Golf season is in full swing and the National Advertising Division got in on the action with a pair of decisions evaluating ad claims for golf clubs.

In the first case, Taylor Made Golf Company challenged Callaway Golf Company’s claim that its Razr Fit Xtreme driver is “the longest driver in golf.” Taylor Made maintains that Callaway failed to substantiate its claim that golfers of every skill level will drive a longer distance with Callaway’s driver.

Taylor Made objected to virtually every aspect of Callaway’s testing, including the number of other drivers compared to the Razr Fit Xtreme (only five and only models from 2012), the selection of the comparative drivers (the top five selling drivers based on dollar market share), how many times testers hit the ball, the overrepresentation of better players as testers, and the failure to fit each tested driver to the golfer.

Callaway stood behind its testing. It argued that the five other brands composed more than half of the dollar market share for drivers, that fitting each club would have introduced unwanted variability to the testing, and that the use of different player combinations (different players hitting different clubs a varying number of times) did not affect the statistical validity.

The NAD agreed with Taylor Made. “NAD was concerned that the absolute nature of the claim ‘longest driver in golf’ ‘across the broadest range of player abilities possible, would be reasonably understood as referring to competing drivers in general – not merely to the 5 drivers referenced in the disclosure,” according to the decision. The claim “reasonably conveys the message that any golfer using the Razr Fit Xtreme will hit a golf ball a longer distance than with any, or virtually any, or at least a solid majority of, competing drivers.”

The self-regulatory body also expressed concern about the pool of competing drivers that were tested, which it said did not represent a “wide range” or “representative sampling” of competing products, as required to support a superiority claim. The NAD expressed similar dissatisfaction with other testing methodology, such as relying on dollar market share to select the top five drivers, and the objectivity of the test participants, who were Callaway employees.

“Given the difficulty, if not impossibility, of blinding the study subjects to the drivers that they were using, NAD was concerned that the employees could have – albeit unintentionally – swung harder, or performed better, when using the Razr Fit Xtreme because the driver was made by the company that employs them,” the NAD said. “Similarly, NAD was concerned that Callaway employees would be more accustomed to using Callaway clubs, and could thereby achieve better results with these clubs due to familiarity rather than the clubs’ objective superiority.”

The NAD recommended that Callaway discontinue the claim, which it agreed to do.

The second case involved a challenge from Callaway regarding a Taylor Made claim that its Rocketballz Fairway Woods caused “the average golfer [to pick] up about 17 yards” with the 3-wood. The claim implied that Taylor Made’s club will increase the distance of the average golfer’s shots by 17 yards, regardless of the golfer’s skill or experience, Callaway argued.

Taylor Made sought to sidestep the proceeding, responding that the claim had been permanently discontinued because it was misworded – the ad should read “better” in lieu of “average.”

Leaving the parties’ contentious, non-legal swings at each other to the footnotes (Callaway sniped that Taylor Made removed the claim only after receiving a courtesy copy of the NAD complaint; Taylor Made responded that Callaway filed its challenge only in retaliation of Taylor Made’s challenge), the NAD first settled the jurisdictional argument.

Although Taylor Made had withdrawn the claim, it was being actively used when the challenge was initiated, the NAD said. Therefore, it had jurisdiction to review the claim.

Turning to the claim itself, the NAD determined that no further action was necessary at the time based on Taylor Made’s written assurance that the challenged claim has been permanently discontinued – a move that was necessary and appropriate, it added.

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

Why it matters: The decisions present several lessons for advertisers. First, when making a superiority claim, be sure that the supporting evidence is sufficient and that competitors’ products constitute a “wide range” or “representative sampling” of competing products. Second, remember that advertisers are responsible for all reasonable interpretations of claims, not simply the message it intends to convey. And finally, in a challenge before the NAD, be aware that the self-regulatory body has jurisdiction over national advertising claims that have not been permanently withdrawn from use prior to the date of the complaint.