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Product: Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages (Milk)
Advertiser: National Dairy Council (NDC)
Agency: Kick Communications
Medium: Internet (Company Website), Outdoor
ASAI Code 7th Edition: 2.4(c), 4.1, 4.4, 4.9, 4.10
An advertising campaign for the National Dairy Council titled ‘The Complete Natural’ included a poster advertisement, a video that appeared on the campaign website and on television and also website content.
The poster advertisement featured a woman drinking milk while outdoors. The advertisement stated:
“Looking for a completely natural, plant-based milk?
Open your fridge.
Irish cows are fed outdoors on a diet of fresh, green grass.
Irish Dairy The Complete Natural
A video and television advertisement was set in a café where two young women were at the counter.
One of the women (Lauren) said “I’m going natural. I’m getting a nut milk latte today”
A young girl, Daisy appears at the counter and addresses Lauren, stating “Is this what I think it is Lauren?”
Daisy: “You bet it’s me. Now lose the fakester glasses and read this”
Daisy is holding a carton of nut milk and a carton of dairy milk. She hands the carton of nut milk to Lauren.
Lauren appears to be a little embarrassed and says of her glasses: “They’re prescription”
Daisy is shown to slightly shake her head in disapproval.
Lauren is then shown with the glasses on her head while she counts out the number of ingredients in the nut milk, stating: “Nut milk contains one, two, three…”
Daisy is portrayed as being slightly impatient and disapproving while Lauren is counting the number of ingredients.
Lauren: “twelve ingredients, twelve?
Daisy then asks Lauren “and how many in real milk?” and hands Lauren the carton of dairy milk.
Lauren: “Just one, milk”
Daisy sighs and says “Finally”
Lauren proceeds to hand back her nut milk latte and says “A normal latte it is then”
Daisy says: “You’re a real natural now Lauren”
Daisy then smacks herself in the face.
Small text on screen during the advertisement: “As part of a balanced diet, a daily 200ml glass of milk contains the nutrients calcium, protein, riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin B5, iodine, potassium and phosphorus”.
On screen text and voiceover by Daisy: “Irish Dairy The Complete Natural”
Advertising on the campaign website, thecompletenatural.ie stated:
“Looking for a complete natural, plant-based milk?
Open your fridge.
Get the facts”
A section of the website titled “Milk is milk. Or is it?” listed out the nutritional properites of both dairy milk and nut milk.
An image of a dairy milk carton was shown on the left hand side of the screen while a carton of nut milk was shown on the right hand side of the screen. Each milk’s nutritional properties where provided
Dairy Milk Nut Milk
6.8g Protein 1g of Protein
1 ingredient 4 - 13 ingredients
No Added Sugar Added Sugar
Get more dairy facts”.
121 Complaints were received from consumers and from PETA in regards to the campaign.
The complainants considered that the poster advertising was misleading on the following grounds:
• That the reference to plant-based was deliberately misleading as the advertisers were suggesting that cow’s milk was plant-based when plant-based was commonly associated with products that were directly derived from plants only and they considered that the advertisers were aware of this fact.
• That the advertisers were “co-opting” the advertising methods of plant-based milks and this could mean that a consumer wrongly purchased a dairy product under the pretence it contained something it did not. As the complainant was lactose intolerant and vegan, they considered that the advertisement was dangerous for their health and highly insulting.
• That it was misleading to claim that Irish cows were fed outdoors on a diet of grass when not all cows are outdoors all of the time and that cows did not just eat fresh grass.
• That the statement “open your fridge” was misleading because if they opened their fridge, they would not find dairy milk.
• That the advertising was disparaging plant-based milks, implying that they were not natural.
• That the claim “The complete natural” was false as it was not natural to ‘steal’ milk from cows. They also referred to the fact that milk contained iodine which was from the contamination of cleaning fluids.
• Peta objected to the poster advertisement stating that plant-based milks are made directly from plants, whereas milk from a cow was taken directly from an animal. They said that it was wrong of the National Dairy Council to attempt to capitalise on the popularity of plant-based milks.
