SME baby formula advert complaints upheld


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The Independent Online

Complaints that a campaign for baby formula made misleading claims that it is the best alternative to breast milk have been upheld by the advertising watchdog.

The ads for SMA follow-on milk featured text incorporating mothers' names, saying, for example: "Emma breastfed her daughter because she knew it would give her the best start in life. When she finished, she was determined to find the best option for her baby. She chose SMA Follow-on Milk because it contains Omega 3 & 6 for growth and development. For Emma, the best milk after hers is SMA Follow-on Milk."

A bubble with the text "6+ months" was next to each pack shot and a footnote stated: "Important Notice: SMA Follow-on Milk is for babies over 6 months and is not intended to replace breastfeeding. It should only be used as part of a varied weaning diet."

But 64 complainants, including Unicef UK, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Baby Milk Action and the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain, objected that the ads misleadingly implied that follow-on milk was the best alternative to breast milk and was superior to other follow-on milk.

They also complained that the ads implied that breastfeeding should stop at six months and did not sufficiently differentiate between infant formula and follow-on formula, and could undermine breastfeeding.

Pfizer, which owns the SMA brand, said all the ads stated that its formula was not intended to replace breastfeeding.

It said the ads did not claim that SMA Follow-on Milk was superior to other brands, but asked an open question about which follow-on milk the mothers featured in the ads thought was best for them as individuals.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it was "sufficiently clear" that the ads were not suggesting breastfeeding should be stopped and replaced with follow-on milk.

But it added, in relation to the claims made by the mothers, that: "Because we did not see evidence that SMA Follow-on Milk was the best alternative to breast milk once breastfeeding had stopped, or that it was superior to other follow-on milk, we concluded that the ads were misleading on these grounds."

However, after taking advice from the Department of Health, the ASA ruled that the ads complied with the relevant regulations in regard to the other complaints.

It ruled that the ads must not appear again in their current form.