The National Advertising Division (NAD) recommended that Procter & Gamble (P&G) discontinue a television commercial featuring a comparative product demonstration performed by former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, after determining that the advertiser failed to support the broad superiority claim for its Tide Pods conveyed by the ad.

In the commercial, Gronk washes two white T-shirts with large, brown stains while standing in a locker room surrounded by football helmets, shoulder pads and cleats. One of the shirts is washed with an entire 50-ounce bottle of Arm & Hammer, and the second goes in the washer with just a single Tide Pods capsule. A two-line disclaimer appears in small white typeface that states, “Fresh chocolate ice cream and sauce” and “50-ounce baking soda detergent.”

The shirt washed with Arm & Hammer remains discolored when Gronk pulls it out with an “ugh.” When he sees the shirt washed with the Tide Pods capsule—which appears white and stain-free—he smiles and says in a satisfied voice, “Tide Pods.” The commercial ends with a screenshot stating, “It’s got to be Tide,” as a voiceover states, “If it’s clean, it’s got to be Tide.”

Arm & Hammer, marketed by Church & Dwight, challenged the ad, arguing that consumers will take away a message that one Tide Pods capsule cleans soils and stains better than an entire bottle of its detergent, and that Arm & Hammer detergent is ineffective at cleaning soils and stains. Arm & Hammer contended that these claims are false.

P&G countered that the message conveyed by the ad was one of parity that was supported by test results.

But the NAD disagreed, concluding that the commercial conveyed a broad superiority message that was not supported by the testing. According to the decision, “[T]he depiction of a spotless shirt beside a heavily blemished shirt reasonably conveys the message that a single Tide Pods capsule removes stains and soils markedly better than an entire bottle of Arm & Hammer.”

The self-regulatory body was not persuaded by the advertiser’s argument that any superiority message was limited to the specific stain shown in the commercial. The disclosure’s small print and location at the very bottom of the screen rendered it difficult to read, notice and understand, the NAD said, particularly given that the commercial’s dialogue and on-screen action “consistently” drew the viewer’s eyes upward and away from the disclosure.

In addition, the disclosure did not clearly limit Tide Pods’ efficacy to certain stain types, and the brown stain was actually peanut butter chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce—not the chocolate ice cream and sauce disclosed in the commercial, the NAD wrote. Adding to the problem: the audio did not qualify the comparative performance message or otherwise suggest that the product demonstration is limited to a single stain comparison.

“Consequently, NAD determined that the disclosure was not clear or conspicuous (or accurate) and, thus, did not appropriately limit the superiority message solely to the stain depicted in the commercial,” according to the decision.

Other aspects of the commercial contributed to the broad message of superiority, the NAD said.

“For instance, the demonstration depicts Gronk washing shirts with an indeterminate brown stain that could represent a number of stains and soils,” the self-regulatory body wrote. “The ambiguous imagery, combined with the lack of a clear and conspicuous disclosure, contributes to the message that Tide Pods is generally superior, regardless of the stain type. Likewise, the commercial broadly refers to the general efficacy of Tide Pods when Gronk ponders, ‘Can it really clean? Heck yeah, it can,’ but does not clearly limit Tide Pods’ efficacy to certain stain types.”

Finding several issues with P&G’s testing, the NAD determined that it failed to support the broad message of superiority. The use of an entire bottle of Arm & Hammer did not follow the manufacturer’s label recommendations, as required by the ASTM testing protocol, “rendering the comparison and test results inherently unreliable and not consumer meaningful,” the NAD said.

The self-regulatory body also questioned whether “there was a good fit” between the test results and the nature and scope of P&G’s superior performance claim. The testing simply demonstrated that out of the 18 tested stains, Tide Pods outperformed Arm & Hammer on eight stains on cotton and on ten stains on polycotton.

“The closeness of the test results [was] not a good fit for the strong superiority message reasonably conveyed by the commercial,” the NAD wrote. “Instead, the results reveal that Tide Pods’ superiority is dependent upon the types of stains and fabrics tested.”

Finally, the NAD said that the commercial reasonably communicated that Arm & Hammer laundry detergent is ineffective—a falsely disparaging message that was disproved by the advertiser’s own tests, which showed that the challenger’s product was effective at cleaning certain stains and fabrics.

The NAD recommended that P&G discontinue the challenged advertising. In its advertising statement, the advertiser agreed to comply.

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

Why it matters: After concluding that the Tide Pods commercial reasonably conveyed a superiority message, the NAD found that the advertiser’s test results did not support the broad message, which the self-regulatory body also found to be falsely disparaging.