Bath & Body Works owner: ‘Cross-platform body wash campaign stinks!’

The Reveal

It’s a sunny, happy commercial – a bit of a throwback to the “blind taste test” ads from years ago.

In Unilever’s “Let Your Senses Decide” video, which is featured on the company website as well as on YouTube, women on the street sniff vials of body wash and choose the most appealing scent. Boxes labeled “A” are then lifted to reveal samples of Unilever’s Suave body wash products, and boxes labeled “B” reveal samples of competitor L Brands’ Bath & Body Works products.

The subjects all prefer Suave, whose fragrance and price point are praised in contrast to Bath & Body Works’ products.

Soap Dish

L Brands challenged the claims in January 2017 before the National Advertising Division (NAD), which delivered a ruling in L Brands’ favor. The NAD reasoned that Unilever’s preference testing did not provide adequate support for the line claim it was making and recommended that the ad be discontinued.

Unilever appealed to the National Advertising Review Board (NARB), which evaluated the commercial (and noted flaws similar to those identified by NAD) in November 2017.

The video itself, the NARB argued, did not make it clear that the subjects were comparing three separate Bath & Body Works products with three separate Suave products. Instead, the impression was that the entire product lines of both companies were being judged. Explanatory text appearing in the video was insufficient to limit the claims.

In short, the exact nature of the product comparison needed to be disclosed in the video itself – and disclosed accurately and explicitly.

Just Suds

A related claim that bridged the product packaging and the video – that Suave’s fragrance was “as appealing as Bath & Body Works [Product]” – was also criticized. The NARB maintained that this claim was not puffery and required substantiation.

Unilever submitted a preference study as support for the claims, but the NARB determined that the study did not support the line claim. Moreover, according to the NARB, Unilever failed to provide sufficient information regarding the study (i.e., study protocol, raw data, and statistical analysis) showing that the study was valid. Additionally, the NARB determined that the study was fatally flawed because it was not geographically representative.

The Takeaway

In the end, the NARB agreed with NAD and recommended that Unilever discontinue the video and related packaging claims. Unilever said that while it did not agree with the assessment, it would comply with the recommendations. Advertisers should take note that broad line claims must be substantiated by equally broad support.