Marketer Calls Concerns 'Unfounded'

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WASHINGTON ( -- It’s official: There are no bad apples.

On the eve of a possible lawsuit from a consumer group charging Kellogg Co. with marketing poor food choices to children, the ad industry’s own self-regulatory arm issued a decision today telling the company to quit calling apples “bad.”

Two consumer groups claim that Apple Jack cereal ads present real fruit in a bad light.

The decision by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit essentially upholds two consumer groups’ claims that ads for Apple Jacks cereals present real fruit in a bad light, though the groups -- the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Produce for Better Health Foundation -- apparently never filed a formal complaint with CARU. The foundation, which is supported by the produce industry, heads the five-a-day fruit campaign.

CARU said it reviewed several Apple Jacks ads on its own and determined changes were needed.

CinnaMon, Bad Apple
Kellogg’s recent Apple Jacks advertising from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, features a cinnamon-stick cartoon character identified as “CinnaMon” and an apple character called “Bad Apple” that CARU described as “short, round, devious and grouchy.” In various executions Bad Apple schemes but fails to beat CinnaMon to a bowl of Apple Jacks.

CARU said the reference to “bad” should be halted and it asked “that the company refrain in the future from denigrating or disparaging apples or other fruits.” Kellogg, despite questioning the decision, agreed to alter the ad campaign.

CSPI last month sent Kellogg a formal notice that it intended to file suit in Massachusetts in 30 days accusing the company of unfairly and deceptively marketing food of poor nutritional quality to children under 8. CSPI also notified Viacom’s Nickelodeon it too would be sued. Those suits -- which ask for $1 billion from each company -- could be filed as soon as Feb. 23. A CSPI lawyer today said conversations are taking place with Kellogg and it is holding off filing against either company until the status of those talks become clearer.

In July, CSPI and Produce for Better Health sent a letter Kellogg CEO James M. Jenness complaining about the Apple Jack ads.

'Grouchy and sour
“In the television ad ... the apple character is named Bad Apple and is described as grouchy and sour and depicted as meddling and scheming,” they wrote. They also said a line in one of the ads -- “Apple Jacks doesn’t taste like apples because the sweet taste of cinnamon is the winner, mon” -- was inappropriate and disparaged the taste of real apples. Kellogg subsequently dropped any reference to the character being “sour.”

CARU in today’s decision reached a similar conclusion.

After reviewing several spots and the Web site for the brand CARU said it was “concerned that children viewing the commercials ... would take away the message that apples are not good for them to eat.

“Specifically CARU was concerned that the campaign conveyed or implied ... apples taste bad [and] Apple Jack’s sweetness comes from cinnamon and not sugar.”

Kellogg called CARU’s concerns “unfounded.” It said the campaign wasn’t intended to affect children's perceptions of apples and its research indicated it hadn’t. It said children don’t perceive the taste of apples as desirable in a cold cereal but liked “sweet cinnamon” and that the ads helped kids associate Apple Jacks with other cinnamon-flavored rather than fruit-flavored cereals.

Kellogg told CARU it will change the ads to evolve the apple character from being mean-spirited into being frustrated, remove any reference to body characteristics and no long call him “bad.”

Margo Wootan, CSPI’s director of nutrition policy, said CARU’s action doesn’t go far enough.

“CARU is pointing out a particularly egregious advertising practice, but, still, the overall message is: tasting like apples is a bad thing. They seem to be putting apples on the package to attract parents to the healthfulness but going behind parents back to say to kids, ‘Don’t worry. They don’t taste like apples.’ They want it both ways. Either way, Apple Jack is a sugary cereal that shouldn’t have anything to do with a healthy nutritious breakfast.”

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