A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) recently recommended that Reckitt Benckiser, Inc. discontinue certain advertising for its Lysol Disinfecting Wipes and Spray products. The ads claimed that these Lysol products were “Approved to kill 45% More Types of Germs vs. Leading Brand of Wipes* (*Based on EPA Approved Master Labels. Lysol Spray vs. Competitors’ EPA Master Labels.),” in connection with voiceover references to “keep[ing] families healthy” and approval of the Lysol products “to kill more germs than Clorox, including those that can make you sick.” The Clorox Company initially challenged the advertising before the National Advertising Division (NAD), which recommended the claims be discontinued. Upon appeal, the NARB agreed, concluding that the challenged claims reasonably convey that Lysol wipes and spray kill more types of germs, and better protect families from typically-encountered germs, than comparable Clorox products. According to the NARB panel, these messages were not supported by the evidence in the record, which consisted only of the EPA-approved Master List of germs that the Lysol products were registered to kill.
Moreover, according to the NARB, consumers likely would not understand that manufacturers have discretion to apply for EPA approval with respect to particular germs, and that the absence of explicit approval does not mean that a disinfectant cannot kill a certain germ. As a result, the panel recommended that the advertiser clearly and conspicuously disclose that manufacturers are not required to seek EPA approval for every germ that a disinfectant can kill. The panel further noted that Reckitt Benckiser should also avoid implying that Lysol wipes or spray kill more types of germs than competing products.
TIP: An advertiser is responsible for all reasonable interpretations of a claim, not just the messages it intends to convey, and a claim that is literally true may still convey a false or misleading message to consumers depending on the context.