Results from a “torture” test to demonstrate the strength of an oil product could not support claims to consumers about their normal driving conditions, a panel of the National Advertising Review Board recently concluded.

ExxonMobil challenged claims for BP Lubricants USA’s Castrol EDGE Motor Oil found in television commercials as well as on BP’s Web site, YouTube, and Facebook pages that its oil was stronger. Claims included: “Some motor oils are strong. We push Castrol EDGE harder to prove it’s stronger. Because a stronger oil is an oil you can count on.”

BP relied upon a “torture” test to support the claims, which involved vehicles loaded with 1,600 pounds and run at an incline at 75 miles per hour in second gear for up to five days until engine failure – circumstances the advertiser conceded would be impossible for consumers to replicate.

Despite a recommendation from the National Advertising Division to discontinue the claims, BP argued to the NARB that the “torture” test – by definition – was meant to test extreme conditions that exceed normal consumer use and that it accurately disclosed and depicted the testing conditions in the ads.

The NARB agreed that the test description was generally accurate and clearly conducted under extreme conditions, but the panel focused on whether or not the advertisement reasonably conveyed a message that the test results were relevant to consumers.

“[T]he panel finds that the overall context of the challenged advertisements and their unqualified ‘stronger’ claims reasonably convey a message that BP’s test shows that Castrol EDGE will provide consumers with stronger (i.e., longer and better) protection under normal driving conditions,” according to the decision. “This message is reinforced by specific references to consumers demanding stronger oil and Castrol EDGE providing stronger oil that consumers can count on.”

BP lacked substantiation for such a claim because the torture test does not measure strength under normal use and typical driving conditions, the panel said, adding that it also had concerns about the reliability of BP’s testing.

In response to the NARB’s recommendation that BP discontinue the challenged claims, the company issued a scathing advertiser’s statement. The panel “fails to appreciate even how the depiction relates to the underlying testing,” BP said, and “raises superficial, immaterial concerns.” The advertiser also took issue with what it described as a new standard of “unprecedented and entirely impractical level of substantiation” imposed by the NARB for comparative product testing.

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

Why it matters: The takeaway for advertisers: even accurately disclosed or depicted test results may convey a message to consumers that is irrelevant. In the case of BP, while the torture test was intended to demonstrate extreme conditions, the NARB said the claims made by the company conveyed a message that the test results translated into a stronger product under normal driving conditions – a message that was unsupported by the test itself.