The Sherwin-Williams Co. does not need to change the name of its “CoverMaxx” spray paints, the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau said after determining that the advertising challenged by competitor Rust-Oleum Corp. did not communicate a message of superior paint coverage requiring substantiation.

Rust-Oleum argued that marketing materials and product labels featuring language such as “maximum coverage,” “ultimate coverage” and the product name “CoverMaxx” were unsubstantiated claims that the entire line of Sherwin-Williams’ general-purpose spray paints provides superior paint coverage to Rust-Oleum’s and other leading competitors’ general-purpose spray paints.

In support of its position, the challenger pointed to recent decisions from NAD and the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) where the self-regulatory body found the product name of Rust-Oleum’s Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover 2X line of spray paints communicated an “express performance claim” that its paints delivered twice the coverage of competing brands’ paints—including Sherwin-Williams’. In affirming the NAD decision, NARB recommended that Rust-Oleum change its product name.

The advertiser took the position that the claims challenged by Rust-Oleum constituted puffery and did not communicate a superiority message, but were “fanciful” and a form of hyperbole that consumers would understand was not advertising claims.

To back up its argument, Sherwin-Williams reviewed 45 years of NAD decisions. The self-regulatory body has never found that products whose names incorporate the term “max” communicate a superiority message, the advertiser said, while “ultimate” claims have repeatedly been found to constitute puffery.

After noting that “whether a claim is puffery is more an art than a science,” NAD sided with the advertiser with regard to the “ultimate coverage” claim. The accompaniment of four product attributes (“Rust Protection,” “Paint + Primer,” “Fastest Dry Time” and “Durable Adhesion”) didn’t provide a context of comparison either.

“The claim itself is vague and fanciful and does not make any objective representation about the product’s comparative paint coverage,” NAD wrote. “Further, none of the product attributes listed on the product label or website convey a meaningful or measurable message about the product’s paint coverage. … As such, a reasonable consumer likely would understand the ‘ultimate coverage’ claim to be hyperbole rather than a comparative performance claim. For these reasons, NAD found that the ‘ultimate coverage’ claim as it appears in the context of the challenged advertising is puffery and does not require substantiation.”

Turning to the product name, NAD distinguished the Ultra Cover 2X decision, as well as a similar decision involving a product named All-Day Energy. In those cases, the product name communicated a clear, specific and objectively provable statement. NAD analogized these decisions to a decision involving Crest Sensi-Stop Strips, where the use of the prefix “sensi-” (short for “sensitive”) underscored that the name is not a specific claim to be taken literally.

“Here, NAD determined that the CoverMaxx product name is not likely to be interpreted as an express claim that the product delivers superior paint coverage compared to other leading spray paint products,” the self-regulatory body wrote. “In contrast to the product names Ultra Cover 2X and All-Day Energy, the CoverMaxx name is vague and does not convey a clear, specific and measurable message about product performance. Moreover, like the term ‘Sensi’ in Crest Sensi-Stop Strips, the shortened and imaginative use of the term ‘Maxx’ also demonstrates that the CoverMaxx product name is not a literal expression of spray paint performance.”

Sherwin-Williams’ advertising, including the product name, packaging and other marketing materials, taken together, did not reasonably convey the message that the CoverMaxx product provides better coverage than do competing brands of spray paint, NAD concluded.

“Given the absence of extrinsic evidence that consumers are misled by the CoverMaxx name, NAD’s finding that the name standing alone does not convey an express performance message, and the non-comparative context of the surrounding advertising, NAD determined that there was no basis to recommend a product name change.”

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

Why it matters: NAD took the opportunity to provide advertisers with a reminder about puffery. “Whether a claim is puffery depends on the total context of the advertising,” the self-regulatory body wrote. “Obvious hyperbole, exaggerated displays of a manufacturer’s pride in its product and other non-provable claims, the truth and accuracy of which cannot be determined, have been found to constitute puffery.” NAD also reiterated the importance of extrinsic evidence that indicates consumer confusion before it will require an advertiser to change the name of a product. As Rust-Oleum did not provide any reliable extrinsic evidence that consumers were confused or misled about the name “CoverMaxx,” there was no basis on which to recommend a product name change.