It was an awards ceremony that the winners chose not to attend.
A coalition of consumer groups gave out lemon awards yesterday for the year's worst advertising. Among those receiving the dubious distinction of being named "the most misleading, unfair or irresponsible" promotions were advertisements for Chrysler cars and trucks, Kraft cheese slices and the "Cricket" talking doll. Also cited were alcohol and tobacco ads aimed at children.
The advertisements were given Hubbard awards -- bronze figures holding fresh lemons -- in honor of Harlan Page Hubbard, who claimed his 1880s patent medicine cured everything from colds to cancer. The awards were announced by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and nine other consumer groups, including the Consumer Federation of America, Americans for Democratic Action consumer affairs committee and the National Consumers League.
Unlike the advertising industry's Clio awards, which were presented last night for artistic achievement, these awards were presented for alleged factual inaccuracies or failure to address consumer issues.
Although the Federal Trade Commission did not receive an award, it was also cited for failing to crack down on unfair and deceptive advertisements.
"We are currently experiencing an epidemic of deceptive advertising," said Bruce Silverglade, legal director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which organized the Hubbard awards. "Unfortunately, the one federal agency that can put a stop to this marketplace free-for-all, the FTC, has all but ignored the problem."
In its efforts to stop deceptive advertising, the FTC has gone from being a "paper tiger to a dead cat," Silverglade added in the awards ceremony, complete with tuxedo-attired attendants and sealed envelopes containing the names of the winners.
"This is the only awards ceremony in town where the winners have never shown up," Silverglade added.
Nonetheless, the "winners" were quick to respond. Chrysler, for instance, called the award a "self-serving publicity stunt," by the Center for Auto Safety, the industry critic that nominated Chrysler for the award.
Chrysler was cited for its claims that it manufactures the "highest quality" American cars and trucks. After Ford protested the basis for Chrysler's claims, Chrysler modified its ad to use different data to back its commercial.
The Federal Trade Commission's director of consumer protection, William C. MacLeod, also criticized the awards, saying many stemmed from "social or ethical objections" to the products being advertised and not to the ads themselves. "The FTC can't sue because we don't like ads. We can't stop ads simply because people have social or ethical objections to them."
Only Playmates Toy Co. said it had decided to pull its walking "Cricket" advertisement from television to reevaluate it. The advertisement showed the $100 talking doll walking and prancing down a road when in fact the doll not only doesn't walk but can't stand up by itself, the consumer groups noted. "There are enough questions raised that we want to take a second look," said Playmates' Diane Horton, director of marketing.
Kraft Inc., however, said it rejected the allegations that its ads for "Singles" cheese slices exaggerated the calcium content of its processed cheese by saying that "ounce for ounce, Kraft Singles have over four times more calcium than milk." Although the ounce-for ounce calculation may be true, The Center for Science in the Public Interest criticized the ad for leaving the impression that a slice of cheese had four times as much calcium as a glass of milk -- where in fact, it would take 9 2/3 slices of Singles to get four times the calcium of a glass of milk.
Nonetheless, Kraft said it stood by its ads, saying "ounce for ounce is a precise measurement which makes it easier for consumers to compare the two products."
Citicorp, similarly, said it didn't believe its advertisement for home-equity loans were misleading because it clearly states consumers have an option to pay only interest on home-equity loans for its the first 10 years. The Consumer Federation of America had nominated the Citicorp ad, calling home-equity borrowing in general "a dumb idea for homeowners who will pay thousands of dollars in interest over a period of 10 years -- and still owe as much then as they did when they took out the loan."
Cosmair Inc., the maker of Biotherm Body Contouring Treatment, also defended its ads promising to reduce the appearance of cellulite in a mere 10 days. "It is absolutely not misleading," a company representative said, noting that the ad doesn't promise to remove cellulite but rather diminish the appearance of it.
Also cited was a Continental Airline radio commercial that failed to note prominently many of the restrictions on its MaxSaver fares.
H&R Block also received criticism for its tax-time ad that implied the newly enacted tax-reform law applied to 1986 taxes instead of 1987.
Singled out in the category of alcoholic beverages was the Sun Country Wine Cooler ad featuring Grace Jones in a panda bear suit because it catered to children, the National Council on Alcoholism charged.