“It’s a dog’s life,” they say – and according to Mars Petcare, its Eukanuba brand of dog food could extend dogs’ lives by 30%. But the FTC alleges that Mars made misleading representations about the products’ life-extending benefits and falsely claimed that scientific tests supported what the company said.
Mars Petcare US, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mars, Inc., sells some of the biggest brands in the dog food business. Eukanuba’s ads featured rolling farmland, picturesque vistas, adorable Labradors – really adorable Labradors – and this narration:
Man is always searching for the fountain of youth. A way to live longer yet stay younger. One decade ago, Eukanuba set out on the same quest. We launched a long life study with a band of Labradors, their devoted caretakers, and enough Eukanuba to last them a lifetime. Or so we thought. While the typical Labrador lives 12 years, some dogs in the study even lived past the age of 16.
According to the ads, dogs in a 10-year Eukanuba study – including featured canines Bunny, Utah, Georgia, Clown, and Iowa – were “living 30% longer” than their typical life span. What’s more, each was “living an exceptionally long life and still full of vitality” even at age 16 or 17. Other ads touted the “astonishing” observation that with “Eukanuba and proper care,” dogs in the study “were able to live beyond their typical life span.”
But according to the FTC, that dog won’t hunt.
The complaint alleges that Mars Petcare didn’t have substantiation to support its claims that with Eukanuba, dogs live 30% (or more) longer than their typical life span or that Eukanuba enables dogs to live exceptionally long lives. The FTC also charged that the company falsely claimed to have scientific tests to support the advertised results.
Among other things, the proposed order prohibits the company from making misleading claims about the health benefits of any pet food. The order also bars misrepresentations about the contents, validity, results, conclusions, or interpretations of any test, study, or research about the health benefits of pet food.
The settlement applies just to Mars Petcare, but wags like us can’t resist fetching a few bones to share with other advertisers.
Like any other objective representation, claims for petcare products must be supported by appropriate evidence. Every dog has his day and every promise about a pet product is subject to the FTC’s long-standing substantiation doctrine. With more than 65% of American households owning a pet, consumers – and canines – have a right to truth in advertising.
Touting testing may up your substantiation ante. As the FTC Policy Statement Regarding Advertising Substantiation makes clear, a company “must possess the amount and type of substantiation the ad actually communicates to consumers.” According to the FTC, Mars Petcare didn’t just advertise that dogs were “living 30% longer.” The company referred to a 10-year “long life study” that purportedly proved it. Marketers call that an establishment claim and false statements of that nature are a particular pet peeve for the FTC.
When translating research into ad claims, don’t bark up the wrong tree. A lot of companies undertake studies about their products, but make sure that: 1) the methodology is sound; and 2) the advertising claims accurately reflect the results. An ad touting a 30% increase in a pet’s life span or any other express health claim is likely to attract consumer attention – and law enforcement interest if the underlying science doesn’t support the representation.
The FTC is accepting comments about the proposed settlement until September 6, 2016.