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Boots infant formula ads broke advertising rules, says watchdog

Boots broke advertising rules by promoting baby formula, a watchdog has ruled   (Andrew Matthews / PA)
Boots broke advertising rules by promoting baby formula, a watchdog has ruled (Andrew Matthews / PA)

Boots was found to have broken advertising rules by promoting baby formula, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has said.

The health and beauty retailer advertised four brands of formula products on the sidebars of search engines earlier this year.

However, it is illegal in the UK to advertise formula for babies up to six months of age so as not to discourage breastfeeding.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their life.

The organisation argues that: “Inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates and duration worldwide.”

Boots explained that the ads appeared online due to a human error which led to an out-of-date list of prohibited items being sent to the advertising team.

The ASA said: “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.

“We welcomed Boots’ prompt action in removing the ads and their assurance that they would amend their processes to avoid a similar situation reoccurring.”

It added: “However, because the ads had the effect of marketing infant formula, which was prohibited under the [ASA] Code, we concluded that they breached the Code.”

A Boots spokesperson said: “We immediately removed these products from our paid media marketing and have since reviewed our list of exclusions and our digital processes to prevent this error happening again.”

Meanwhile, Iceland Foods is calling on the Government to overturn the current rules around advertising and selling infant formula.

The supermarket chain wants the Government to permit the promotion of offers on formula, and to allow customers to buy formula using loyalty points or food bank vouchers.

Iceland defied the regulations last week by making customers aware it had cut the price of formula by more than 20 per cent.

Iceland Foods executive chairman Richard Walker said: “The benefits of breastfeeding versus using infant formula aren’t up for debate: this is about supporting the choices of UK parents as they navigate the cost-of-living crisis.

“The Government needs to show it is doing all it can to help people in the UK, and support retailers like us so that we can do our part without reprisals.”

Many mothers and organisations have criticised the Government’s stance on breast-feeding, as many women cannot feed naturally and are reliant on formula, which can prove expensive, and can lead to babies being denied crucial sustenance, especially as most food banks won’t give out formula.