Ad Agency Agrees To Settle FTC Charges in Connecton with Misleading Low-Fat Ads for Frozen Yogurt

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The BBDO Worldwide, Inc. advertising agency has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges of engaging in deceptive practices in connection with its role in developing certain advertisements for Hägen-Dazs frozen yogurt products. The advertisements at issue claim that Hägen-Dazs's entire line of frozen yogurt is 98 percent fat-free and low in fat, and that its entire line of frozen yogurt bars contains 100 calories and one gram of fat per serving. According to the FTC, BBDO knew or should have known that these claims were false for many items in each product line. The proposed settlement of these charges would prohibit BBDO Worldwide from misrepresenting the amount of fat, calories, or cholesterol in any frozen yogurt, frozen sorbet and most ice cream products.

BBDO Worldwide, Inc. is based in New York City. (In June of this year, the FTC gave final approval to a consent agreement with Hägen-Dazs Company, Inc., settling charges against that company for its role in disseminating the same advertising claims.)

According to the FTC's complaint detailing the allegations against BBDO, the ad agency created the advertisements for Hägen-Dazs frozen yogurt products that contained statements such as:

  • "WHY IS HÄGEN-DAZS FROZEN YOGURT BETTER THAN YOUR FIRST TRUE LOVE? HÄGEN-DAZS IS STILL 98% FAT FREE"; and
  • "This is what a Hägen-Dazs Frozen Yogurt Bar looks like...with flavors like Raspberry & Vanilla, Peach, Strawberry Daiquiri and Pina Colada. And each with just 1 gram of fat and 100 calories."

A fine print disclosure in the bottom corner of two of the challenged ads states, "frozen yogurt and sorbet combinations," according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that through such statements and the depictions in the challenged ads, BBDO represented that Hägen Dazs's entire line of frozen yogurt is 98 percent fat-free and low fat, that its frozen yogurt bars contain one gram of fat and 100 calories per serving, and that they, too, are low fat. The representations are false and misleading, the FTC alleged. In fact, according to the complaint, at the time the ads ran, many flavors of the frozen yogurt and frozen yogurt bars contained far more calories and fat than claimed in the challenged ads. BBDO is independently liable for the deceptive claims because it knew or should have known that they were false and misleading, the FTC charged.

The proposed settlement was announced today for a public comment period before the Commission determines whether to make it final. Among other things, the settlement would prohibit BBDO from misrepresenting the amount of the fat, saturated fat, cholesterol or calories in any frozen yogurt, frozen sorbet or ice cream product (excluding products where ice cream comprises less than 50 per cent of the product by weight) in the future. The proposed settlement also would require BBDO to meet the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) qualifying amount for any nutrient-content claim. For example, if BBDO were to claim that a frozen food product is low fat, the product would have to meet the specific qualifying amount for fat established by FDA's labeling regulations for low fat claims. The proposed settlement would not prohibit BBDO from making representations that are specifically permitted in labeling for any frozen food product under FDA's regulations.

The proposed consent agreement will be published in the Federal Register shortly and will be subject to public comment for 60 days, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the Secretary, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.

The Commission vote to place the proposed settlement on the public record for comment was 5-0.

NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $10,000.

Copies of the complaint and proposed settlement are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest FTC news as it is announced, call the FTC's NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web Site at: http://www.ftc.gov

(FTC File No. 942 3172)

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