• They also considered that the advertisement’s prominent text and logo implied that Irish cow’s milk was a plant-based product. They considered that the statement justifying the assertion, “Irish cows are fed outdoors on a diet of fresh, green grass” was printed in a far smaller size and was misleading. They referred to one poster site in Dublin and said that because of this site’s elevated position and the small size of the text, the explanatory statement that “Irish cows are fed outdoors on a diet of fresh, green grass” ran the risk of being missed by passers-by who may only see the main, inaccurate message that Irish cows’ milk is plant-based.
• Peta also objected to the “Milk is Milk. Or is it?” section of the campaign website, thecompletenatural.ie. They considered that this section contained inaccurate and deliberately misleading information as it claimed that dairy milk contained no added sugar while plant-based milks did. They said that some dairy milks, such as (Brand) Chocolate Milk, did contain sugar and that some plant-based milks did not, for example, (Brand) Rice Original and Soya Unsweetened. They said that this claim could lead consumers to believe that all plant-based milks had added sugar and was therefore misleading.
• Peta also objected to the video advertising on the grounds that it ridiculed consumers who chose to buy non-dairy products and implied that these people were ‘fakesters’ and/or were following a fad diet. They said that many people chose to avoid cows’ milk to benefit their health, including those with a milk allergy or intolerance and those who understood that it was nutritionally appropriate for calves but not for humans.
In regards to the campaign as a whole, Peta also stated that plant-based drinks were chosen by an increasing number of consumers and that it was widely accepted that they could form part of a healthy diet as most were fortified with vitamins and many were lower in fat than similar dairy products were and they said that, as per the ASAI Code, the NDC should not disparage other options that were available to consumers.
The advertisers stated that the advertising was carefully created following market research with their target audience, while aiming to follow the rules of the ASAI Code.
They said that one of their roles was to promote the consumption of dairy as part of a balanced diet for good health and that milk was recognised as a key source of many important nutrients, including calcium, protein, phosphorus, potassium, iodine and B vitamins, all of which had established roles in health. They said that it was the calcium content of dairy that formed the basis of the Department of Health’s dietary guidelines to consume 3 servings from the ‘milk, yoghurt and cheese’ food group each day. They said that national nutrition surveys showed that the majority of Irish adults were falling short of these recommendations and earlier this year, they commissioned a market research agency to explore attitudes to dairy across the Irish population. They said that the results indicated that milk avoidance was observed among 21% of those surveyed, while 10% of the sample believed that milk was ‘not good for you’. They said that the negative sentiments towards dairy was skewed towards females under the age of 24 years who lived in the Dublin and Leinster region.
The advertisers said that as it was this particular cohort of young Irish women that were most at risk in relation to the health consequences of inadequate intakes of calcium and iodine, they set out to create a campaign which would focus on millennials as the primary target audience. They also said that they conducted pre-market research to establish a better understanding of this demographic and the insights gained formed the basis for the communication approaches used in the current campaign. They also said that the campaign was tested for feedback with focus groups to ensure that the audience were receptive to the tone and meaning of the advertisements. They said that no confusion was detected during the focus groups in regards to the term ‘plant-based’ and it had been fully appreciated as a quirky reference to the grass-based origins of Irish dairy. They also provided a list of the specific reactions to the plant-based creative that was taken from the market research agency’s moderator’s report from the focus group:
Mild double-take in the headline works well;
Complements readers’ intelligence;
Assertive and positive without attacking non-dairy;
Supporting sub-copy is both factual and convincing;
The tone of voice is confident without talking down;
The search for plant-based is understandable, reasonable;
Not posturing, not stupid;
The poster offers a simple alternative with subtle humour;
This is confident, calm and effective;
The supporting information includes new facts helping to prompt a reassessment.
The advertisers advised that since the launch of the campaign, they had commissioned online research of 178 Irish dairy consumers between the ages of 18-34 years and they highlighted some of this in their response:
78% of respondents had seen Plant-Based execution (poster) and 63% had seen the broader campaign;
On a scale of 1 – 10, the respondents rated the following statements ‘Strongly Agree’ (7 or above). ‘Strongly Disagree’ were included for completeness and are in brackets (3 or below).
