It’s not often that you read an NAD decision that involves the late and great Marsha P. Johnson.  Ms. Johnson was an activist, self-identified drag queen, and a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising. The eponymously named Institute works to protect and defend Black trans people and it was the beneficiary of a donation from Niantic, maker of Pokemon.  It is the advertising about that donation that was the subject of a recent NAD case.

NAD opened a routine monitoring case to determine whether the claims made by Niantic about its charitable activities were truthful and substantiated.  Niantic claimed that it was donating a minimum of $5 million to fund projects by Black game developers and to support US non-profits, plus several thousand dollars for scholarships, and $100,000 to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.  NAD found that all of these claims were truthful, based on the evidence presented by the company showing that it had, in fact, exceeded all its minimum pledge amounts.

There are a few excellent lessons here:

  • Claims a company makes about its charitable activities are, in fact, real claims: they must be truthful and appropriately substantiated.  Such claims are effectively “credence claims” because consumers have to rely on the company’s own statements; it would be hard for consumers to verify them on their own.
  • Claims a company makes about such activities in consumer-facing media, like a website or social media are, in fact, advertising, for purposes of NAD jurisdiction (and otherwise).
  • A lot of consumers apparently really care about companies’ social justice activities.  (I just read about a recent study showing that consumers trust CEOs more than politicians. Wow.)  All the more reason why claims about a company's efforts must be made carefully.
  • NAD is watching.

NAD/CARU Case Reports, Case #7037.