Nutritionist spurns ASA verdict on ad challenging white bread

The Aquafresh ads showed Captain Aquafresh defending himself against a range of products

A leading nutritionist has slammed the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA’s) decision not to ban a toothpaste ad for suggesting white bread contained sugar and could harm teeth.

Dr Carrie Ruxton told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “I haven’t seen any studies showing bread is related to dental caries.

“The starch in the bread can become sugar, but in reality you are talking about a miniscule amount after it is broken down by salivary amylase.”

The TV and YouTube ad for Aquafresh Sugar Acid Protection toothpaste showed Captain Aquafresh defending himself against a bar of chocolate, a doughnut and granola clusters.

A slice of white bread was shown to creep up behind Captain Aquafresh, who noticed it in the reflection of a large spoon. A voice-over stated: “Sugar is everywhere.”

Captain Aquafresh then threw the spoon at the slice of bread which pierced it, causing the bread to collapse to the floor. The voice-over then stated: “Strengthen and actively defend teeth from everyday sugars.”

‘Under attack from sugar’

The ad that appeared on Aquafresh UK’s YouTube channel featured a voice-over that stated: “In a world that’s under attack from sugar and more sugar and even more sugar comes a new hero in oral care. He’s in the right place at the right time.”

Visuals showed Captain Aquafresh defending himself against clusters of granola, a doughnut, an ice cream and a slice of white bread moving towards the character Captain Aquafresh.

The accompanying voice-over stated: “Will sugar meet its match?” The ad then showed Captain Aquafresh again vanquishing the slice of white bread in the same manner as the TV advert.

The Federation of Bakers (FoB) challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied that white bread was high in sugar.

Tooth decay

Aquafresh maker GlaxoSmithKline UK (GSK) said the ad was intended to communicate that a variety of products were associated with tooth decay, not just those which contained added sugars.

It acknowledged that UK sliced white bread contained little or no added sugar and only a small amount of sugars, formed naturally during the baking process. However, it said it was rich in processed starch, which had been cooked during the baking process.

It said starch could be metabolised into short-chain sugars by enzymes in the saliva and plaque. Those sugars could be used by plaque bacteria to generate acids, lowering the pH level at the tooth’s enamel surface until it started to dissolve.

GSK believed it was established that consumption of white bread was linked to incidence of tooth decay and provided evidence that they believed supported that.

Advertising and marketing advisory body Clearcast believed the ads conveyed the message that various foods could harm teeth and did not suggest individual products were high in sugar, only that they contained sugar.

‘Sugar is everywhere’

It said bread was included in the ad to highlight that ‘sugar is everywhere’, because it was not a product normally associated with sugar. It pointed out that the advert also included cereal, which it claimed was not a product associated with sugar.

The ASA decided the ads did not suggest white bread was high in sugar, stating: “We considered consumers would understand the ads to mean that the toothpaste could protect teeth from the sugars found in the food products depicted in the ads.

“We therefore considered the ads did not imply that white bread was high in sugar and were not likely to mislead consumers into taking a transactional decision that they would otherwise not have taken in relation to Aquafresh Sugar Acid Protection toothpaste.”

As a result, it decided the ads had not breached the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice’s Television Advertising Standards Code.

However, Ruxton said: “I do have sympathy with them [the FoB]. I think [the ads] will be confusing for the consumer. Imagine a mum watching and thinking, ‘oh no – white bread is now high in sugar’.”

Referring to GSK’s position, FoB director Gordon Polson told this site: “I just think they made an error in including bread and weren't prepared to admit it. There is an argument that all products when broken down could cause dental caries, but if you go down that line, you could include anything.”

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