I trust this campaign 71% (5%)
This campaign would motivate me to consumer dairy 71% (9%)
This campaign is convincing 76% (5%)
This campaign is informative 75% (3%)
This campaign educates me on Nutritional benefits 72% (5%)
This campaign is relevant to me 68% (4%)
This campaign is credible 74% (4%)
The advertisers said that the objective of the poster advertisement was to provoke engagement with millennials, to remind them that milk was naturally nutritious and also to highlight that Irish cows had a pasture based diet as they graze outdoors for up to 300 days per year. They also said that they regularly engage with organisations such as the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, Healthy Ireland and the Food Standards Authority of Ireland to ensure that their communications are in line with the messaging of their National Public Health organisations. They said that in recognition of the importance of scientific integrity, they also employed two full-time nutritionists to ensure compliance with health claim regulations and current research.
In response to the points raised by the complainants they said they considered that the accusation that the poster advertising was misleading because it claimed that cows’ milk was a plant product was unjustified as it was very clear that the words ‘plant-based’ in this context, were referring to the ‘pasture/grass based’ grazing system used in Irish dairy production. They said that this was reinforced by the prominent sub-heading which stated that “Irish cows are fed outdoors on a diet of fresh green grass”. In view of the Irish climate and the large proportion of grassland, they said that Irish cows grazed on pastures for up to 300 days each year and that during the colder winter period when grass stopped growing, they were housed and fed mainly grass-silage, often topped up with some meal/concentrates. They said that these were often fortified with vitamins, minerals and trace elements, however, it was well recognised that the diet of Irish cows was predominantly grass-based.
They said that given their engagement with primary schools in teaching about the origins of milk and based on their own consumer research, they were confident that the general Irish consumer was well aware of the fact that dairy was an animal product. They said that if it had been their intention to mislead consumers, they would be highly naïve to presume that Irish consumers did not know this. They said that on the basis that it was an established fact that milk does not come from plants, they felt it was obvious that the term ‘plant-based’ was a quirky and provocative way to describe the ‘grass-based’ origin, with grass being the plant in this case. They also said that the advertisement did not say that milk was a plant-based product, it had simply referred to the origin as plant based and grass was indeed a plant.
In regards to the complaint about the size of the text used, they said that there was no contradiction within the slogan and the full message was presented as three consecutive sentences within the main copy. They said that for space purposes, the font size of the third sentence was slightly smaller, however, they considered it was clearly legible and could not be described as ‘small print’. They said that this sentence was the key part of their communication so they would have no reason to conceal it or make it illegible. They said that this line was 432pt text that ran nearly 75% of the width of the advertisement and was placed directly below the headline in the top quarter of the advertisement. They said that it was the closest line of copy to the product and in no way could it be deemed to be small print. To provide context, they said that the font size on the same sized billboard advertisement for a recent financial institution campaign’s ‘small print’ was provided in 100pt size which was the standard ‘small print’ size. They said that to go further, the only element of copy that could be considered small print was the campaign URL, therefore, to question legibility would be to call into question every campaign running on outdoor media in Ireland.
The advertisers also advised that the heading and sub-heading of the poster amounted to 22 words and was of scale to take up nearly 75% of the width of the billboard and 25% of the depth. They said that there was limited time with outdoor to inform the audience and the copy used took roughly 6 seconds to read which was ideal for slow moving traffic and pedestrians. They said that to say that this was an attempt for all copy not to be legible within the billboard, demonstrated that this was an effort by a very specific group to derail the campaign and remove the balanced messaging they personally did not agree with.
In regards to substantiation for the claim that milk was “completely natural” and “plant-based”, the advertisers said that they wanted to highlight the exact wording of the poster advertisement as it formed an important part of the interpretation of the statement and the substantiation – “Looking for a completely natural, plant-based milk? Open your fridge. Irish cows are fed outdoors on a diet of fresh green grass”. They said that in regards to the claim that milk was ‘natural’, under EU Food Law, the use of the term ‘natural’ as a food marketing term could be used for foods that are “formed by nature and not significantly interfered with by man”. They said that the food should be additive free or contain only specific approved natural flavourings or additives. They said that cow’s milk satisfied the criteria for the term ‘natural’ as it is a single ingredient food, produced by nature with minimal food processing for food safety purposes. They said that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland use cow’s milk as an example of a food that falls into the category for the term ‘natural’ in their Guidance Note on Food Marketing Terms.
