Recently, the makers of Nutella settled a class-action lawsuit from a San Diego mother who claimed advertising mislead her into thinking the stuff was healthy.
I found a YouTube video of one of the ads embedded in Carly Rothman’s article about the lawsuit:
Here’s a question for you: Do you think the health claims in this ad are misleading?
That’s a trick question, because the ad makes no health claims. The mother in the ad says “it’s perfect on multigrain toast, and even whole wheat waffles”—in this context, “perfect” could mean “healthy”, but it could also mean “really yummy”. She says it’s made from “simple, quality ingredients”, which is also true of a stick of butter. The mother also says that after feeding her kids Nutella, “I feel good that they’re ready to tackle the day”. None of these statements imply the stuff is healthy. In fact, the words “healthy”, “balanced breakfast”, or “low-fat” appear nowhere in the ad.
(Mind you, I haven’t seen any of the other Nutella ads, so I’m not saying Ferrero, the makers of Nutella, isn’t guilty of making false health claims, just that this particular ad doesn’t make any.)
This commercial is a great illustration of how an advertiser can leave an impression (in this case, that Nutella is healthy) without explicitly saying it. Of course, this is done by advertisers all the time: a textbook example is the use of attractive women to give the impression that using the product (often some extremely mediocre beer) will attract such women. This is why we need more media literacy education. It’s not enough to ban advertising that’s blatantly false—you have to make people aware of advertisers’ subtle tricks.
Also, I agree with Carly Rothman: if you are going to start feeding some food to your kids every morning, perhaps it would be wise to glance at the nutrition label beforehand.