The ASA ruled that Weetabix was making unsubstantiated claims around ‘slow release energy’ because viewers would associate the low-GI claims with Weetabix alone – when the claim could only be backed when it was consumed with milk under the demands of the EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR).
Weetabix, which turns over about €130m annually and is now 60%-owned by Chinese firm Bright Foods, said it was “disappointed” with the ruling because the ads showed Weetabix bricks in a bowl of milk or a Weetabix packet with a jug of milk adjacent.
Weetabix media director Malcolm Munro said the company was doubly disappointed by the ruling because it had received Clearcast approval in April 2011 for the 'Big Day Fuel' ad campaign. Clearcast is the body set up by Britain’s biggest commercial broadcasters to self-regulate TV advertising.
“We note that the Department of Health (DoH) has confirmed to the ASA that Weetabix when served with milk has a low Glycaemic Index and that the claim ‘Packed with slow release energy to keep you going’, in relation to Weetabix served with milk, is supported,” he said, noting Weetabix is typically consumed with milk.
He said this fact belied the ASA ruling and ideas about ‘the average consumer’ written into the NHCR.
“We believe that the ASA has failed to incorporate the principle of a ‘notional, typical consumer, who is reasonably well-informed and reasonably observant...’ as described in the regulations,” Munro said.
“Given that the overwhelming majority of consumers only ever eat Weetabix with milk, that we always demonstrate usage with milk and that our usage instructions on pack couldn’t be clearer, we believe strongly that this commercial does not materially mislead anyone.”
However, despite its strong opposition to the ASA stance, Weetabix said it would pull the ads that have run for more than 12 months.
It would also ensure future ads were clearer, “that the slow release energy claim relates to Weetabix when eaten with milk.”
The ASA agreed that the ad featured Weetabix being eaten with milk, or with milk near the Weetabix packaging and it acknowledged, “that the evidence showed that most consumers would consume Weetabix with milk.”
“…we considered that some viewers would therefore understand that the claim was likely to relate to Weetabix with milk.”
But it said the consumption of milk was not explicit in the claim: 'Packed with slow release energy to keep you going' and said this therefore breached article 5 of the NHCR, which relates to manufacturer instructions about optimal ways to consume products.
The ASA consulted with DoH and agreed that the claim could be understood to relate to the Weetabix biscuit itself, sans-milk.
Therefore the presentation of the claim was “ambiguous” it concluded.