In a recent decision, the National Advertising Division (NAD) recommended that Philips Oral Healthcare, LLC discontinue claims that its Sonicare Electric Toothbrushes “remove significantly more plaque,” and that the product’s sound correlates to its superior efficacy. Procter & Gamble (P&G) challenged Philips broadcast advertising that compared the Sonicare Electric Toothbrush to P&G’s Oral-B 7000 product, claiming that the “Philips Sonicare removes significantly more plaque* versus Oral-B” “(*Philips Sonicare FlexCare Platinum with InterCare brush head, in deep clean mode, after a single use verses Oral-B 7000).” P&G disputed whether consumers would understand these claims were limited only to the Sonicare FlexCare Platinum with one particular brush head variant.

NAD agreed that the ad made a broader line claim. In particular, the NAD noted that the advertising contained a combination of repeated general brand references and depictions of multiple Sonicare handles, while the qualifying references to the Platinum model appeared only once in the audio and once in a disclaimer that was “barely legible,” in “mice-type text,” and contrasted poorly against a background of almost the same color. NAD found the disclaimer similarly failed to limit the superiority claims to the specific conditions tested (e.g., “in deep clean mode”) or to a single use, and that all of these broader claims were unsupported.

P&G also challenged the ad’s emphasis on the relative sounds made by each product by powering them on and asking “hear the difference?” In particular, during the Sonicare sound demonstration, a background animation simulated the brush pushing water between teeth and the words “dynamic cleaning action” appeared on-screen. Philips claimed this conveyed only that Sonicare FlexCare has a more pleasant sound, but NAD found the ad linked the sound of the product’s sonic technology with a specific comparative performance benefit—“cleaning deep between teeth.” NAD found this message was also unsupported by the record and recommended discontinuance.

TIP: Advertisers are responsible for all reasonable interpretations of their claims, not just the messages they intend to convey. When making claims which are limited to specific circumstances or limitations, those qualification should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed in the advertising.