Online adverts for Boots for four infant formula products broke UK advertising rules designed to protect breastfeeding, the advertising watchdog has found.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) made the ruling in response to a complaint that the health and beauty retailer’s infant formula products had been advertised on Google.
Promotions for baby formula for use from birth up to six months are banned in the UK, to ensure they do not discourage breastfeeding.
Boots apologised for the adverts after the ASA’s ruling, first reported by the BBC, and said they had appeared on Google and other search engines in error.
It added that the adverts were automated and were generated by an algorithm that was linked to the Boots website, which promoted products that were on offer.
The retailer manually removed the adverts and said it was putting a single process in place to cover all parts of its digital marketing.
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.”
The products that were automatically promoted online by Boots were baby milk formula powders for use from birth made by the brands Aptamil, Hipp Organic, Kendamil and Cow & Gate.
Under UK laws, it is not permitted for retailers to promote offers on any infant formula products aimed at babies under six months. However, marketing and promotion is allowed for “follow-on” products for babies over that age.
Under UK laws, it is not permitted for retailers to promote offers on any infant formula products aimed at babies under six months.
The ASA ruling comes as the supermarket Iceland calls for a change in the law to allow retailers to promote price reductions for baby formula and milk products.
Earlier in August, the chain said it was cutting the price of the baby formula products it sells by 20% as part of a series of price reductions in response to the cost of living crisis. It said the price cuts would remain in place until at least the end of the year.
Richard Walker, the executive chair of Iceland Foods, is calling for “urgent reforms” to baby formula regulations. He wrote in a post on Twitter, which is now known as X: “Regulation prohibits us from promoting savings on formula, accepting loyalty points or food bank vouchers. Breastfeeding is the optimum choice, but parents with no option need support.”skip past newsletter promotion
He has said that the company was risking a fine by the ASA for alerting customers to these promotions, adding in a further X post: “Most parents with a baby under one are concerned about how to feed their baby during the cost of living crisis.”
The World Health Organization recommends that children are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, and says it provides all the energy and nutrients that an infant needs during that time.
The WHO has found that “inappropriate marketing of breast milk substitutes” has undermined efforts to increase breastfeeding rates and duration worldwide.