Colgate should discontinue the claim “Same Whitening Ingredient as Strips” for its Optic White Toothpaste and remedy its implied claims that the product provides a significant whitening benefit, the National Advertising Division recommended.

Competitor and challenger Proctor & Gamble, maker of Crest 3D White Whitestrips, argued that the “Same Whitening” claim conveyed a message to consumers that the peroxide in the toothpaste provides a significant tooth-whitening benefit comparable to Whitestrips.

In defense, Colgate argued that its claim was literally true – Optic White Toothpaste contains 1 percent hydrogen peroxide, the same ingredient used in Whitestrips.

But the NAD said the context in which the claim was presented was causing a false or misleading message. “[W]hile perhaps literally true, the claim ‘same whitening ingredient as strips’ reasonably conveys a message beyond the fact that both strips and Optic White contain ‘peroxide,’” the NAD wrote.

Optic White not only contains a far smaller percentage of peroxide than strips – just 1 percent compared to upwards of 6 percent in the strips – it also has a markedly different delivery mechanism – brushing as opposed to sustained contact – noted the NAD.

“[C]onsumers could quite reasonably interpret the advertiser’s ‘same ingredient as strips’ claim to mean that Optic White toothpaste not only contains ‘the same’ ingredient as Whitestrips, but that it offers the same whitening benefit as Whitestrips,” the NAD said. Colgate failed to acknowledge that its claim could imply comparable efficacy, the NAD said, even though comparable efficacy was clearly intended by the Whitestrips comparator.

The NAD also relied upon a consumer perception study conducted by Proctor & Gamble, which found that 37 percent of respondents interpreted the claim to mean that Optic White was as effective at whitening teeth as strips.

Other factors considered by the self-regulatory body were the “pervasive” whitening claims throughout the packaging, the “repeated and prominent” comparisons to Whitestrips, and a graphic on the Optic White packaging depicting a droplet of peroxide falling from a whitestrip onto a toothbrush.

“[T]his imagery and language reasonably conveys the message that Colgate took the peroxide (and its whitening power) normally found in strips and delivered it in a toothpaste,” the NAD determined. Because Colgate’s evidence was insufficiently reliable to support its express and implied claims, the NAD recommended they be discontinued.

However, the NAD did find that Colgate had adequate support for a more narrowly tailored claim that the toothpaste contains 1 percent hydrogen peroxide in a stable form, a monadic claim that the product provides whiter teeth in one week as compared to a regular, non-whitening fluoride toothpaste, and a claim that Optic White “removes stains that non-whitening fluoride toothpastes do not.”

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

Why it matters: The NAD used the decision to remind advertisers that they are “responsible for all reasonable interpretations of its claims, not simply the messages it intended to convey.” While advertisers are free to tout the ingredients contained in their products to the extent that they are similar to ingredients found in competitive products – like the peroxide at issue in the Optic White toothpaste case – “the analysis cannot stop there,” the NAD emphasized. “[L]iterally truthful claims may give rise to other messages including inaccurate or misleading messages.”