The Children's Advertising Review Unit - a voluntary regulatory body set-up by the US food and advertising industries - last week slapped the Kellogg Company's wrist for running ads for its Apple Jacks cereal brand that impied apples apples were "bad".

The CARU move follows criticism from two consumer organizations that the brand's ads presented real fruit in a bad light. Yet neither group - the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Produce for Better Health Foundation - has made any formal complaint to CARU.

The decision reflects the increasingly sensitive climate in which all ads targeting children function. Right now, it's open season on anything that appears to run counter to the official five-a-day fruit campaign.

As did a Kellogg's advertising cartoon character called Bad Apple, described by CARU as "short, round, devious and grouchy". By fair means or foul, Bad Apple's compulsive ambition is to get included in the Apple Jacks cereal mix - instead of a righteous cartoon character called CinnaMon.

Reads a strapline for one complained-of ad: "Apple Jacks doesn't taste like apples because the sweet taste of cinnamon is the winner, mon."

Concluded CARU: "Specifically [we are] concerned that the campaign conveyed or implied … apples taste bad [and] Apple Jacks' sweetness comes from cinnamon and not sugar."

That ruling, replied Kellogg huffily, "was unfounded" - despite which it accepted the decision and has consigned Bad Apple to the compost heap.

All of which may read like a storm in a teacup until viewed against the background of two threatened $1 billion lawsuits. In January CSPI sent Kellogg thirty days formal notice it intended to file a lawsuit in Massachusetts accusing the company of "unfairly and deceptively marketing food of poor nutritional quality to children under [the age of] eight"

At the same time, Viacom's Nickelodeon was also notified of an impending suit - again for $1bn - that could be lodged any time after February 23.

However, a CSPI lawyer said Friday that discussions are taking place with Kellogg and it is holding off filing against either company until the status of those talks becomes clearer.

Data sourced from AdWeek (USA); additional content by WARC staff