Another section entitled 'other scientific studies' cited a host of studies that backed Actimel's immunity claims. ​In its submission to the ASA, Danone said its website was "sufficient to satisfy the expectations of the average consumer"​ and anyone who sought further information could follow the cited references. All were available publicly through several sources such as the British Library or the US National Library of Medicine. Danone also pointed to its "In the news" section that contained independently written articles as well as helpline and email customers could access. Danone said the images of piles of papers entitled "Scientific Study" in its adverts were meant to indicate the volume and nature of scientific proof behind Actimel and not imply full studies were available to read on the Actimel website. Other actions ​It is not the first time Danone's UK advertising has drawn the ASA's attention. In 2006, another Actimel advert implying it could help prevent children from catching bacterial infections, was deemed inappropriate by the ASA. Danone UK had a win, also in 2006, when the ASA dismissed complaints about an advert for the probiotic yoghurt Activia, stating, "Want to beat that bloated feeling? We spoke to real women suffering from digestive discomfort". ​Danone UK's one-shot drink Actimel outsells competitors Yakult and Muller Vitality by a factor of about 3-to-1 according to AC Nielsen figures. It notched sales of €131.8m in 2007. Muller Vitality sold €35.9m while Yakult sold €25.1m. The company has been boosted by hospital trusts in the UK counties of Northumberland and Sussex giving its probiotic products to patients to boost immunity against superbugs such as Clostridium difficile. "We are providing Actimel probiotic yoghurt to patients on the wards where we have previously had more cases ofC.diff,"​ a National Health Service spokesperson said. ​Danone's US subsidiary, Dannon, has had a class action filed against it in a Californian court for misleading claims, a lawsuit it "will vigorously challenge"​.

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