Noting its reluctance to advise a company to change a product name, the National Advertising Division nevertheless recommended that Church & Dwight discontinue the use of “4x Concentrated” in the name of its Arm & Hammer Ultra Power 4x Concentrated and Sensitive 4x Concentrated liquid laundry detergents.

Competitor Sun Products Corporation – maker of detergents such as all, Wisk, Sun, and Surf – challenged multiple claims for the Arm & Hammer products. Express claims such as “50% WHITER” and “50% FRESHER” were unqualified and unsubstantiated, Sun argued, while the advertiser’s use of “double scoops of baking soda” exaggerated the amount and efficacy of the baking soda contained in the products. The detergents’ “4x concentrated” claims are based on an outdated and irrelevant concentrated standard, the challenger added.

Church & Dwight responded that all of its claims were adequately substantiated. The “two scoops” claim is not deceptive, the company said, because a “scoop” is not a defined unit of measurement that promises consumers a certain amount. As for the “4x concentrated” claims, the advertiser noted the language is a “crucial” part of the detergents’ names and that no evidence had been presented that consumers were misled by the claims.

The NAD first tackled the “50%” claims, finding that although Church & Dwight could substantiate the “50% WHITER” claim, the company failed to properly qualify the claim with the disclaimer “Versus the leading value brand on a wash load basis per load.” The disclaimer appeared at the bottom of the back label of the bottle, below the Spanish translation of warnings and the ingredients.

“[T]his basis of comparison to one other product tested is material and necessary to avoid conveying a wholly unsupported message of superiority against all competitive products,” the NAD wrote. Because of the remote location of the disclaimer and the “vague” wording, the NAD recommended that the disclosure be modified both substantively and geographically.

As for the “50% FRESHER” claims, the NAD said “reasonable consumers could take away a message regarding the absence of odor,” in part due to the close proximity of the baking soda claims. Testing substantiated that the detergents could get clothes whiter and cleaner but not reduce odor by 50 percent, leading the NAD to recommend that the claim be discontinued.

The baking soda claims should also be modified, the NAD said. A commercial featuring two scoopers pouring baking soda into an open bottle of the detergent left the self-regulatory body concerned that consumers could reasonably take away an unsupported message of efficacy, particularly as the commercial explicitly linked the baking soda to performance claims: “It’s ultra concentrated and packed with two scoops of baking soda so it’s super charged to take on double shifts, double plays, even double trouble to get their clothes 50% whiter, 50% fresher.” Church & Dwight should modify the commercial, the NAD advised.

Turning to the “4x concentrated” claims, the NAD reviewed the history of concentration claims for laundry detergents, recognizing a 2008 shift to a stronger industry concentration. Noting that 73 percent of the market does not make numerical concentration claims, NAD determined that one of the messages reasonably conveyed by Church & Dwight’s unqualified “4x” concentration claims “is that its products are four-times more concentrated than competing brands which appear on the shelves next to them that do not contain such claims.”

The claims appear on the front of the product packaging, standing side by side with competing brands, the NAD observed. And even if consumers were cognizant of the industry’s concentration switch, that understanding “has not persisted 5 years after the leading detergent companies made the transition,” the NAD added.

The unqualified “4x” concentration claim “is likely to cause consumer confusion by conveying the unsupported message” that Church & Dwight’s products are four times more concentrated than competing products that do not feature any concentration claims, the decision concluded, recommending that the company discontinue the claim and remove it from the product name.

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

Why it matters: “When recommending a product name change, NAD does not make such recommendations lightly and only does so after due consideration that consumers could reasonably take away an unsupported message from language in a product name,” the self-regulatory body wrote. Advertisers should take note, however. Despite its reluctance, the NAD still found that the message conveyed by Church & Dwight’s liquid laundry detergents could mislead consumers, even without actual evidence of confusion.