Danone Aptamil peak-time television advertisement

The following advertisement appeared at peak time on Sunday 6 May 2012, during the programme Britain's Got Talent on ITV 1. It has also appeared on Channel 4 and the on-line Channel 4 OD (reported on 13 April 2012). The advertisement violates the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (see The Law section) as explained below.

It also makes claims similar to those which the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled against in the past.

Danone is advertising the Aptamil formula brand name and directs people to the Aptamil-branded website where the full range of formulas is promoted. It attempts to position the advertisement as for follow-on formula for use from 6 months of ago, but focuses on the Aptamil brand name used for the full range of formulas, contrary to the marketing regulations.

The International Code prohibits the advertising of all breastmilk substitutes, not just formula for use before 6 months of age. 

The Code applies to all breastmilk substitutes. Breastfeeding is recommended into the second year of life and beyond, and any substance that replaces breastmilk during this period is a breastmilk substitute - even if Danone claims in a footnote that it is not. Article 2 of the Code gives a specific example of "bottle-fed complementary foods" being within the scope, and so the ban on advertising very clearly covers the product Danone is advertising on television and elsewhere.

The International Code has not been implemented in the UK, but under Article 11.3 Danone should still ensure it practices at every level comply. Advertising of follow-on formula is permitted by UK regulations as long as this is in accordance with the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations, but Danone is also breaking these provisions. Specifically:

Article 22:  No person shall advertise follow-on formula where the advertisement contravenes or fails to comply with the provisions of regulation 18(2) or 19.
 
Article 19: Infant formula and follow-on formula shall be labelled in such a way that it enables consumers to make a clear distinction between such products so as to avoid any risk of confusion between infant formula and follow on formula.
 
The Guidance Notes that accompany the law explain in section 51:
 
the specific terms ‘infant formula’ and ‘follow-on formula’ should be clearly featured on the packaging, in a font size no smaller than the brand name.
 
The colour scheme used for infant formula packaging should be clearly different to the colour scheme of follow-on formula packaging. Using different shades of the same colour is not acceptable as it may lead to confusion.
 
Danone's failure to abide by these provisions is clear from the packshots on the Aptamil website, as shown below:
 
 
The formula brand name dominates the site and the packshots, clearly visible while the type of formula is not. The cross-promotional nature of the almost identical branding is obvious.
 
In addition to violating the International Code's ban on advertising breastmilk substitutes and the UK law's conditions regarding marketing of follow-on formula.
 
The narration begins by referring to breastmilk: "Breastmilk is the best protection for your baby and nothing compares to it. If you choose to move on, we've created Aptamil follow-on milk".
 
Danone makes no reference to World Health Assembly Resolution 39.28, which states: "the practice being introduced in some countries of providing infants with specially formulated milks (so-called "follow-up milks") is not necessary".
 
Danone then uses the comments regarding breastmilk as an endorsement for Aptamil follow-on milk: "Benefitting from 30-years experience in breastmilk research, it supports your baby in her new discoveries. Aptamil follow-on helps support your baby from the inside."
 
The Advertising Standards Authority has already ruled against an advertising claim that Aptamil support the baby's immune system (ref: 35543 from 2009  - click here) and the specific claim "choose Aptamil Follow On to help support your baby from the inside" (ref: 105166 from 2010 - click here).
 
The television advertisement closes with a logo claiming the formula is based on "30 YEARS Breastmilk Research".
 
This is enclosed in a shield, the same symbol used on the label, implying the formula is similar, if not identical, to breastmilk. This is highly misleading as the formula is modified cow's milk (which is never mentioned) and does not contain many of the components that have been identified in breastmilk (and others that have not yet been identified), particularly those that are associated with the reduced rates of illness found in babies that are breastfed.
 
 
Again, it is the Aptamil formula name that dominates, as Danone ignores the requirement the size of the "follow-on milk" text. 
 
The advertisement has been reported to the Advertising Standards Authority, Trading Standards and Danone.