BLOG POST #5: Advertising and Society

4 Oct

They’re so cute! How could they be harmful? Who doesn’t want kids to eat well and be smart?

Despite the witty charm of the Frosted Mini-Wheats characters, claims that they were making about children’s attention improving were found to be false. Even though claims about attention and cognitive ability were found to be problematic, Kellogg’s began to develop a campaign for Rice Krispies suggesting that they were good for children’s immune systems.  Again the FTC found this problematic.

This issue is relevant to this week’s discussion for a few reasons.  First, it addresses what is and is not ethical in advertising.  Second, it establishes a standard for the “reasonable consumer” in terms of food products.  Third,  it demonstrates that the FTC, like the FDA, is willing to exercise its rights in terms of consumer protection from misleading claims.

So, my question for you this week is whether you think advertising overstepped its boundaries in the Mini-Wheats case. Some thinking points:

  • Did the FTC overreact? If so, how?
  • Would the reaction have been different if the ad was geared more toward adults, without animated characters in it?
  • Was the advertising unethical?  If so, is there such a thing as ethical advertising?
  • Should we even be talking about this? Who cares about whether cereal is accurately represented. There are bigger issues in advertising.
  • Is there an ad you think is worse than the Mini-Wheats ad and that the FTC should have addressed?  If so, please discuss the ad in your post and bring a copy with you to class (or place the URL at the end of your post).

11 Responses to “BLOG POST #5: Advertising and Society”

  1. Thea Corona October 5, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    The controversy over the Frosted Mini Wheats characters is concerning for a number of reasons. Firstly, I feel that there are so many other advertisements out there that misrepresent their products, and to focus on a children’s cereal brand, in attempts to make an example is pathetic. Secondly, I do believe it’s proven that by eating a full breakfast, children are more focused throughout the time until lunch, whether it be mini wheat’s or not, and perhaps that was the angle they were attempting to focus on. Where I do understand the FTC stance, is with the talking wheats, they are cartoon characters which go over well with children, and in some cases could cause a child to ask their parent to purchase this under “false pretenses” opposed to the mothers choosing of the bargain brand cereal. Either way, the FTC (I would assume) has much larger issues on their hands. This situation is similar with the early 2000’s controversy with Joe Camel, but this is not an advertisement for cigarettes, its for a breakfast cereal, in which case makes the entire attack unfounded. Their advertisements go hand in hand with many other yogurt and cereal figures such as tony the tiger, and to make an example stating some form of “false advertisement” seems just ridiculous.

  2. Jordan MacConnell October 5, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    I think the Federal Trade Commission overreacted just a little. They kept stating the fact that Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats did not keep kids 20% more focused. Although results were found to prove the claim that it does keep some kids more focused, the FTC decided to focus more on the actual numbers. In the commercial though it says nothing about 20% so technically they didn’t lie because in the study it did help some kids focus. Also the cartoon aspect focuses on children, so they could probably care less about the focusing part. They will just enjoy the characters and if the cereal tastes good, more than likely kids won’t complain. Kids aren’t begging their parents for cereal based on the “fact” it helps them focus. I don’t think that this advertisement was unethical or as misleading as the FTC makes it out to be. The one document said that kids and parents deserve better, but were there really that many complaints from parents? If so that’s a little ridiculous. There are much bigger issues in the world than a children’s cereal.

  3. Jenny Deighton October 5, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

    I believe that the FTC did overreact in some manner, but they also were doing their jobs. It think it is fine to point out to customers that there is false advertising going on, but the FTC can not just go after one brand and not others. So for the frosted mini wheats to be “called out” for not truly keeping kids focused for the day is completely within the right of the FTC. Not calling out other companies with obvious false advertisement is not right. I do not think that it would have mattered if the ad was redone and targeted at adults. By claiming that the brand will keep the consumer (regardless the age) focused, when it is tested to have no effect, is still false advertising and should be made known to the consumers. As far as being unethical, all adds can be unethical in some sense. Advertising focuses on making a product wanted by consumers. They don’t care if you don’t need it, they still want you to think you need it. While I don’t think the cereal add is of upmost importance, the big picture that it draws out is. Other commercials, with no exact ones in mind, that could be deceiving are ones for men’s body wash and deodorant( i.g. AXE and Old Spice).

  4. Samantha Montgomery October 7, 2010 at 10:52 am #

    While many could argue that this is ONLY breakfast cereal and that the advertisements were more for entertainment value than truth, the FTC was just doing their job. If they did not crack down on companies like Kellogg’s, then other companies would hang on their coattails and spew inaccuracies in their commercials. I somewhat agree that the FTC took it a little too far, but they really were just doing there job. The ad itself is hilarious, and when I first watched it, I never even heard any of the of the untruths they presented. Because of this, I think that most of advertising send out subconcious messaging. As an advertising major, our minds become trained to look for spin. But those who aren’t in our field or simply don’t care could be more easily deceived by advertisements like this. Also, I think if I were a parent, and ad like this would make me feel good about giving that cereal to my kids.

