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General Foods To Warn Viewers of Taste Test Fiction

January 9, 1990

BOSTON (AP) _ The maker of Sanka acknowledged Tuesday that a national ad appearing to show an impromptu taste test for the decaffeinated coffee was really staged with actors.

General Foods USA said it will alter its ad following an agreement with a Massachusetts state official who criticized the ad as misleading.

″Viewers have come to expect that participants in any taste test are real consumers stating their honest opinions, and not paid actors extolling the product with comment supplied to them by the advertiser,″ said Mary Ann Walsh, the state’s secretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.

The ads, which are broadcast nationally, will have the word ″dramatization″ superimposed at the bottom of the screen for three seconds as the commercial begins, according to the agreement between Walsh and General Foods.

″We really do not think that any changes in the commercial are required, either by testimonial guidelines or for the protection of the consumer,″ said General Foods spokesman Cliff Sessions. ″But in a spirit of cooperation we are adding the caption, and to avoid any possibility of viewer confusion.″

Set in a New Jersey railroad station at 7:14 a.m., the commercial features people stopping at a table set up with Sanka cups and containers.

″This is great,″ says one person. ″What is this?″ others add. ″Delicious.″ ″You know this smells really good.″ Says another: ″No way, this isn’t Sanka.″

Federal guidelines apply to commercials that identify the person approving the product, or those which make competitive claims, Sessions said. Sessions said the Sanka ad does neither.

General Foods, Young and Rubicam, the company’s advertising agency, and all three networks approved the ad before it aired, Sessions said.

General Foods is located in White Plains, N.Y., and parent company Philip Morris Cos. is based in New York City, as is Young and Rubicam. Nevertheless, Walsh took on the food company because the ads air frequently in Massachusetts, she said.

Walsh’s office phoned the Federal Trade Commission’s local office about the case, but continued to negotiate with General Foods on its own.

Bill McDonough, a staff attorney for the FTC’s regional office in Boston, said action by state officials on a case often can preclude federal involvement.

″We feel as long as somebody does it, that’s the main thing. If we found a state has acted, and there is action by the advertiser, it wouldn’t be necessary for us to act,″ McDonough said.

The ads have been running for about six weeks. Sessions declined to comment on how long the campaign would continue.

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