Four paid-for Google ads for Boots, seen on 11 April 2023:
a. The ad stated “Aptamil 1 First Baby Milk Formula Powder From Birth 800G”.
b. The ad stated “Hipp Organic 1 First Infant Baby Milk Powder From Birth 800G”.
c. The ad stated “Kendaml [sic] First Infant Ready To Feed From Birth Milk 250Ml”.
d. The ad stated “Cow & Gate 1 First Baby Milk Formula Powder From Birth 800G”.
All of the ads featured images of the packaging for the respective products.
The complainant challenged whether the ads breached the Code because they were marketing communications for infant formula, which were prohibited.
Boots UK Ltd said they had taken immediate steps to manually remove all their infant formula advertising from Google as well as from other search engines. They were fully aware of the legal responsibilities relating to infant formula and apologised for the error that had led to the ads appearing.
They explained that for paid search advertising of this type, products were pulled from the boots.com website via an automatic feed. Products that were not permitted to be advertised, or that were subject to restrictions in how or where they might be advertised, were listed in an exclusions file. The ads had appeared because the most up-to-date version of the exclusions file had not been passed to the paid search advertising team and, as such, infant formula products had not been excluded as they should have been. As the result of a refresh, the previous exclusions list had become out of date, which allowed the products to appear. Boots pointed out that the processes used for social media and digital display ads had continued to exclude the products, which suggested that the problem with the paid search advertising was due to human error.
They were putting in place one single process to cover all three elements of their digital marketing. They believed that this joined-up approach would prevent a reoccurrence of the issue.
Google UK Ltd said advertisers were required to comply with applicable law and regulations, including the CAP Code. In addition, all Shopping ads had to comply with Google’s general ads policies and the specific Shopping ads policies. They confirmed that Google Ireland were taking action to prevent the ads from appearing again.
The CAP Code stated that except for those in a scientific publication or, for the purposes of trade before the retail stage, a publication of which the intended readers were not the general public, marketing communications for infant formula were prohibited.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand the references to “First Baby Milk Formula”, “First Infant Baby Milk” and “First Infant Ready To Feed From Birth Milk” and the packaging images of the infant formula products to mean that the ads were promoting infant formula. We welcomed Boots’ prompt action in removing the ads and their assurance that they would amend their processes to avoid a similar situation reoccurring. However, because the ads had the effect of marketing infant formula, which was prohibited under the Code, we concluded that they breached the Code.
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 15.10 (Infant and follow-on formula).
The ads must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Boots UK Ltd to ensure that their future advertising did not refer to infant formula.