NARB: Claims misplaced on packaging won’t come out in the wash

Undisputed Confusion

Back in January 2017, the Procter & Gamble Co. appealed to the National Advertising Division (NAD) to review and assess the advertising of one of its fiercest rivals, Reckitt Benckiser, producer of the Finish brand dishwasher detergent. Among other topics at issue, Finish’s advertising and packaging touted the product within as the “#1 World’s Recommended Brand.”

This tag line appeared next to several product attribute claims – that Finish “helps prevent limescale, cuts through grease” and boasts “quick dissolving cleaning power.”

The NAD concluded that the proximity of these attribute claims to the “#1 World’s Recommended Brand” tagline was misleading, since it was not clear whether the recommendations were due to the specific listed attributes or to some other feature or rationale (the truth of the No. 1 claim was never in dispute).

Additionally, NAD noted that it was unclear how Reckitt defined Finish’s No. 1 status in the first place, even raising the specter of incentives offered to endorsers in exchange for recommendations.

The Takeaway

Reckitt disputed these claims and appealed to the National Advertising Review Board (NARB), but sustained the same fate as before. In a June 2017 recommendation, the NARB reaffirmed the NAD’s earlier judgment and recommended action: Reckitt should modify its product packaging to separate the No. 1 claim from specific attributes and provide clear disclosure about the nature of the claim to consumers.

As far as the NAD and the NARB are concerned, it’s not enough to tell the truth when making an advertising claim; advertisers need to make sure their truthful claims are not compromised by the context of other claims nearby.

Deception can include implicitly false claims, that is, a claim that may be literally true on its face but misleading in the net impression of the ad. Advertisers must look at the ad as a whole and ensure that the net impression would not have a tendency to deceive an appreciable number of consumers in the intended audience. Possible implicitly false claims can be fixed by changing the context in which they are made, and potentially by clear, conspicuous and proximate qualifying disclosures.