NAD: Blue Buffalo not in doghouse over spot

Puppy Love

Blue Buffalo came up with a great script.

The pet food manufacturer put together a commercial taking on rival dog food brands Pedigree and Cesar. In the spot, two pet-owner-and-dog pairs sit on either side of a split screen. One dog owner feeds the dog Pedigree or Cesar; the other owner feeds the dog Blue Buffalo. An off-screen interviewer asks the owners to read the ingredients label; the owner on the Blue Buffalo side of the screen appears confident and happy through the read, while the other owner seems perplexed by the list on the Pedigree or Cesar can.

In one iteration of the commercial, the Cesar-eating dog crossed the split screen and retrieved the Blue Buffalo food to give to its owner. In the Pedigree version, the dog crossed to the Blue Buffalo side, put one paw on the leg of the owner with the Blue Buffalo and then ate the Blue Buffalo food alongside the other dog.

Seriously cute.

Then a voice-over stated, “While both foods provide complete and balanced nutrition, nine out of 10 Cesar feeders (or eight out 10 [Pedigree feeders]) chose/prefer the ingredients in Blue Buffalo.”

Given Paws

The National Advertising Division (NAD) reviewed a challenge to the ad and related marketing materials. Before NAD’s review, Blue Buffalo permanently discontinued the original version of the commercial and created a new version with an added super that read “Both foods provide complete and balanced nutrition.” NAD based its decision on the revised advertisement.

Pointing to a prior challenge in which NAD determined that Blue Buffalo’s advertising falsely disparaged the competition, the challenger, Mars Petcare US, argued that this commercial was a continuation of the same practice.

NAD, however, determined that the new ad, as well as related print and internet advertisements, reasonably conveyed the truthful and accurate message that consumers should compare the ingredients of different dog foods and decide which is best. NAD also determined that the ads did not falsely denigrate the competition but instead “communicated a parent preference claim that was supported by a consumer-preference study comparing the first five ingredients” of the products. NAD did, however, recommend that Blue Buffalo modify the commercial to make clear that the pet parent preference claims were based on a comparison of the first five ingredients of each product.

As to the alleged implied claims regarding the dogs’ preferences, NAD determined that only the Pedigree version of the commercial communicated the implied message that the dog preferred Blue Buffalo over Pedigree because the dog ate the food. In contrast, in the Cesar version of the commercial, the dog simply brought the Blue Buffalo bag of food over to its owner, which did not imply that the dog preferred Blue Buffalo.

According to NAD, Blue Buffalo’s “canine palatability study,” which compared dogs’ reactions to Pedigree and Blue Buffalo products, supported the implied dog preference claim. However, NAD recommended that Blue Buffalo modify the Pedigree version of the ad to explicitly identify the specific dog food variants compared in the study.

The Takeaway

As in other recent decisions regarding comparative claims, NAD’s message was loud and clear: NAD expects advertisers to be loud and clear about the objects of their comparisons.