A coalition of consumer groups has given a producer of frozen yogurt, the manufacturer of Audi automobiles and eight other advertisers backhanded awards for presenting the most misleading commercials.
The fourth annual Harlan Page Hubbard Memorial Awards, named for a 19th century advertising pioneer who promoted patent medicines as cures for virtually all ills, were announced at a ceremony that drew none of the winners.One prize went to Dannon frozen yogurt on a stick, for an ad showing a 6-year-old girl in a swimming suit. Critics charged that the image imposed a sexual message on little girls.
"We never imagined that consumers would take that message away," said Dannon spokeswoman Barbara Beck, who said the ad is no longer running. It has been replaced by commercials stressing that the product is of interest to the whole family, she said.
Ms. Beck said the frozen yogurt ads ran for only a few weeks before being withdrawn. They were re-evaluated after consumers wrote in, she said.
The Dannon commercials were chosen for a Hubbard by the National Women's Health Network, which said the ads encouraged the idea that females are mainly concerned with being attractive and sexually available.
The awards consist of a statuette with a lemon on top, with the consumer group that nominated the ad actually collecting the trophy.
Joe Bennett of Audi of America, however, said he'd have been glad to send someone to get the award, if he had been informed in advance.
"When you get an award like this, you just have to laugh," said Bennett. " . . . It tells us our advertising is right on target and we will continue to pursue it with great vigor."
Audi was selected for the Hubbard because of ads touting the safety of its cars.
These were misleading, according to the Center for Auto Safety, because they were run at a time Audi was being investigated for problems with the sudden acceleration of its vehicles.
An Ohio jury recently ruled that Audi was not at fault in at least one case of sudden acceleration.
Continental Airlines was cited for ads boasting that it supplies maintenance services to other airlines. The Aviation Consumer Action Project said this was misleading because other carriers do maintenance for Continental as well.
Continental spokesman Bruce Hicks respoded that "the ad doesn't make any claims that are not well founded."
The Coalition on Smoking or Health cited the tobacco industry for ads that it said mislead consumers by suggesting that low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes may reduce health risks.
Walker Merryman of the Tobacco Institute replied that the consumer advocates overlooked the surgeon general's warnings printed on every cigarette ad.
"Those warnings make several billion impressions annually, and along with other anti-smoking information programs have certainly given consumers adequate information. I can't think of a single issue that people are more well informaed about than smoking and health," said Merryman.
The Beef Industry Council was mentioned for its "real food for real people" ads promoting the consumption of red meat, which some nutritionists contend can raise cholesterol levels.
"The leading health organizations have issued dietary guidelines that include red meat as one of the essential ingredients," responded spokesman Craig Mitchell. He charged that the Center for Science in the Public Interest had distorted those findings in order to get more publicity.
Contour Chair of Philadelphia was picked for a Hubbard by the American Association of Retired Persons. It contended that ads for the special recliner chairs do not detail health claims and it is hard for consumers to learn prices.
The prices are not printed because they vary, since the chairs are custom made, said company sales representative Robert Olin. And as for health claims, he said, "All the statements that we made are verifiable."
Ed Aduss of the U.S. Council for Energy Awareness, said his organization would have no response to its selection, although he did observe that it has been included in the list for several years.
The council runs ads promoting nuclear energy and stressing that it is a viable alternative to dependence on oil and other sources.
Hasbro Co. was cited for ads showing children playing with the G.I. Joe Cobra Momba toy helicopter. The toy is fragile, hard to handle and disappointing to children, the Consumer Affairs Committee of Americans for Democratic Action contended.
"We respectfully disagree with their opinion," said Hasbro spokesman Wayne Charness.
Other advertising chosen for the awards included:
-Western Union, for its ads showing people with car trouble or other problems saved by having someone send them money. In reality, the National Consumers League asserted, the money won't come to you; you have to go to a Western Union office or pay a delivery charge. Even then, the payment is usually a check, not cash, it added.
Western Union spokesman Warren Bechtel retorted that "we've never suggested in ads that someone is going to deliver money to your house or office of something." The service is provided through 11,000 outlets nationally and almost always paid in cash, he said.
-Cutty Sark scotch whisky, for a television ad which the Center for Science in the Public Interest said should not have been run because of a policy by the television networks and the spirits industry not to advertise on TV. The Spanish-language ad ran on a local TV station, the group said.
"We just dismiss this action as being typical of that group, who have a history of trying to discredit the wine and spirits industry," responded Barbara Jo Howard of Buckingham Wile Co. in New York, which markets Cutty Sark in the United States.