In a challenge brought by competitor Procter & Gamble, the National Advertising Division recommended that Seventh Generation Inc. modify or discontinue certain safety and “natural” claims about its products.

In a television advertisement for Seventh Generation, the announcer says, “People everywhere are saying no to hazardous chemicals,” while a box containing competing household cleaners is shown. As a man is featured stocking his pantry with Seventh Generation products, the announcer continues: “and yes to a safe and naturally effective way to clean.”

P&G argued that the commercial implies that competitive products are dangerous and that Seventh Generation products do not contain “hazardous” chemicals. The NAD agreed, finding there was no evidence that “when used as directed, Seventh Generation products are safer than competing household cleaning products.” The decision recommended that Seventh Generation discontinue the comparative safety claims, as well as any express or implied claims that suggest its products do not contain hazardous chemicals.

Other claims at issue included Internet ads and product packaging that claim Seventh Generation detergents are 100% natural and safer than competitive cleaning products.

Because there is no regulatory definition of what constitutes “natural” for the product category – and no industry consensus – the NAD reviewed the product packaging and the commercial.

While the packaging doesn’t convey that the product is 100% natural, the NAD expressed concern that the key ingredients in the listed products are only partially natural.

“While NAD is not in the position to assign a percent to what constitutes ‘natural,’ NAD was concerned by the fact that the key ingredients in the listed products are only partially natural contradicts the unqualified ‘natural’ in the product name, which is especially significant given that purchasers of Seventh Generation products specifically seek out natural products.”

The NAD suggested that Seventh Generation modify the use of “natural” on certain products to make it clear that the basis for the claim is the fact that the products are plant-derived or plant-based. However, it did note that nothing in the decision “prevents [Seventh Generation] from touting its efforts in minimizing the inclusion of hazardous chemicals and its disclosure of all ingredients in its household cleaning process.”

In its advertiser’s statement, Seventh Generation said it would take the NAD’s recommendations into consideration.

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

Why it matters: “When making comparative safety and efficacy claims for household cleaning products, advertisers must exercise caution to avoid overstating potential product benefits or dangers,” the NAD cautioned. Companies that do not heed this advice may find themselves the subject of an NAD or regulatory challenge.