Comparative performance claims made by Procter & Gamble for its Swiffer Sweeper products should be discontinued, the National Advertising Division recently recommended.

Competitor Libman Company challenged P&G claims including “Swiffer Sweeper Leaves your floors up to 3X cleaner than a broom** **on dirt, dust and hair” and “Swiffer Sweeper Pick[s] up 50% more dirt, dust, and hair than with a broom” that were made in stores, on product packaging, and in Internet advertising.

Libman argued that the claims were false and misleading superior performance claims that could not be supported since they were tested under limited conditions (a small surface area of nine square feet and only three surfaces), using non-consumer-relevant test soil (dirt, dust, and hair instead of using other particles or food commonly found in homes), and compared against only two brooms.

P&G responded that its testing was both robust and consumer-relevant, that it provided a reasonable basis for support, and the claims were appropriately limited in scope by the disclaimer that only dirt, dust, and hair were used in testing.

But the NAD determined the claims conveyed “the unsupported message that the Swiffer Sweeper significantly outperforms all brooms on all household surfaces, a message that indisputably is not supported by the evidence in the record.”

The advertiser tested only two brooms, the NAD said, and did not provide evidence that they represented or performed similarly to the vast majority of brooms in the marketplace. “Given the strong, competitive nature of the claims, this limitation in the advertiser’s testing is significant,” the NAD wrote, adding that P&G failed to disclose that the testing was limited to just three types of surfaces.

Consumers could also be misled by the material characteristics of the advertiser’s test soil, which was limited to microns of a certain size, according to the decision. Although P&G argued that the use of the term “dirt” – and not “crumbs,” for example – sufficiently limited its claims to represent the smaller particles tested, the NAD disagreed.

“[C]onsumers could reasonably understand ‘dirt’ as comprising at least some of the larger particles that were sifted out prior to testing and the particles that Swiffer Sweeper is shown to clean up on its website,” the self-regulatory body wrote. “Again, this limitation of the advertiser’s testing does not represent a good fit between the testing conditions and the challenged comparative performance claims.”

Finally, the NAD was “troubled” by the very small test area used in P&G’s study, “a small fraction of the size of the rooms in which the Swiffer Sweeper or a broom would typically be used” as “a smaller test area necessarily [favors] the Swiffer Sweeper given the ease of maneuverability of the swiveling implement and the ability of the pad to trap [dirt, dust, and hair] versus the broom which is not maneuverable and is more likely to scatter [dirt, dust, and hair] by virtue of its flicking motion.”

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

Why it matters: The NAD emphasized that while an advertiser may choose the object of its comparison, any information material to that comparison must be clearly communicated in the advertising. Because P&G failed to effectively tailor its claims based on the limitations of Swiffer’s testing – the small test area, the specific particle size, and with just two brooms in comparison – the self-regulatory body recommended that the advertiser’s claims be discontinued.