Fruit or fruit flavors? To avoid misleading consumers, Hershey’s needs to improve its advertising to make clear that its Brookside Dark Chocolate line is made with fruit flavors, not actual pieces of fruit, the National Advertising Division recently recommended.

Competitor Mars, Inc. challenged Hershey’s ads, arguing that the layout and font sizes on packaging for the chocolate line misled consumers into believing they were eating real fruit, not pieces of fruit juice wrapped in chocolate. For example, the packaging features the name “Brookside Dark Chocolate Goji with Raspberry Flavors” but the word “Goji” appears much larger than the “Raspberry Flavors.” Mars contended this layout communicated to consumers that the Goji is real fruit while the raspberry is added fruit flavoring. Imagery like pictures of fresh fruit only amplified the incorrect message, Mars argued.

A television commercial exacerbated the message with a farm locale and repeated beauty shots of fresh fruit.

Hershey contended that consumers were not misled by either the commercial or the product packaging. The product name itself references fruit “flavors” and text on the bottom of the package states, “soft fruity flavored centers covered in smooth dark chocolate.” The commercial similarly used the term “flavored” and the country setting for the ad was selected to reinforce the “Brookside” name and logo, which includes a tree and stream, the advertiser said.

Lacking consumer perception evidence, the NAD stepped into the shoes of the consumer and found that while the product name did not inherently convey a message that the chocolate line contained real fruit, additional messages were conveyed by the layout and font sizes.

“Consumers could reasonably understand the product to have three distinct parts: dark chocolate, a real piece of the highlighted fruit (Acai, Goji, or Pomegranate), and, separately, other fruit flavors,” the NAD wrote. “A consumer could reasonably attach the word ‘flavors’ to the fruit directly next to it (blueberry, raspberry, or fruit), while not reading the word ‘flavors’ to apply to the fruit in substantially larger text on a separate line.”

Moreover, the NAD said the “overwhelming imagery of fresh fruit and chefs gathering and preparing fresh fruit” left consumers with a reasonable takeaway that the product contained actual fruit. Even with an oral qualified claim, the NAD found that “the visual cues presented in the advertisement are particularly striking, and serve to draw viewers’ attention away from the voiceover’s important message that the products are only ‘flavored’ with fruit juices, and rather convey an inaccurate message that the products contain actual fruit.”

The self-regulatory body recommended that Hershey’s modify Brookside packaging “to present the product name in a manner that makes it clear that all of the identified fruits are in fact ‘flavors’ and not actual pieces of fruit in the product.”

To read the NAD’s press release about the case, click here.

Why it matters: As the NAD noted, advertisers are responsible for all reasonable interpretations of their advertising, including messages they may not have intended to convey. For Hershey’s, this included a font size and layout of the product name on the packaging conveyed the takeaway that actual fruit was included, while the term “flavors” was de-emphasized. The NAD concluded that Hershey’s commercial similarly misled consumers with its “overwhelming imagery” of fruit.