Affirming a decision by the National Advertising Division, the National Advertising Review Board recommended that Colgate discontinue “stronger” and “faster” relief claims for its Sensitive Pro-Relief toothpaste.

In a case brought by competitor GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Sensodyne toothpaste, the challenged claims include “Gets to the nerve faster for long-lasting relief” and “FASTER & LONG-LASTING Hypersensitivity relief* [*Faster vs. Sensodyne toothpaste.]”

After reviewing the two clinical tests and one in vitro study Colgate submitted in support of its claims, the NARB said that Colgate failed to provide sufficient support. The studies – which compared users’ pain relief at intervals of two, four, and eight weeks after using Sensitive Pro-Relief and Sensodyne – “had too few data points to generate meaningful results,” and the earliest test assessment did not occur until after two weeks of usage.

“The panel agrees with NAD that one of the reasonable messages conveyed by Colgate’s ‘faster’ claims is that Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief toothpaste starts to provide meaningful relief from sensitivity pain more quickly than Sensodyne toothpaste,” the NARB wrote. But “reasonable support for this message cannot be provided by testing that first assesses pain relief at 2 weeks. Because no measurements after baseline were taken prior to 2 weeks, there is nothing in the record to sufficiently establish when the tested products began to provide meaningful relief and whether Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief toothpaste was the first to do so.”

The single in vitro test was also insufficient to support the “faster” claims, the decision noted.

Addressing Colgate’s “better” claims, the panel again found the test results provided insufficient support. The studies indicated a relatively high level of consumer discomfort at two weeks for both toothpaste products, and although study participants demonstrated a 20 percent advantage using Colgate at two weeks, it was not achieved at four weeks – a meaningful difference as established by the American Dental Association for products effective in relieving tooth sensitivity.

Colgate should discontinue its “better” than Sensodyne claims, the NARB said, except for the eight-week measurement point, where the 20 percent advantage was achieved.

The panel also determined that in advertising directed to professionals, Colgate could reference its test results provided they were accompanied by appropriate disclosures about the findings at all data points and the methodology that was used.

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

Why it matters: The NARB’s decision affirms for marketers the need to have sufficient evidentiary support for product comparison claims. Although Colgate argued that its two clinical studies and one in vitro study provided a reasonable basis for the messages conveyed by its advertising, the NARB said more data points and an earlier assessment were needed. “Health claims, as made in the challenged advertising, require substantiation by competent and reliable scientific evidence,” the panel noted.