In regards to the statement ‘plant-based’, they said that Irish milk comes from cows that are fed predominantly on plant foods such as grass and clover. They said that their poster advertisement did not say that milk was a plant-based product itself, it had simply referred to its origin as ‘plant-based’ and grass was a plant. They said that the term plant-based was used to draw attention to this grass-based feeding system in Irish dairy farming with a quirky play on the term ‘plant-based’ which was qualified by the line “Irish cows are fed outdoors on a diet of fresh green grass”.
They said that while plant-based drinks could be used as an alternative to dairy milk, they were a completely different product and under EU legislation they cannot be called milk. In the circumstances, the food description ‘milk’ was exclusive to mammalian milk, therefore, from a culinary perspective, the term ‘plant-based’ was similar to grass-based beef or fresh-water prawns and was not the same as the term ‘plant-based milk alternative’ or ‘meat alternative’. They said that the term ‘plant-based milk’ was therefore used as a clever description of ‘grass-based milk’, a familiar product which was widely understood to come from cows, and indeed the poster had mentioned cows to further clarify the meaning and to avoid any confusion.
In referring to the complaint that it was misleading to state that dairy milk contained no added sugar and that plant-based alternatives did, they said that this section of the website had shown the nutritional composition of a 200ml carton of plain cow’s milk compared to a 200ml carton of standard nut milk. They said that the comparisons presented were based on the original product and that plain milk did not contain sugar whereas the original versions of dairy alternatives generally all contained added sugar. They said that the most representative reference source on composition was used rather than individual data from branded products and the nutritional compositions were obtained from Nutritics Professional Nutrition Analysis Software which was based on existing food databases, manufacturer data and published research papers. They advised, however, that the website was live for only 1 week prior to the complaint as like most websites, there were some adjustments required following the launch. They said that once this information was highlighted, the website was immediately updated to include the data reference.
They reiterated that they promoted dairy as part of a balanced diet which was in line with the Department of Health’s guidelines to consume three servings from the ‘milk, yoghurt and cheese’ food group each day. They said that all of their literature and other information on their website and throughout their campaign was testament to this. In regards to dairy alternatives, they said that they had never suggested that they could not be included as part of a balanced diet. They did, however, acknowledge that they were not nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk and they had simply showed the nutritional composition of both, which was based on official nutritional composition databases.
In regards to the complaint that the video advertising was ridiculing consumers who chose non-dairy, they said that after conducting their research and gathering the information on their target audience – millennial females aged 20-29 - it was clear that fashion was of huge interest to them. In the advertisement, the term ‘fakester glasses’ referred specifically to the character Lauren’s fashion choice. They said that the spokes-toddler ‘Daisy’ noticing that the glasses were without actual glass gave the advertisement comedic value and added to the fun and sassiness of Daisy’s character. They said that the video was created as encouragement for the target audience to consider as part of a balanced diet, dairy and its role within it. They said that this was highlighted in the supers of the advertisement which stated “As part of a balanced diet, a daily 200ml glass of milk contains the nutrients calcium, protein, riboflavin, vitamin B12, Vitamin B5, iodine, potassium and phosphorus”.
The advertisers said that all nutrition references in their campaign were based on independent authorised Health and Nutrition Claims from the Annex of the EU Regulation (EC) 1924/2006 and that a three-step process had been taken to ensure full compliance with this Regulation:
1. Identifying the nutrients present in milk and ensuring that they were present in the quantities set out as ‘a source of’ or ‘high in’ under Nutrition Claim Regulation 1924/2006. They said that the nutritional composition of milk was obtained from Nutritics Professional Nutritional Analysis Software and this source had been listed below the “Milk is Milk. Or is it?” infographic on their website.
They said that based on the nutritional composition, milk met the criteria to be a source for the following nutrients: High in calcium, Protein, Vitamin B2(Riboflavin), Vitamin B12 and Iodine and was a Source of Vitamin B5, Potassium and Phosphorus.
