The National Advertising Division (NAD) recently recommended that Novartis Consumer Health, Inc. discontinue advertising that its Theraflu product “starts to get to work in your body in 5 minutes.” NAD concluded that the claim communicates that Theraflu begins to relieve cold and flu symptoms within five minutes, which was not supported by testing submitted by the advertiser.

The claim appeared in television commercials, free standing inserts, and an online video. The television advertisement depicted an airport employee noticeably ill, drinking water that contains Theraflu. Simultaneously, a voiceover announces that “Theraflu starts to work in your body in just 5 minutes,” while a disclaimer appears on the bottom of the screen stating “refers to the presence of acetaminophen in the bloodstream.” Immediately after using the product, a stopwatch appears and begins to countdown from 5 minutes. The employee looks noticeably relieved, a super states “Later on,” and a voiceover announces “Theraflu breaks you free from your worst cold and flu symptoms.” Novartis argued that the advertisement was an absorption claim, which communicates that its product is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly. The NAD disagreed, finding that the plain language of the claim (i.e., “starts to get to work in your body in 5 minutes”) and the visuals depicting speedy recovery would lead a reasonable consumer to interpret that Theraflu can relieve cold and flu symptoms within five minutes.  

The NAD concluded that neither the "Later on" super nor the disclaimer were effective to counteract this message. The NAD explained that the super “Later on” could reasonably be interpreted to mean that Theraflu starts to work within five minutes or continues to be effective after five minutes. The NAD also concluded that the disclaimer (i) was insufficiently clear and conspicuous, because the disclosure appeared in thin, white font at the bottom of the screen while visuals moved and (ii) contradicts and materially changes the main message that relief is possible within five minutes. 

TIP: Advertisers should ensure that they can substantiate all reasonable interpretations of any advertising claims. While disclaimers and on-screen supers can be effective at clarifying a claim, they will not be deemed to be effective if the effect is to contradict or materially change the claim being communicated.