Reviewing comparative, quantified advertising for the Sonicare DiamondClean toothbrush, the National Advertising Division (NAD) recommended that the advertiser modify or discontinue claims in television and website ads for its line of power toothbrushes.

Philips Oral Healthcare promoted the DiamondClean toothbrush with claims such as “The Philips Sonicare DiamondClean with our best brush head gives you: Up to 82% more plaque removal than Oral-B’s best brush head” and “The Philips Sonicare DiamondClean with our best brush head gives you: Improved gum health up to 70% more than Oral-B’s best brush head.”

Competitor The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G) challenged the claims, arguing that the study relied upon by the advertiser did not provide the necessary support. Philips defended its reliance upon the study and countered that the challenged claims were truthful and accurate.

Weighing in, the NAD first found the study relied upon by Philips was well-designed, randomized and examiner-blind. Having determined that the study was methodologically sound, the self-regulatory body then considered whether it was a good fit for the advertiser’s comparative claims.

“Quantified performance claims have a strong impact on consumers and should closely reflect the test results upon which they are based,” the NAD cautioned. “It is critical that these types of claims are adequately supported because they convey information that consumers are unable to evaluate for themselves. This is even more important when the quantified performance claims at issue promise consumers they can achieve a specific health-related result by using the advertised product.”

The NAD determined that the advertiser’s claims were not sufficiently tailored to the study. “The study’s stated objective was to compare the toothbrushes’ performance in subjects experiencing moderate gingivitis,” according to the decision. “The claims at issue, however, are directed to a general audience and are not directed in any way to individuals with moderate gingivitis.”

Absent information regarding the representativeness of the study to the target audience, the NAD said it could not determine whether a typical consumer would be likely to achieve the touted performance benefits.

“Here, the claims reasonably convey a message that consumers with all levels of oral health will achieve benefits if they choose Sonicare over Oral-B,” the NAD wrote. “The advertiser did not demonstrate that the study population was representative of consumers with all levels of oral health, or that consumers with more mild gingivitis would experience the same benefit that the study population achieved. Accordingly, NAD recommended that the challenged claims, based on the [study], should be expressly modified to make clear that the claimed benefits are limited to individuals with moderate gingivitis.”

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

Why it matters: For advertisers, the decision provides an emphatic reminder from the NAD about the use of quantified performance claims, and the need for the claims to “closely reflect” the test results upon which they are based, given the “strong impact” of such claims on consumers. Both parties indicated their plans to appeal the decision. The advertiser will ask the National Advertising Review Board to reach a different conclusion with regard to the quantified performance claims based on the study; P&G said it will seek reversal with regard to the NAD’s finding that the study constitutes competent and reliable evidence for any superiority claim.