Time was not on the side of Philosophy in an appeal to the National Advertising Review Board (NARB).

The panel recommended that the company modify or discontinue several advertising claims for its “Time in a Bottle Age-Defying Serum” made in print advertising and on product packaging.

The National Advertising Division (NAD) advised Philosophy to halt all claims based on a study it found to be unreliable. On appeal, the NARB found the study to be reliable, and in particular, found that a fill-in-the-blank question on a self-assessment questionnaire that asked participants “Skin appears ____ years younger” was not inherently arbitrary.

“The ‘years younger’ question solicits a subjective response from study subjects as to perceived changes in their skin,” the NARB said. “The panel agrees with Philosophy that individuals are capable of recognizing how their appearance changes over time and it is appropriate for questionnaires to explore perception of those changes.”

However, even though the “years younger” data was reliable, the panel did not believe that responses from 60% of the study participants provided a reasonable basis to support a claim that “Women told us their skin looked 730 days younger.”

The claim “reasonably conveys a message that all or at least a significant majority of women expressed an opinion that their skin looked at least 730 days younger,” even with an asterisk linked to a disclosure referencing the 60% level of support. But since the disclosure was not conspicuous, and it contradicted the main message of the claim, it was deemed unacceptable by the Board.

Similarly, Philosophy’s claims that Time in a Bottle helped skin appear “radiant,” “poreless,” “wrinkle-free,” “smooth,” and “firm” overstated the survey results.

“[T]he challenged claims do more than promise help to improve appearance with respect to the identified skin attributes; they convey a stronger message that Time in a Bottle serum will help women’s skin achieve the highest levels of appearance with respect to these attributes,” the panel wrote. “While the study findings support claims that Time in a Bottle serum helps improve the appearance of women’s skin with respect to these attributes, they do not support a claim that the product will help women’s skin attain the highest level of appearance with respect to them.”

Other claims based on the testing—“95% showed significant reduction in visible signs of aging after 8 weeks,” for example—also supported a claim of improvement but not a claim of “significant” improvement. “The panel believes that consumers will reasonably interpret ‘significant’ to refer to the degree of improvement and not the fact that statistical significance was achieved,” the NARB said.

The challenged claims should therefore be discontinued or modified, the panel recommended.

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

Why it matters: While the NARB disagreed with the NAD that the study relied upon by Philosophy was unreliable, the panel still recommended that the advertiser discontinue or modify the challenged claims. The lesson: even where a study may prove to be sufficiently reliable, advertisers must tailor their claims to the results and not overstate the findings.