dairylea ad screenshot

Source: Mondelez UK

The advert, which appeared last August, received 14 complaints over concerns it would encourage children to eat food while upside down

Mondelez UK has had its knuckles rapped by the Advertising Standards Authority over a Dairylea ad which showed a child hanging upside down before proceeding to eat a cheese triangle.

The ASA received a total of 14 complaints from people who took issue with the footage over concerns the ad could encourage children to copy its “unsafe behaviour”.

The ad, by creative agency VCCP London, ran on ITV Hub, All 4 and My 5 in August 2021 as part of the brand’s ‘Set Them Free with Dairylea’ marketing campaign, which championed the curiosity found in children.

It featured two girls hanging upside down from a five-a-side football goal post, where they discussed where food went when a person hung in that position, before one began eating a Dairylea cheese triangle.

Mondelez UK argued the intention of the commercial was to portray parents allowing their children more freedom, while the girls who appeared in the ad – who were aged six and eight – were supervised by their parents in the background.

The fmcg giant added that though the children were hanging upside down, they were nearly touching the floor and therefore at a safe distance so as to not fall and hurt themselves.

It also provided links to research suggesting the human body was able to move food into the stomach through peristalsis, regardless of gravity, and re referred to a letter – published in a journal dedicated to the study of resuscitation – which claimed being in a head-down position was recommended during a choking incident.

Based on the research, and because Dairylea was a soft food, Mondelez considered there was a “very low” risk of choking when eating upside down.

Grate expectations: cheese category report 2021

The supplier added that the VOD ad had been given an ‘ex-kids’ scheduling restriction, meaning it was scheduled away from programming commissioned for, principally directed at, or likely to appeal to children under 16 years of age.

Meanwhile, it also consulted with Clearcast – the NGO which pre-approves most British television advertising – and therefore believed the ad would have had very limited exposure to children, making it “unlikely that children would emulate eating when upside down or come to harm”.

However, the ASA – while acknowledging the scheduling would reduce the exposure of children to the ad – considered the ad “condoned and encouraged younger children to eat whilst hanging upside down, which was an unsafe practice where there was potentially a high risk of choking.”

The watchdog added: “We, therefore, concluded that a scheduling restriction was not sufficient to reduce the risk of harm and that the ad breached the [Committee of Advertising Practice] code.”

The independent regulator also argued that the commercial featured two young children in a realistic and familiar environment, who were posing and attempting to answer a question about how their bodies worked.

“We considered children would identify with them and their curiosity, and be encouraged to emulate the behaviour,” it continued.

“Although the ad was specifically for soft cheese, we considered that younger children would be encouraged by the ad to mimic the behaviour in other settings, and with other foods. Therefore, we considered the ad condoned and encouraged eating whilst hanging upside down.”

A view was also sought from the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT), which warned the scenario represented a situation where there was a potentially high risk of choking.

The ASA ruled that the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules (Harm and offence), (Children), and (Advertising rules for on-demand services regulated by statute) and said it must not appear again in the form complained of. It also ordered Mondelez UK to “ensure their advertising did not condone or encourage unsafe practises”.

In response, a Mondelez International spokesperson said: “We recognise and will abide by the ASA’s decision – but we are disappointed by the ruling.

“We carefully consulted with Clearcast to pre-approve the content of this video on demand advert prior to airing: it was aimed at adults (parents) rather than young children – and was deliberately scheduled away from programming likely to appeal to children under 16.

“As such, we believe it was unlikely to encourage ‘copycat’ behaviour by young children.

“We remain committed to responsible advertising and work with a range of partners to make sure our marketing meets and complies with all relevant UK regulations.”

It comes as Dairylea enjoyed a strong year for sales in 2021, according to NielsenIQ data for The Grocer’s Top products report [52 w/e 11 September]. Sales grew by 7.2% to £107.3m on the back of a resurgence in demand for snacking cheeses.