Danone: Aptamil Pronutra marketing campaign

Update 25 June 2014: The ASA has rejected complaints about this advertising campaign. Its justification is confused as it admits in its ruling (A13-248937) that with regard to claims for omega 3, iron and vitamin D, 'We considered the claims were likely to be interpreted to mean that Aptamil Pronutra+ Follow On milk contained some of the same substances as breast milk...'., Given the claims are likely to be interpreted in this way and these substances in formula are not the same as in breastmilk, the advertisement should have been found to be misleading (analysis in Baby Milk Action's response). The ASA also acknowledged problems with three of the advertisements, in that they only refer to follow-on formula in a footnote and a pack shot. However, the ASA said the shortcomings with these advertisements were mitigated by the cover advertisement used in the run in the Observer Magazine, where 'follow-on' appears in the copy. When it was pointed out the advertisements would be viewed separately and had also appeared individually, the ASA said separate cases should be registered about the use of the advertisements elsewhere, but then refused to consider these as more than 3 months had passed since they appeared. The ASA also refused to consider that the advertisements breach the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (2007) as described below, despite these being referenced in the Advertising Code and the ASA claiming in its slogan that it ensures advertising is 'legal'.

Download Baby Milk Action's response to the ruling prior to publication for further details.

Media report: Nutraingredients 25 June 2014.

Violation details

Danone has relaunched its Aptamil formula in a major marketing campaign, highlighting its "Pronutra" trademark.

There are several aspects to the marketing campaign, all focused on the Aptamil brand name and supposed health benefits from "Pronutra", which is associated with Danone's claim that it has spent "30 years studying breastmilk" and has produced its "most advanced formula yet."

Danone's attempt to imply its formula is based on breastmilk is nothing new and was also made regarding Aptamil in the past when, following Danone's own logic, the formula was less "advanced". Baby Milk Action won a complaint at the Advertising Standards Authority in 2009 against Danone's claims then that Aptamil was the "best formula" and helped build a baby's immune system - click here.

Danone's advertising campaign

Members of the public have complained to the BFLG monitoring project about the latest advertisements for Danone's Aptamil formula. A series of advertisement even formed the cover of the Observer Magazine on Sunday 27 October 2013. These advertisments have also appeared separately and the claims made in them are repeated on Danone's website, which readers of the advertisments are encouraged to seek out by searching for "Pronutra".

Click on the images below for larger versions.

The advertisement idealises the formula, suggesting it benefits eyesight...

"The closer we look the more we discover. New Aptamil with Pronutra. Follow-on Milk"

Aptamil is the brand name for one of Danone's formula ranges, now all highlighted as having "Pronutra", a name which is itself an idealising health claim.

As it is illegal to advertise infant formula under the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (2007), Danone adds the words "Follow-on Milk" to the above advertisement.

However, this is insufficient to comply with the Regulations. The associated Guidance Notes (see the 'Law' section of this site), state:

"48. In order to achieve compliance, companies will therefore need to ensure that formula advertising does not: promote a range of formula products by... [inter alia] focus primarily on the promotion of ingredients, or the effect of ingredients, which are common to both follow-on formula and infant formula."

This is exactly what Danone is doing.

"The closer we look, the more we discover. 30 years of studying breastmilk have taught us how iron helps your baby's brain development. We've used that knowledge to create new Aptamil with Pronutra. It contains a unique blend of ingredients, making it our most advanced formula yet. To discover more, search online for Pronutra."

The Guidance Notes also state that to comply with the law, advertisements must not: "promote a range of formula products by making the brand the focus of the advert, rather than specific products (e.g. where specific products are mentioned only in a footnote or in a picture of a tin of formula within the advertisement)."

Again, this is exactly what Danone is doing, by showing a packshot at the bottom corner of the advertisement so that it can argue it is for follow-on formula. In addition, the follow-on formula label shown does not comply with the Regulations as the brand is the focus. The Guidance Notes state the text "infant formula" or "follow-on formula" should be at least as large as the brand name (further details below).

 

"The closer we look, the more we discover. 30 years of studying breastmilk have taught us how Omega 3 helps your baby's visual development. We've used that knowledge to create new Aptamil with Pronutra. It contains our highest levels of Omega 3, making it our most advanced formula yet. To discover more, search online for Pronutra."

"The closer we look, the more we discover. 30 years of studying breastmilk have taught us how Vitamin D helps your baby's bones develop. We've used that knowledge to create new Aptamil with Pronutra. It contains a unique blend of ingredients, making it our most advanced formula yet. To discover more, search online for Pronutra."

