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FTC Responds to Formal Complaint of Deceptive Advertising

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CHICAGO ( -- As the Federal Trade Commission responds to a complaint that KFC ads currently on the air are deceptive, the chicken chain has instructed its local and national agencies
In one of the pulled ads, a wife who expresses concern about healthy eating offers her husband a bucket of fried chicken.
Another of the ads features two young men discussing the dietary benefits of fried-chicken eating.

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to immediately discontinue the spots "for brand protection reasons," according to executives close to the situation.

A franchisee said the instructions were communicated in the form of an internal memo.

The ads are part of a KFC campaign to position its fried chicken as part of a healthy diet.

FCB's ads
On Oct. 29, KFC broke a two-spot effort with the tagline "You've gotta KFC what's cookin'" from its new ad agency, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago. FCB referred calls to KFC. Multiple calls for comment to KFC offices this evening were not returned.

Mary Engle, associate director of the division of advertising practices for the FTC, confirmed that the FTC is reviewing a complaint filed Nov. 6 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She wouldn't confirm or deny whether the FTC has issued an official request for information from the restaurant chain. She said the FTC does not comment on the details of its investigations.

In his formal complaint to the FTC, CSPI's executive director, Dr. Michael F. Jacobson, urged the agency "to protect the public health by taking prompt enforcement action against these two KFC advertisements that clearly violate the FTC Act's ban on deceptive food advertising."

Dr. Jacobson this evening said pulling the ads was "a good start, but not enough."

'Corrective advertising'
"In situations like this there ought to be corrective advertising to correct the information that they have propagated, but it's a good-faith gesture to nip this almost in the bud," he said.

In his complaint, Dr. Jacobson wrote that "Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits 'unfair or deceptive acts or practices,' and sections 12 and 15 of the FTC Act prohibit false food advertisements. Such advertisements are defined as being 'misleading in a material respect,' including 'not only representations made or suggested by statement, word, design device, sound or any combination thereof, but also the extent to which the advertisement fails to reveal facts material in the light of such representation."

KFC's ads were strongly criticized by Advertising Age shortly after they were released. An editorial in the Nov. 3 issue labeled the campaign "laughable" and "damaging" and called for the ads to be "pulled off the air immediately." Ad Age Ad Review columnist Bob Garfield characterized the campaign as "desperate and sleazy."

'Judge for themselves'
At the time of the late October release, KFC's executive vice president for marketing and food innovation, Scott Bergren, issued a statement, saying consumers "should no longer feel guilty about eating fried chicken. ... With more and more Americans on diets and increasingly health-conscious, we thought it was important to get this information to consumers so they can judge for themselves how to make KFC part of their healthy lifestyle."

One spot compared the fat, carbohydrate and protein contents of its "Original Recipe" chicken breasts to that of Burger King's Whopper sandwich (watch the spot, above left).

KFC said each piece of its fried chicken has 19 grams of fat and 380 calories, far fewer than a Whopper, with 43 grams of fat and 710 calories. Executives said that paired with two lower-fat side dishes, a skinless chicken meal comes contains to 10 grams of fat or less. Burger King declined to comment on the matter.

Both spots carry a disclaimer indicating the chicken isn't a "low-fat, low-sodium or low-cholesterol" food.

CSPI however, charged that "One breast provides 19 grams of fat, including six grams of saturated fat and perhaps another several grams of trans fat. One breast also contains 1,150 mg of sodium. Furthermore, the ad fails to state that few people eat only one fried chicken breast.

"KFC's smallest meal includes two pieces of chicken, and KFC suggests that a person planning to serve its chicken at a party should assume 2 1/2 pieces per adult," CSPI charged. "No valid implied or direct health claim can be made for KFC's fried-chicken meals."

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Ira Teinowitz also contributed to this report.

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