Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
Two product listings on Amazon, www.amazon.co.uk, seen on 15 January 2018:
a. The first listing, for ZAGG iFrogz Little Rockerz pink tiara costume headphones, featured a product description stating “Limit sound to a safe 85 decibels” and “Fun Little Rockers Costume headphones are ideal for enjoying music and dressing up … for both girls and boys … With a built-in volume limiter they keep sound to a safe 85 decibels”.
b. The second listing, for Griffin KaZoo Penguin Headphones, featured a product description stating “KaZoo MyPhones are fun, animal-inspired over-the-ear headphones for kids!” and “KaZoo MyPhones have built-in volume-limiting circuitry that keeps the sound pressure down to levels recommended as safe for young ears. Exposure to excessive levels of sound is more than a nuisance. It's a health issue, especially for children. KaZoo MyPhones use a built-in, always-on sound-control circuit to cap peak volume levels at 85 decibels”.
The Quiet Coalition, who were concerned that sound exposure at 85 decibels could cause damage to children’s hearing, challenged whether:
1. the claims that 85 decibels was the safe and recommended maximum limit for children’s headphones was misleading and could be substantiated; and
2. “Limit sound to a safe 85 decibels” and “safe for young ears” were socially irresponsible.
1. & 2. Amazon Europe Core Sarl said they had contacted the brand owner of the product in ad (a), and they had provided two documents published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in support of the claims: a review of hearing loss due to recreational exposure to loud sounds; and guidance on making listening safe, both dated 2015. The WHO guidance documents stated that the daily recommended safe volume level was below 85 decibels for a duration of a maximum of eight hours. They said safe listening levels depended on the intensity (loudness), duration (length of time) and frequency (how often) of the exposure, and those three factors were interrelated and contributed to the overall sound energy level that a person’s ears were exposed to. They also explained that the permissible exposure levels had been calculated for occupational settings and were extrapolated to recreational settings. They said parents needed to play an active role in monitoring their children’s exposure to loud noise. Both guidance documents also highlighted the increased availability and use of personal audio devices and the risks associated with some listening behaviours when using such devices.
Amazon said they had also contacted the brand owner of the product in ad (b), but they did not provide any evidence in support of the claims.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand the claims in ads (a) and (b), including “Limit sound to a safe 85 decibels” and “levels recommended as safe for young ears”, to mean that 85 decibels was the safe and recommended maximum sound limit for children’s headphones. We considered consumers would also understand that the advertised products were for children because of the claims “for kids” and “ideal for both boys and girls” in the ads, together with the appearance of the headphones, which included tiara and penguin designs. Also, using these headphones would ensure that children were protected from hearing damage.
The WHO guidance stated that the highest safe daily noise exposure was 85 decibels for a maximum of eight hours, and that safe levels of sound depended on three interrelated factors: volume, duration and frequency of the exposure. The recommended permissible sound exposure was based on the criteria for standards in occupational noise exposure by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The guidance also related to people generally, and did not make any distinction between children and adults.
We noted that both ads emphasised that the headphones were safe for children in particular, because the sound cap was at 85 decibels. Because we understood that safe listening was also dependent on other key factors in addition to volume, including the duration and frequency of exposure, and that the guidance did not refer specifically to safe listening levels for children, we considered that we had not seen adequate evidence which demonstrated that 85 decibels was the safe and recommended limit specifically for children’s headphones. We therefore concluded that the ads were misleading.
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
The Code stated that marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
We recognised that both advertised products had volume limiters which helped to make the products safer for children. However, we considered that ads (a) and (b) emphasised that the volume cap of 85 decibels was the safe and recommended sound limit for children, which as stated above we considered to be misleading. Because the ads presented that volume limit as “safe” and “recommended” for children, we considered that the claims were irresponsible.
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Social responsibility).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Amazon Europe Core Sarl that future ads must not state that 85 decibels was the safe and recommended maximum limit for children’s headphones unless they held robust substantiation demonstrating that was the case.