The National Advertising Division recently recommended that Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Products modify certain performance claims for its REACH Total Care + Whitening Toothbrush, which the NAD found contained misleading statements about its teeth whitening properties.

In an challenge brought as part of the NAD’s routine monitoring program, the NAD examined claims that the REACH toothbrush “whitens and removes stains” and “each time you brush you’re whitening and removing stains.” According to Johnson & Johnson, the bristles in its REACH toothbrush were embedded with calcium carbonate that removed plaque and provided whitening benefits.

Looking to prior decisions discussing tooth bleaching products, the NAD explained the difference between bleaching products, which affect intrinsic changes to the shading and coloring of teeth by removing stains, and whitening toothpastes, which function differently by removing extrinsic stains that affect the perception of whiteness. Because Johnson & Johnson submitted two studies that demonstrated its bristles provide a consumer meaningful difference, the NAD said Johnson & Johnson could support its claim that “Ordinary toothbrushes clean teeth. REACH whitens them.”

However, NAD concluded that claims that the toothbrush “whitens and removes stains” were misleading. “By use of the conjunctive ‘and,’ consumers could reasonably take away the implied message that not only does the advertiser’s REACH toothbrush remove surface (extrinsic) stains for noticeably whiter teeth by the infusion of calcium carbonate into its bristles, but also has the ability to actually whiten the tooth intrinsically by its innovate bristles or by some other means,” the NAD said. “Since it is undisputed that the advertised product removes only extrinsic stains by mechanical means (abrasive action) only,” in order to avoid the potential for consumer confusion, the NAD recommended that the advertiser modify its claims “whitens and removes stains” and “each time you brush you’re whitening and removing stains” by removing the conjunctive ‘and’ “to better reflect the evidence offered in support of these claims.”

In addition, if Johnson & Johnson chooses to discontinue those claims and rely solely on the “Ordinary toothbrushes clean teeth. REACH whitens them” claim, the NAD said that the company must in close proximity clarify the claim that the whitening is achieved through the removal of stains.

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

Why it matters: “It is well established that an advertiser is obligated to support all reasonable interpretations of claims made in its advertising including messages it may not have intended to convey,” the NAD noted.