They said that in all materials where nutrients were mentioned, context was given with the addition of clarifying text that stated “As part of a balanced diet, a daily 200ml glass of milk contains the nutrients calcium, protein, riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin B5, iodine, potassium and phosphorus”.
2. The authorised health claims Annex of the EU Regulation (EC) 1924/2006 for each of the nutrients listed were obtained from the EU Register. They said that although there were over fifty authorised health claims for these nutrients, only those relevant to the messaging of the campaign were used in the videos, one for protein, one for calcium and one for the three B vitamins. They said that the full authorised claims were printed at the bottom of the screen when the video stated “what has milk got? Protein. Calcium for muscle function and B vitamins for energy metabolism”.
3. As part of the criteria for using health claims, their website indicated the importance of a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. They said that the closing slide of each video on their site ended with a link to the website and each poster showed the web address. They said that the website had a designated page which highlighted the Department of Health’s recommendations on healthy eating.
The advertisers referred to offensive commentary they received on social media and considered that the complaints were encouraged by vegan activists who had publicly rallied their community online to make complaints, even providing a link to the ASAI webform. Whilst respecting the seriousness of the complaints, they asked that consideration be given to the nature of the complaints and the likelihood that they represented a movement by vegan activists against the dairy industry rather than a genuine misunderstanding by the average consumer.
Complaints Not Upheld: Poster and Video Advertisements
Complaints Upheld: Website Advertisement.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaints and the advertisers’ response.
While the Committee noted that the term ‘plant-based milk’ was a common term for non-dairy milks, as the advertisement had included the statement “Irish cows are fed outdoors on a diet of fresh, green grass”, in sufficiently sized text, they considered that it was clear that the advertisement was referring to dairy milk. The Committee did not consider that the advertisement could give rise to any ambiguity over the origins of dairy milk when it came to the purchase of the product.
In regards to the complaints regarding the claim that Irish cows are fed outdoors on a diet of fresh, green grass was misleading as not all cows were outdoors all of the time, the Committee noted that Irish dairy cows grazed outdoors for up to 300 days per year and that while housed inside during winter months, they were fed on a grass-silage mix with additional meal/concentrates added. In view of the fact that Irish dairy cows fed outdoors on grass for the majority of the year, they did not consider that the advertising was misleading to consumers.
While the Committee noted that viewers of the advertisement who did not consume dairy milk would not have such milk in their fridge, they did not consider that this made the advertising misleading.
In regards to the complaints that the reference to ‘natural’ was disparaging to plant-based milks, the Committee noted that the advertisers had conducted research in advance of the campaign and had also participated in focus groups and that the feedback from the focus groups had not given rise to such concerns. The Committee considered that the reference to ‘natural’ in this case had been in regards to the origin of Irish dairy milk.
In the circumstances the Committee did not consider that the poster advertising was in breach of the Code.
The Committee noted that the “Milk is Milk. Or is it?” section of the campaign website, at the time of the complaint, had not included the data reference in regards to the nutritional composition comparisons and this version had been live for one week only. While the Committee noted that some flavoured variants of dairy milk contained added sugar and that some variants of non-dairy milks did not contain added sugar, the original variant of milk, whether it be full-fat or low-fat, did not contain added sugar and that many varieties of plant-based milks contained added sugar.
The Committee noted that while a data source reference had been added to the advertisement, the detail of the particular nut based product had not. As some nut based products did not contain added sugar, the Committee was concerned that the absence of the information could be misleading. In the light of this, the Committee considered this advertisement to be in breach of Section 4.1 and 4.4 of the Code.
The Committee noted that the advertisers had specifically chosen a comedic route in order to address their target audience, females aged between 20 and 29 years, and that the advertisement had portrayed the character ‘Lauren’ as wearing ‘fake glasses’ and she was being called out by the main character ‘Daisy’ for doing so. While the Committee were aware that many consumers of non-dairy plant-based products did so due to health implications, they did not consider that the advertisement was ridiculing those consumers and agreed that the purpose of the advertisement was to encourage their target audience to consider dairy milk as part of their diet. In the circumstances the Committee did not consider that the video advertisement was in breach of the Code.
The Website advertisement must not reappear in its current form.