While Bayer Healthcare provided reasonable evidence to support certain claims for its Citracal calcium supplement, the National Advertising Division recommended that it should modify or discontinue broad claims that the supplement’s bone density builder has been “Clinically Proven to Significantly Increase Bone Density Up to 5%.”

In a challenge brought by competitor Pfizer, the NAD said there was no clinical evidence that genistein, the ingredient believed to build bone mass in Bayer’s supplement, offered benefits to users other than postmenopausal women with lower-than-normal bone density.

Bayer’s unqualified claim that genistein could increase bone density could reasonably be understood to convey the message that it had been clinically proven to build bone density in all people, regardless of their age and gender, the NAD said.

Despite Bayer’s argument that its target audience and sales are predominantly driven by post menopausal women, the NAD said that a particular group’s interest in a product was not the relevant inquiry. While “it may be true that the advertiser’s marketing plan demonstrates its intent to only market to women over the age of fifty, it is well-established that an advertiser is responsible for all the reasonable messages conveyed by its unqualified claim to the population as a whole,” the NAD said, recommending that Bayer discontinue the claim.

And due to “the powerful impact clinically proven claims have on customers, NAD further recommends that the qualifying language appear as part of the claim rather than in a separate disclaimer,” the panel added.

However, the NAD determined that Bayer had submitted sufficient evidence to continue using the product name “Citracal PLUS Bone Density Builder” and that absent extrinsic evidence of customer confusion, the name was not misleading.

Finally, the NAD analyzed the following claim: “How is this different from regular calcium supplements? As you age, it gets harder to build bone density with calcium and vitamin D alone. Citracal Plus Bone Density Builder is the only leading calcium supplement to contain Genistein, an ingredient found in nature in soy that has been clinically proven to significantly increase bone density by up to 5%.”

While Bayer argued that the claim was a product difference claim, the NAD said it was a comparative superiority claim.

“The question is clearly an invitation to the consumer to make a comparison between the advertiser’s product and other supplements on the market,” the NAD said. Because Bayer lacked evidence of head-to-head testing to support such a claim, the NAD recommended that it be discontinued.

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

Why it matters: In addition to regulators and legislators, the NAD is also keeping an eye on dietary supplements, as evidenced by the Bayer decision.