BBB National Programs Archive

NAD Finds ASPCA Can Support Advertising Claims Challenged by State Humane Association of California

New York, NY – April 2, 2013 – The National Advertising Division has determined that the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has provided a reasonable basis to support advertising claims made in its fund raising appeals that it provides animal welfare programs and services throughout the United States. NAD has further determined that television and print advertising, challenged by the State Humane Association of California (SHAC), was substantiated and non-misleading.

However, to avoid consumer confusion, NAD recommended that ASPCA modify its website to more clearly explain that the organization is not directly affiliated with local SPCAS or local humane associations.

SHAC has said it will seek to appeal NAD’s decision to the National Advertising Review Board.
NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

SHAC noted that it is a non-profit organization founded to represent the collective voice of California’s humane societies and societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCAs). The State Humane Society of California and SPCAs it represents are not affiliated with the ASPCA. According to SHAC, there is a widely-held mistaken belief that the ASPCA is a parent organization for local SPCAs and humane societies.

Specifically, SHAC challenged ASPCA television advertising campaigns, website, online advertising direct mail and campaigns as misleading and asserted that the ASPCA’s fundraising practices suggest that money donated to the ASPCA will go to local SPCAS and humane societies.

As background, the advertiser, ASPCA, explained that it was the first humane society established in North America and is one of the world’s largest organizations dedicated to the welfare of animals.

The ASPCA questioned NAD’s jurisdiction, asserting that advertising by charities falls outside NAD’s purview.

Following its review of the evidence in the record, NAD noted that while the challenger provided evidence of public misunderstanding and confusion about the relationship between ASPCA and local SPCAs, the challenger did not provide evidence that advertising at issue creates such a misunderstanding.

The NAD found that the advertiser demonstrated that it provides financial assistance directly to shelters in 11 cities through “Partnership Communities” and separately provides grants throughout the country. Further, the advertiser’s evidence shows that the ASPCA has, since 2008, made approximately 3,500 grants to more than 1,350 organizations that provide shelter and care for animals in all 50 states and amounts totaling roughly $33 million. Additionally, the ASPCA funds a Field Investigations and Response Team that rescues abused and neglected animals, an Animal Poison Control Center and a Shelter Outreach program.

Following its review of the evidence in the record, NAD determined that the ASPCA provided a reasonable basis in support of its claims that it provides animal welfare programs and services throughout the United States and further found that the challenged television and print advertising was substantiated and non-misleading.

With respect to the ASPCA website, NAD noted that the ASPCA clearly explains in its Frequently Asked Questions that it is not directly affiliated with local societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCAs).

However, NAD recommended that the ASPCA add similar language to the “About Us” page of its website to avoid any potential for consumer confusion that might arise from the similarity of the ASPCA and SPCA names.

Regarding the question of jurisdiction, NAD found that although the “ASPCA is a non-profit, tax-exempt Section 501(c)(3) public charity, the advertisements, which solicit donations from consumers, have the purpose of persuading the donor audience of the value or usefulness of its services. Accordingly, NAD has jurisdiction under NAD/CARU/Procedures.”

NAD noted that its exercise of jurisdiction is proper under the Procedures and “consistent with the goal of ensuring that consumers receive truthful and accurate advertising”.

The ASPCA, in its advertiser’s statement, said that it “strongly disagrees with NAD’s decision to exercise jurisdiction in this case,” but has concluded “that it is not worth the investment of time and scarce resources to appeal this aspect of the decision.”

The ASPCA noted that it was gratified with NAD’s “finding that statements in our charitable solicitations regarding our work on behalf of abused and neglected animals across the country are truthful and not misleading.”

With respect to its website, the ASPCA said that it is would add additional information to the “About Us” page of our site.