As part of its routine monitoring, NAD requested substantiation from Eddie Bauer, LLC for the company’s claim that its MicroTherm StormDown Jacket is “Lightest” and “Warmest.” Ads for the jacket read: “The New MicroTherm StormDown Jacket. Lightest. Warmest. Guaranteed.” and “Hydrophobic, DWR-treated down retains loft and insulating power even when wet.”

Eddie Bauer argued that the jacket was designed to be a thermally efficient, water-repellant, lightweight, down-insulated jacket and that the use of the words “lightest” and “warmest” constituted puffery and did not refer to a comparative claim that would be reasonably construed to mean that the jacket is the lightest, or the lightest in a particular category. However, NAD disagreed. Stepping into the shoes of the reasonable consumer, NAD said “lightest” and “warmest” were not puffery because they were not vague and fanciful superlatives with no objective measure of superiority. Instead, both claims “are objectively measurable and refer to specific attributes that suggest that this jacket is comparatively, measurably superior to other products,” according to the decision.

Eddie Bauer also argued that “Lightest. Warmest. Guaranteed.” were not superiority claims. The company stated that the jackets are sold exclusively through the retailer’s stores, catalogs, and website—all of which provide additional information to put the claims in context. The “Lightest” claim clearly refers to the type of insulator used in the jacket and the “Warmest” claim is supported by testing and analysis performed by the independent International Down and Feather Laboratory and Institute showing that down is superior to other insulators. Reasonable consumers would read the words “Lightest. Warmest. Guaranteed.” in combination with the understanding that the terms were used together to describe the combination of thermal efficiency and qualities of the down used in the jacket and not as a superiority claim.

NAD disagreed with the advertiser’s position that the claims “Lightest” and “Warmest” were adequately supported, noting that the claims were unqualified superiority claims that must “generally be substantiated by comparative testing against a substantial portion of the comparative products, usually 80%. Eddie Bauer did not substantiate its claim that the MTSD jacket is the lightest jacket, nor did it substantiate its claim that it is the warmest jacket.” Further, NAD determined that context did not save the claim because at least one advertisement conveyed no additional information about the jacket, while comments in the catalog were not featured as prominently as the “Lightest. Warmest.” claim.

Eddie Bauer did provide support that all of its products—including the MTSD jacket—are backed by the company’s guarantee that every item sold will “give you complete satisfaction or you may return it for a full refund,” so that portion of the claim passed NAD’s review. In addition, testing in industry-recognized methods conducted by an international independent testing laboratory backed the water-repellant claims. The test results were sufficient to support the advertiser’s claims that the jacket is “hydrophobic” and “retains loft and insulating power” under wet conditions, NAD said.

To read NAD’s press release about the decision, click here.

Why it matters: For advertisers, NAD’s decision offers a helpful reminder that they should carefully avoid making unqualified superiority claims. An unqualified superiority claim requires substantiation by comparative testing against “a substantial portion” of comparative products, usually 80 percent.