Danone is careful in its wording. The claims for iron, Vitamin D and Omega 3 relate to those ingredients and to breastmilk. While there is an inference that adding them to formula confers the same benefits, this is neither explicitly stated nor supported by research evidence. Indeed, independent research suggests that using formula milk to deliver such nutrients to older babies is not the best way to do so and may even be harmful.

The First Steps Nutrition guide to Fortified Milks for Children states:

If children are recommended to have vitamin drops and consume fortified milks, high intakes could be consumed. Vitamin D is a category A nutrient in terms of the risk of over-consumption (Meltzer et al, 2002).

[...]

 There remains a need for more research on the potential harm caused by over-consumption of iron among children, as evidence to date suggests that the liberal use of iron in fortified milks may be harmful for some children.

[...]

DHA [a type of Omega-3 fatty acid] and taurine are frequently included in fortified milk drinks marketed as offering improvements to children’s educational performance, despite there being no evidence to support this.

It is misleading, therefore, for Danone to use these ingredients as the basis for its marketing campaign.

Danone's Aptamil websites

There are several Danone websites that come up searching for Pronutra.

The one shown below is part of the Pronutra campaign. The link to this appears as the sponsored link in the Google search.

Unlike the advertisements, this is explicit in referring to babies from birth.

"Your baby's first few days, weeks, months and years will be filled with a series of monumental 'first-step' milestones. From major mental and physical developments, such as crawling, walking and talking, to less obvious but vitally important changes to their vision, immunity and digestive systems."

The top link in the search is to the Aptaclub page for Pronutra, where the full range of products is promoted.

While visitors to the product information area of the site are asked to accept a disclaimer, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has previously upheld complaints about marketing communications for infant formula, even when members of the public have opted in to receive information on infant milks from a company. In a ruling against an email campaign by another company promoting a brand of formula, the ASA ruled:

 
We told [the company] not to produce marketing communications for infant formula except in a scientific publication or, for the purposes of trade before the retail stage, a publication of which the intended readers were not the general public.
 
Danone's Aptamil labels

Note in the above image showing the Aptamil range how the infant formula, follow-on formula and toddler milks are similarly branded, with the Aptamil name and shield dominating the labels. They also share the same blue colour.

This violates the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (2007), which state in Regulation 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 paragraph 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 totally disregards these requirements.
 
Danone's point of sale promotion
 
Danone's Aptamil Pronutra promotion has also been rolled out in retail outlets. Shelf talkers and tear-off leaflets have been found in Tesco displayed alongside the infant formula. This not only breaks the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (2007), but Tesco's stated commitment not to place promotion next to infant formula (see the Look What They're Doing in the UK 2013 monitoring report).
 

The shelf talker promotes: "Aptamil with Pronutra. Our most advanced formula yet".

The Regulations state: "23.  (1)  No person shall at any place where any infant formula is sold by retail - (a) advertise any infant formula;... (b) make any special display of an infant formula designed to promote sales;... (e) undertake any other promotional activity to induce the sale of an infant formula."

The shelf talker nor the leaflet (below) even make the pretence of referring specifically to follow-on formula, instead referring to "infant nutrition" and providing a link to the site shown above where the full range of products is displayed.

"Aptamil with Pronutra. Our unique blend of ingredients. With our continuous research in infant and toddler nutrition, our passionate team of over 250 paediatricians, nutritionists and scientists, continue to take inspiration from the benefits of nature to develop our unique formulas, tailored to support your toddler's nutritional needs at every stage of development."

Danone's courting of legislators

At the same time as Danone is breaking the Regulations set out above, it is sending out invitations to a Christmas event to be held on the Terrace of the House of Commons on 12 December.

The invitation states: "Danone Baby Nutrition would be delighted if you could join us to exchange ideas around the role of early years nutrition, unlocking a child's true potential for health development, growth and learning."

Baby Milk Action is calling on its supporters to write to their Members of Parliament suggesting they attend the event to say that it is inappropriate to have Danone sponsoring and hosting such an event in the Houses of Parliament and to publicly call on Danone to stop breaking the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulatons (2007) in its latest Aptamil marketing campaign and other marketing strategies - click here.

Baby Milk Action has also reported the above activities to Trading Standards and the Advertising Standards Authority for action to be taken to enforce the Regulations.

 

 

 

 

 

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