Who: Biocoop France
Where: Paris, France
When: 21st September 2016
Law stated as at: 16 December 2016
What happened: In 2014, Biocoop France (Biocoop), the first network of organic stores in France, launched a national campaign to promote organic apples. The advertisement in question displayed a green apple divided in two parts, the first of which being a smooth, shiny green apple and the other side being represented by barrels, smoke, airplanes and other items all associated with a polluted environment. This advertisement also had the following provocative slogan, in capital letters “DO NOT BUY APPLES (CHEMICALLY TREATED)”.
Further to the launch of the campaign, three different lobbies representing fruit producers, including Interfel (the French association for fresh fruits and vegetables) the ANPP (the French association for Apples and Pears) and the FNPF (the French association of fruit producers) (together, the Claimants), brought a claim against Biocoop, alleging that 1) Biocoop’s advert was misleading; and 2) Biocoop’s campaign was disparaging in nature against non-organic apples (as it suggests that chemically treated fruits present serious risks to consumers’ health).
The Claimants therefore asked the Court to order that the advertisement should be banned and that Biocoop shall be liable for payment of damages.
Two years later, on the 21st of September 2016, the Court ruled that the campaign was not a misleading advertisement as it was based on a recent study which proved that non-organic apples indeed contained chemicals, and therefore the campaign was not distorting the results of this study. Even though the campaign did not mention that organic apples could also receive chemical treatments, it was not misleading for the consumers regarding the quality of the products.
With respect to the second limb of the claim, the Court ruled that even though the advertisement is of obvious exaggerated nature, its representation of French apples as presenting a serious risk for consumers’ health due to the chemicals it contains in it is not aimed at valorising organic apples but instead, at specifically discouraging consumers from buying non-organic apples. Therefore, considering the powerful discouraging effect of the advertisement and the wide scale of the campaign (communicated through various channels during 15 days throughout the French territory), the Court decided that Biocoop must pay 10,000 Euros in damages to each defence association and must also immediately stop the campaign.
Why this matters:
Comparative advertising that is aimed at disparaging competitors’ products is not in fashion in France and Biocoop seems to have borne the consequences of this. Indeed, not long after the “apple campaign”, a cosmetic industry trade association complained about another of Biocoop’s ads before the French Jury of Ethical Advertising. This Jury also found that the campaign was constructed on disparaging arguments.