UK censors Danone probiotic TV ads

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Danone, Immune system, Asa

The voluntary UK advertising watchdog has told Danone to cease broadcasting TV adverts that stated its one-shot probiotic drinking yoghurt, Actimel, could boost the immune system of children.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said evidence submitted by Danone, including recently conducted studies, did not support the claim that Actimel was, Scientifically proven to help support your kids' defences".

The ad was last aired in August, 2008, and before that Danone had been making “scientifically proven”​ claims since 2007.

Step too far

ASA spokesperson Olivia Campbell told NutraIngredients.com that while Danone had provided a lot of evidence to support the claim, the ASA felt that the claim “went one step too far”​ in that it targeted healthy children when much of the evidence related to sick children.

The fact the adverts did not make it clear that two Actimel drinks were required per day to achieve the immune system-boosting effect were also cited by the ASA as reasons to ban the ad for being misleading.

Disappointed

Danone said it was “very disappointed” ​by the ruling after it had been in discussions with the ASA for more than a year.

“Our scientific claims are sound and based on a large body of evidence,”​ a spokesperson said. “We have 24 publishedclinical studies all of which demonstrate Actimel’s positive health benefits, in a variety of circumstances, on a range of people - from children to the elderly.”

“These studies are designed and approved by a board of internationally recognised experts with extensive, directly relevant experience in human clinical trials, effects of probiotics in the gut, paediatrics and immunology.”

The ruling

In its dialogue with the ASA, Danone said the body of evidence should taken in its totality, “not judged as a group of individual papers.”

Danone said it had been told by an ASA consultant that its backing was sound, and noted that a 2006 ad that stated, "Every morning I like to give my kids Actimel to help support their bodies' natural defences",​ had also been supported by the consultant, Clearcast.

The ad featured a bottle of Actimel skipping rope and was targeted at children between the ages of 5-16.

In assessing the evidence submitted by Danone, the ASA highlighted inappropriate populations (too young or unhealthy); studies that did not determine immune system effects; samples that were too small; incongruous doses between studies and actual recommendations and a lack of statistical difference in results between study and control groups.

The ASA ruling can be found here​.

Previous

It is not the first time Danone has run foul of the ASA. Last year a TV claim for Actimel that stated, "Actimel is scientifically proven and you can see that proof for yourself on our website" ​was deemed misleading by the ASA because some of the web information was contained in a restricted area. Danone pulled the ad and changed the content of the website.

But the ASA did state: "We also noted from evidence submitted in a previous investigation that Actimel had a proven probiotic effect.”

In 2006, another Actimel advert implying it could help prevent children from catching bacterial infections, was deemed inappropriate by the ASA.

Danone 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".

2008 figures showed 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.

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