NARB Panel Finds ASPCA Can Support Claims Made in Charitable Solicitations; Claims Challenged by State Humane Association of California

New York, NY – Nov. 27, 2013 – A five-member panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) has determined that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) can support challenged claims made in charitable solicitations.

NARB is the appellate unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation.

The claims at issue were challenged before the National Advertising Division by the State Humane Association of California (SHAC), and included an express claim of “Your Dollars at Work Across the Country!”

SHAC argued that the following implied claims were made in the challenged
solicitations:

  •  The ASPCA is an umbrella or parent organization for all local SPCAs.
  •  Donations given to the ASPCA directly benefit local humane societies and SPCAs.
  •  Donations given to the ASPCA are spent in providing shelter and care for abandoned cats and dogs in local shelters all over the United States.

SHAC argued that the ASPCA’s claim of “dollars at work across the country” is false because the ASPCA operates only one animal shelter in New York City. However, NAD determined that the claim was supported by the broad range of financial grants and services provided by the ASPCA throughout the United States. SHAC appealed NAD’s findings to the NARB.

The NARB panel, following its review of the evidence, found that the challenged charitable solicitations did not reasonably convey a message that the ASPCA is the parent or umbrella organization for local SPCAs.

While SHAC argued that the ASPCA’s charitable solicitations “play on” a general public misconception that the ASPCA has a direct relationship with all local SPCAs, the panel found nothing in ASPCA’s charitable solicitations that contributes to or takes advantage of any public misconception as to the relationship between the ASPCA and local SPCAs. The panel encouraged the ASPCA to continue its efforts to make clear to the public that there is no direct affiliation between the ASPCA and local SPCAs.

The panel further determined that the challenged solicitations did not reasonably convey a message that all money donated to the ASPCA goes directly to local animal welfare groups and/or will be used solely in providing care and shelter for abandoned cats and dogs in local shelters.

The NARB panel also addressed the question of NAD’s jurisdiction. NAD’s Policies and Procedures give the NAD jurisdiction over “national advertising,” which is defined as including “any paid commercial message … if it has the purpose of inducing a sale or other commercial transaction or persuading the audience of the value or usefulness of a company, product or service.”

While ASPCA argued that charitable solicitations are not commercial messages, and relied in part on legal precedent holding that charitable solicitations are noncommercial
speech that is fully protected by the First Amendment, the NARB panel found that charitable
solicitations are arguably “commercial” to the extent they ask for money and
promise how that money will be spent.

In the absence of any indication that the NAD’s Policies and Procedures intended to exclude charitable solicitations, the panel said, it was not willing to overturn the NAD’s determination that the challenged advertising is “commercial” under the NAD’s Policies and Procedures. However, the panel noted that the case represented the first time the NAD has exercised jurisdiction over a charitable solicitation. The panel, in its decision, urged the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council, which sets policies and procedures for advertising industry self-regulation, to clarify whether charitable solicitations fall within the NAD’s
jurisdiction.

The ASPCA, in its advertiser’s statement, said it is “deeply committed to presenting truthful and accurate information, and we are gratified that both NARB and NAD found that our solicitations do just that.” The ASPCA also said it is “proud of its close relationships with many local shelters and animal welfare organizations in California and throughout the country, and we look forward to continuing to work together to prevent animal suffering and cruelty, and save more lives through adoption, spay and neuter programs, and other critical services.”