WASHINGTON — A coalition of consumer groups on Thursday gave a producer of frozen yogurt, the manufacturer of Audi automobiles and eight other advertisers backhanded awards for presenting the most misleading commercials.
The fourth annual Harlan Page Hubbard Memorial Awards, named for a 19th-Century advertising pioneer who promoted patent medicines as cures for virtually all ills, were announced at a ceremony that drew none of the winners.
One prize went to Dannon frozen yogurt on a stick, for an ad showing a 6-year-old girl in a swimming suit. Critics charged that the image imposed a sexual message on young girls.
Bad Timing for Audi
"We never imagined that consumers would take that message away," said Dannon spokeswoman Barbara Beck, who said the ad is no longer running. It has been replaced by commercials stressing that the product is of interest to the whole family, she said.
Audi was selected for the Hubbard because of ads touting the safety of its cars. These were misleading, according to the Center for Auto Safety, because they were run at a time Audi was being investigated for problems with the sudden acceleration of its vehicles.
"When you get an award like this, you just have to laugh," said Joe Bennett of Audi of America. "It tells us our advertising is right on target and we will continue to pursue it with great vigor."
An Ohio court jury recently ruled that Audi was not at fault in at least one case of sudden acceleration.
Hasbro Co. was cited for ads showing children playing with the G.I. Joe Cobra Momba toy helicopter. The toy is fragile, hard to handle and disappointing to children, the Consumer Affairs Committee of Americans for Democratic Action contended.
"We respectfully disagree with their opinion," Hasbro spokesman Wayne Charness said.
Western Union was singled out for its ads showing people with car trouble or other problems saved by having someone send them money. In reality, the National Consumers League asserted, the money won't come to you; you have to go to a Western Union office or pay a delivery charge. Even then, the payment is usually a check, not cash, it added.
Western Union spokesman Warren Bechtel retorted that "we've never suggested in ads that someone is going to deliver money to your house or office or something." The service is provided through 11,000 outlets nationally and almost always paid in cash, he said.
Among the other ads that won awards Thursday were ones for the Beef Industry Council, Continental Airlines, low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes, Contour Chair of Philadelphia, Cutty Sark Scotch whiskey and the Council of Energy Awareness.