When You Wish Upon a Puppy … CARU Steps In

Advertising Law

Just in time for the holidays, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) cracked down on television ads for the Wish Me Puppy and recommended that the manufacturer, Jay at Play, modify the advertisements so that children are not tricked into believing their wishes will magically come true if they play with the plush toy.

A 60-second commercial for the product opened with a child in bed with the puppy, which features a bow that lights up. After the child says, “I wish Grandma was here already,” a jingle plays: “Wish me, wish me, wish upon a bow. When you make a wish, you will see me glow.” The child kisses the plush toy, causing the bow to light. The next scene shows Grandma arriving, kissing the child and the toy.

The ad then features two similar scenarios where other children wish for a rainy day to end and to have a party, and both wishes come true.

CARU expressed concern that young children viewing the commercial would believe that Wish Me Puppy would make their wishes come true, just as in the television ad.

All toys carry with them elements of fantasy, the advertiser told the self-regulatory body, and hyperbole, imagination and puffery are permitted in ads directed to kids. Children’s wishes are common in our culture, Jay at Play argued, and taking the commercial literally would only take fun and imagination out of the toy industry.

However, after reviewing the overall net impression of the commercial, CARU concluded that the advertisement created unreasonable performance expectations for a child audience.

“CARU Guidelines are founded on the premise that children are not as sophisticated as adults,” according to the decision. “While most adults may recognize an unrealistic promise or assertion, children may not always understand the difference between truth and hyperbole.”

As a result, “CARU has long held that children, because of their lesser-developed cognitive abilities, cannot understand advertising techniques like puffery,” the self-regulatory body wrote. “While CARU recognizes that fantasy and imagination are an important part of children’s play, the Guidelines prescribe that advertisements that feature these elements should not create unattainable performance expectations.”

Nor did it matter that a parent or another adult would ultimately be purchasing the product, CARU noted. “[B]ecause a commercial is the first point of contact that a child has with a product it is imperative that it is truthful and accurate.”

Concluding that a child would believe all her wishes would be fulfilled was one reasonable takeaway message from the ad. CARU therefore determined that the commercial did not comply with the Guidelines and recommended that the advertiser make modifications that would better convey that the product will not directly make wishes come true.

To read CARU’s press release about the decision, click here.

Why it matters: CARU’s decision provides an important reminder for advertisers that while hyperbole and puffery can be used in adult-directed advertising, such techniques are not appropriate for ads targeting children.