When brands are looking for ideas for television commercials, some images are tried and true staples – things like cuddly animals, attractive models and cute babies. But just because you cast a couple of adorable babies, doesn’t mean you have carte blanche to ignore basic advertising ethics. It’s a rule Prego pasta sauce maker, the Campbell Soup Company, recently learned the hard way.
Last year, Campbell introduced a TV commercial entitled “Prego: Taste Test.” The concept behind the light-hearted spot was innocent enough: “We took lifelong pasta experts,” the announcer proclaims over the contrasting imagery of a couple of toddlers, “and gave one Prego Traditional and one Ragú Traditional. This is what happened.” The baby being fed pasta sauce from perennial Prego whipping boy Ragú is shown rejecting his spaghetti; meanwhile, the Prego toddler slathers Prego all over his face (which is presumably a good thing in this case). “That’s because even Ragú users prefer the taste of Prego Traditional two-to-one,” the ad concludes.
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But here’s the problem: Even though the tykes shown in the commercial were apparently just 12 months old at the time of filming, the fine print points out that the “two-to-one” figure actually comes from a taste test on people “ages 6 and up.” This discrepancy led Ragú maker Mizkan to file a complaint with the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ National Ad Division. Despite Campbell’s assertion that the babies were only intended as a humorous device unrelated to the actual taste test the ad cites, the National Ad Division wasn’t having it, saying in a press release that the cute kids “amounted to puffery and did not constitute an objectively provable claim about the taste preferences of toddlers.”
As a result of the findings (which have no binding repercussions), Campbell said that the company “will take the NAD’s opinion into account when developing future advertising” and that they “sincerely thank the NAD for its careful attention to this matter.” However, some may question the earnestness of that statement being that the NAD came to a similar conclusion in 2013 about claims made in a Prego ad targeting… guess who… Ragú. After those findings, Campbell also released a statement which said, unsurprisingly, “Campbell will take NAD’s opinion into account in developing future advertising.” The soup giant then added, “Campbell appreciates the opportunity to participate in the NAD’s self-regulatory process.” Apparently, the company appreciated it so much, it decided to participate again!