In addition to allegations about Activia Yogurt, the FTC’s recent settlement with Dannon Corporation challenged health claims for DanActive, a probiotic dairy drink advertised to reduce the likelihood of getting colds or flu.
In one ad cited in the complaint, a boy is show taking a test in school, playing baseball in the rain, and – poor kid – getting decked repeatedly in martial arts class. He arrives home looking tired and drops his backpack by the front door. As his mother greets him, the color drains from his face and body. Mom then reaches into the fridge and takes out a DanActive as the narrator says “Your kids have a hectic life and don’t always eat right, and you don’t want their defenses to be weak. Delicious DanActive can strengthen them.”
As the boy drinks the beverage, that’s when the science lesson starts. A graphic depicts the DanActive he’s drinking as little yellow circles labeled L. casei immunitas. They form an animated barricade that repels fuzzy green germ-like blobs. As the narrator says, “Only DanActive has L. casei Immunitas cultures and is clinically proven to help strengthen your body’s defenses. And a little strengthening can really help,” the boy downs the DanActive and returns to full color. Surrounded by a newly-acquired yellow shield, he runs out of the house as the shield morphs into a yellow bottle of DanActive. The narrator concludes, “Help strengthen your family’s bodies’ defenses.”
Another ad cited in the complaint shows the same kid, but features a different gastroenterological cartoon. In that ad, the narrator says “Unwanted substances enter your body every day reaching your intestines, where about 70% of your immune system is located.” The visual shows an animation of the inside of an intestine pockmarked with holes. The narrator says “When your defenses are weak, gaps may occur in your intestine wall allowing unwanted substances to pass.” The fuzzy germ-like blobs -- they're maroon this time -- are shown settling into the holes in the intestine.
Cut to the kid drinking DanActive. As the narrator says “DanActive, with L. casei Immunitas works right there, which may help your body close the gaps and help strengthen his body’s defenses, which makes you feel good, too,” the animation shows little spheres of DanActive filling the intestinal holes, thereby repelling the attack of the fuzzy maroon germ-like blobs. Shield restored, our smiling hero bolts out of the house and the phrase “clinically proven” flies across the screen.
According to the FTC’s complaint, ads like these conveyed that DanActive reduces the likelihood of getting a cold or the flu – and that those claims were clinically proven. The FTC alleged that Dannon didn’t have the science to back up those promises, making the company’s cold or flu claim unsubstantiated and the “clinically proven” claim false.
Next: The order entered in the FTC case and the settlement reached by Dannon and 39 state Attorneys General