The depictions of baby “experts” in a broadcast advertisement for Prego Traditional pasta sauce are puffery, and do not constitute a claim about the preferences of toddlers, the National Advertising Division (NAD) determined.

Competitor Mizkan America Inc., manufacturer of Ragu pasta sauce, challenged claims in a television ad made by Campbell Soup Company for Prego Traditional pasta sauce. The commercial featured two toddlers on a split screen while a voice-over stated: “We took lifelong pasta experts and gave one Prego Traditional and one Ragu Traditional. This is what happened.”

The child given Prego was shown delightedly eating all of his pasta until his bowl was empty and he had sauce all over his face. On the other half of the screen, the baby with Ragu looked askance at the pasta and refused to eat it. The commercial ended with the statement: “That’s because even Ragu users prefer the taste of Prego Traditional 2-to-1” while a super appeared that read, “Taste test ages 6 and up. Prego Traditional vs. Ragu Old World Style Traditional.”

Mizkan expressed concerns about the truthfulness and accuracy of the commercial, noting that a preference claim based on toddlers would be difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate and that the test relied upon by Prego involved those age six and older. The advertiser responded that the babies were used as a humorous device and the ad did not reasonably convey the message that there was a taste test that involved babies.

The NAD agreed. “The depiction of the toddlers in the commercial amounts to puffery and does not constitute a claim about the preferences of toddlers,” the self-regulatory body wrote. Consumers intuitively understand that it is not possible to accurately conduct a taste test using the preferences of very young children, and the humor is reinforced by tongue-in-cheek references to the babies as “lifelong pasta experts.”

“The vignette that follows bolsters the joke about their ‘expertise,’ with one child ending up with as much sauce and pasta on his face as in his mouth and the other refusing to eat altogether,” the NAD said. “While the imagery generally paints the picture that eating Prego is an enjoyable experience for the one toddler and less so for the other, the juxtaposition serves as a depiction of the advertiser’s general opinion that its sauce tastes better, not a provable claim that very young children definitively prefer one sauce to the other.”

In addition, the population that served as the basis for the taste preference claim (Ragu users) was expressly stated in a clear and conspicuous manner, the NAD said, and the advertisement separated the discussion of the preference claim from the depiction of toddlers eating pasta by using the phrase “that’s because.”

The self-regulatory body did recommend that Prego make clear the specific Ragu product being used as a basis of comparison for its claim, since the challenger has multiple “traditional” pasta sauces.

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

Why it matters: While the NAD recognized that preference claims “can be quite persuasive,” it had little difficulty determining that humorous imagery of two toddlers eating pasta in a “taste-off” montage was puffery, not a provable claim that babies definitively prefer one product over another.