Tito’s Handmade Vodka promised to stop using claims that consumers preferred the taste of its product in a challenge brought by competitor Absolut Spirits Co. before the National Advertising Division (NAD).
The claims—which appeared in print advertising in Wine Enthusiast as well as on product labels—depicted a ratings chart for five premium imported vodkas, with Tito’s shown in first place, with a score of 95 points, and Absolut tied for last, with 84 points.
Absolut argued that the claims were false and misleading for several reasons. First, the advertising implied that it depicted the results of a current head-to-head taste test of the five vodka brands. But in reality, the results were based on five independently conducted taste tests, each of which took place at least eight years ago, and two of which had been superseded by more recent testing, the challenger told the NAD.
The ads also featured precise numerical ratings, when Wine Enthusiast provided scores in a range format. For example, Tito’s received a range score of 90–95 but touted its score as 95 in the ads, improperly using just the highest number in the range, Absolut said. In addition, the challenger argued that some of the scores listed in the ad were incorrect. Although Absolut scored an 84 in 2006, Wine Enthusiast retested the vodka in 2015 and bumped it up to an 88.
Tito’s advertising also implied an unsupported claim for the entire line of Absolut vodkas, the challenger told the NAD, noting that it sells other varieties of vodka that have been rated in the 92-96 range by Wine Enthusiast.
The NAD opened an inquiry into the advertisements but Tito’s advised the self-regulatory body that it elected not to submit substantiating evidence. Instead, the advertiser said it would permanently discontinue the challenged claims.
In its advertiser’s statement, Fifth Generation, Inc., the maker of Tito’s, said it only “recently” learned of any new ratings by Wine Enthusiast for Absolut’s regular vodka or the range of scores used by the publication. The company also denied that its manner of representing ratings by displaying only the higher number of the range was biased in its favor.
To read the NAD’s press release about the decision, click here.
Why it matters: While the NAD did not consider the advertiser’s claims on the merits, the decision provides a reminder to ensure that claims are based on the most recent evidence.