  5. Molly McGranahan October 7, 2010 at 12:01 pm #

    I believe that the FTC blew things slightly out of proportion regarding the Kellogg’s Mini Wheats commercial. Like Jordan has already stated, the commercial itself did not claim that eating their brand cereal increases children’s’ attentiveness by 20%, but according to the FTC’s report it did appear on both their boxes and the print ads. What box of cereal does not have claims written on them proclaiming their brand of cereal the healthiest for your kid? It would be hard to find one that didn’t. I understand that the FTC’s job is detect things like this, to keep brands from promoting false claims to their consumer, but this particular television ad was clearly created in a comic fashion. The commercial is funny. When parents take their kids with them to the grocery store, chances are they are going to remember the talking Mini Wheats hanging out in a “hot tub” over, for example, an opposing cereal that simply spewed off facts about what the brand could do for you in their television ad. It does worry me as a consumer that Kelloggs had preparations to make similar false claims about their Rice Krispies cereal, because it makes you wonder if anything you hear in the advertising world is truth or just exaggerated claims. I would not go so far as to say that Kelloggs is being unethical, however, because there are far more worse things than making a false statement about a brand of cereal.

  6. Zach Boothe October 7, 2010 at 6:16 pm #

    I don’t think the FTC over-reacted, they were just making Kellogg aware that they can’t promote fraudulent advertisements. I think that it is a high importance to correct Kellogg, and remind them of the rules because Kellogg is the leading cereal seller.
    As far as the ad pertaining to kids, versus adults I think it got a bit more attention because you need to nourish your kids while they’re growing and tricking a child is one of the worst things to do.
    I think the ad was ethical, but were the intentions ethical or not? Did Kellogg know this information going into their ad campaign? Or did someone make an error. Because I feel like Kellogg is TOO good for a mistake of this level.
    Ofcourse we should be talking about this, what happens if this was ignored? Maybe Kellogg slides a little white lie in with more of their products, or if smaller companies that look UP to Kellogg start lying?

  7. Nick Tsangaris October 7, 2010 at 6:40 pm #

    There are many issues at play in the Case of “the evil frosted miniwheats” and the possible overreaction of the FTC to these ads. Primarily, to make such a grand claim that a product is “clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%” is a bold choice in the first place. If a product is going to claim such a advantage of their product over any other product, they better have firm evidence to back it up, which Kellogg did not.
    Another more pressing issue however is the effectiveness of cracking down on only one commercial for inaccurate claims. Clearly, there are food products that claim advantages on their commercials that simply cannot be true. But the FTC does not crack down on them for some reason. I am all for checking up on facts and making sure companies are being accurate with their promotions, but if the FTC is going to crack down, they need to do it consistently.

  8. Vanessa Felipe-Morales October 7, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    I have seen many of the Mini Wheat ads, and in every single one that I can think of, the principle claim made is that the cereal will help a child do better in school with improved focus or memory. If this has been proven untrue, then no I don’t think the FTC is overreacting. These ads are geared toward children with the cute cereal characters and kid-friendly flavors, but I believe the main target is to the parents with such educational improvement claims. I’m sure this is a major driving factor in parents’ choice of buying this cereal for their kids versus the sugar-packed alternatives that do not offer some sort of physical or mental health benefits. As for whether or not you can call this ethical or unethical depends on your definition of ethics. Personally I don’t find the false claims to be ethical, considering how specific they were and even backed up with number figures, you couldn’t discount it as “puffery.” Knowingly providing false information in order to intice product sales, I think, is an unethical practice in advertising, and this ad certainly qualifies.

  9. Ollie Birckhead October 7, 2010 at 10:34 pm #

    The mini-wheats ad while misleading is far from the worst ad on the airwaves today in terms of ethics. Mini-wheats are on the healthier side of breakfast cereals, so while they are still engaging in false advertising, it isn’t particularly harmful. On the other hand if it was a much more sugary cereal or a candy manufacturer, this would be unethical. What I find to be far more offensive is ads for various over the counter medications. The appeal of the ads (the ads for cardiovascular drug Crestor spring to mind,) has the potential to steer customers in the direction of a drug that might have adverse effects on their health. Crestor’s ads showcased a “doctor” who claimed he used the medication advertised and had successful results. Both of these suggestions were false. The man advertising these drugs was not a doctor, and he revealed that he never actually took the drugs. This kind of advertising is dangerous because it has the potential to endanger lives of innocent consumers.

  10. Lisa Selnick October 7, 2010 at 10:52 pm #

    I think the FTC overreacted because a child can stay focused if they are not hungry. It depends on the individual perspective of the commercial but I feel there are commercials that do not give consumers accurate information and even falsify information. I do not think the ad would have been different if it were more geared to adults because the ad already is geared towards adults since they are the ones doing the grocery shopping. I do not think the advertising was completely unethical but I can see the unethical parts in it. It is hard to argue ethics in advertising because a large part of it is trying to persuade a consumer that a product is worth their hard earned money whether they need it or not. I think there are bigger issues in advertising but it is important to see how the FTC does look at all commercials big or small and how they affect society.

  11. Shelby DuBois October 7, 2010 at 11:41 pm #

    I feel like the Federal Trade Commission definitely overreacted to this commercial. First of all, the commercial never blatantly states that the cereal itself was making kids more focused. The commercial says “stay full, stay focused.” I’m not saying that Kellogg’s isn’t trying to imply that their cereal will make you more focused; of course they want you to think that, so you will buy it. But the point is, the ad doesn’t outright state that the cereal is making you more focused, they stat that being full makes you more focused which is true. They are implying that eating a good breakfast will help you focus, which is proven and advocated. Therefore, the Federal Trade Commission does not need to attack Kellogg’s for being unethical because Kellogg’s never outright says that eating this certain cereal will make your child focus better. They merely imply it. And when it comes down to it, isn’t all advertising just implying things, and making you think you need them?

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