The National Advertising Review Board wrinkled its nose at claims made by Schmidt’s Deodorant Co. that its products absorb or help absorb moisture or wetness and provide protection against wetness, and recommended they be discontinued.

Competitor Tom’s of Maine challenged a long list of express claims made by Schmidt’s on product packaging (“Effectively neutralizes odors and absorbs wetness” and “Long lasting protection against odor and wetness”) as well as other claims such as “Help avoid wetness,” “Help[s] to keep you dry” and “Absorbs wetness with plant and mineral derived ingredients.”

After reviewing the claims, the National Advertising Division (NAD) found that Schmidt’s testing was not sufficiently reliable to support the wetness protection claims and recommended the advertiser discontinue the challenged claims.

Schmidt’s appealed. The advertiser provided four pieces of evidence to support the claims: articles with respect to the absorption capabilities of ingredients in Schmidt’s deodorants; in vitro testing of Schmidt’s deodorant by an independent laboratory showing a moisture absorption rate between 9.27 percent and 11.35 percent; customer reviews by Schmidt’s deodorant users reporting effective reduction in visible and sensory signs of sweating; and an independently administered three-day product test of Schmidt’s deodorant line, followed by an online survey that showed a significant majority of Schmidt’s deodorant users experienced wetness protection benefits.

Collectively, this support established a reasonable basis for its wetness protection claims, Schmidt’s told the NARB.

But the panel did not find the articles—which were nonscientific and not based on clinical testing, and did not relate to absorbency in the context of a deodorant—to be probative. Testing on individual ingredients will generally not provide support for a claim that a product including those ingredients performs in the same manner—which is particularly true in the case of deodorant with multiple ingredients that could impact the claimed efficacy of the end product—the NARB said.

A majority of the panel similarly rejected the persuasive value of the in vitro testing, which “was not performed under conditions that even remotely represent the human armpit,” the NARB wrote, with nothing to show that the distilled water measured for absorption was an acceptable substitute for human perspiration.

“At best, Schmidt’s in vitro testing suggests the possibility that its deodorant could absorb perspiration, but it falls far short of reliably showing that the product actually absorbs perspiration in actual use,” according to the decision.

Turning to the customer reviews, the NARB agreed with the NAD that anecdotal evidence based solely on the perception of individual consumers was not sufficient to support product efficacy claims.

“The panel also notes that [Federal Trade Commission] guidelines make it clear that an advertiser may not make claims through consumer testimonials that could not be substantiated if made directly by the advertiser; to the extent that Schmidt’s reposts or links to consumer reviews, it would need to have substantiation for any efficacy claims included in those reviews,” the self-regulatory body added.

As for the product test relied upon by Schmidt’s, the panel expressed concern about the use of a consumer survey to measure subjective reactions to support objective wetness protection claims.

“A majority of the panel agrees with the NAD that the challenged objective efficacy claims (e.g., ‘absorbs wetness’) should be supported by objective testing demonstrating the product works as claimed rather than by surveys seeking subjective consumer opinions with respect to the product’s performance,” the NARB wrote.

A majority of the panel also found problems with the reliability of the consumer survey because it was not placebo-controlled and consumers were given the actual Schmidt’s product with a front-label claim that it “[e]ffectively neutralizes odor and absorbs wetness.” Telling consumers what the product is designed to do before they try it can introduce bias in favor of positive results when consumers provide their opinions as to product performance, the NARB said.

The panel recommended that the advertiser discontinue claims, supported either directly or through consumer testimonials, that Schmidt’s deodorants absorb or help absorb moisture or wetness and provide protection against wetness. However, the NARB noted that its decision “does not preclude Schmidt’s from making truthful non-misleading claims—provided it has proper substantiation—with respect to subjective consumer opinions as to the extent that Schmidt’s deodorants help them feel dry.”

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

Why it matters: Advertisers can find important lessons in the NARB’s decision, including that anecdotal evidence based solely on the perception of individual consumers is not sufficient to support product efficacy claims, that testing on individual ingredients will generally not provide support for a claim that a product including those ingredients performs in the same manner, and that the persuasive value of in vitro testing that was not performed under conditions that are consumer-relevant is limited.