P&G: verification requirements in comparative advertising campaigns
How much detail do you need to include to meet the verification requirements under the CAP Code when making comparisons with identifiable competitors?
The key takeaway
Any ad which features a comparison with an identifiable competitor or competitors must be verifiable. This means that the ad needs to contain, or direct consumers to, sufficient information to allow them to understand the comparison and to check the accuracy of the claims. The ruling helps provide guidance on the level of detail required to meet the requisite sufficiency level.
Procter & Gamble (P&G) released an internet display ad for Fairy Dishwasher Platinum Plus Tablets on 12 June 2019 in a regional newspaper website. The ad featured large text which stated: “BEST DISHWASHER TABLET ON TEST”. It also included a pack shot of Fairy Dishwasher Platinum Plus Tablets and a Which? Best Buy logo, which featured the text “Which? Best Buy Dishwasher Tablets February 2019”.
The ads were challenged by Reckitt Benckiser UK, who queried whether the claims “Best Dishwasher Tablet on test” and “Which? Best Buy Dishwasher Tablets February 2019” were substantiated and whether they were verifiable.
P&G argued that the claims were verifiable as they would be understood to relate to awards provided by Which? (the independent consumer organisation) and that the information in respect of testing and products could be found on Which?’s website. P&G also noted that the ad provided a link to the information. Although the full results of the tests were only visible to website users who subscribed, they argued that it would be clear to consumers that the product awarded “Best on Test” would be the one that had the most points.
Was the “Best Dishwasher Tablet on test” claim substantiated?
The ASA agreed that the claim would be construed by consumers as referring to the testing performed by Which?, using its own testing criteria. It also agreed that the Fairy Dishwasher Platinum Plus Tablets had received the highest score of all the tested products. This was sufficient to satisfy the ASA that the “Best on test” claim was substantiated.
Did the “Best Dishwasher Tablet on test” claim require verification and, if so, was it verifiable?
The ASA took the view that consumers would interpret the claim to mean that the tablets had received the highest score of all the products in the dishwasher tablets category, which were tested by Which?. This is a comparative claim and, as such, there was a requirement that the claim must be verifiable.
Although the ASA acknowledged that the claim related to a score awarded by Which? for the relevant category, the ad did not contain any further information in respect of the basis of the comparison nor did it provide information about where such information could be found. The ASA therefore considered that the information required to verify the comparison was not clearly identifiable in the ad. The critical point is that, although the testing methodology information was available and accessible, the results of the tests (which would provide information on whether the product scored higher than other products) was only available to consumers who had paid for a Which? subscription. For this reason, the ASA concluded that the ad, and more specifically, the comparative component of the claim was not verifiable as the details of the comparison were not readily accessible to consumers. The “Best Dishwasher Tablet on test” claim had therefore breached CAP Code rule 3.35.
Was the “Which? Best Buy Dishwasher Tablets February 2019” claim substantiated, and was there a requirement for it to be verifiable?
Similarly, the ASA was satisfied that the “Which? Best Buy Dishwasher Tablets February 2019” claim did not breach the advertising rules as consumers were likely to understand from the Which? “Best Buy” logo and branding that the tablets had been independently tested and that they had met the criteria set for the Best Buy dishwasher tablet award. Crucially, the ASA considered that the claim would not be interpreted as a comparative claim against other products as the “Best Buy” criteria was simply that the product must receive an overall test score above a certain threshold (rather than be better than other products on any given criteria). Accordingly, multiple products could be awarded a Best Buy and there was no requirement for the claims to be verifiable.
Why is this important?
The ruling highlights the distinction between substantiation and verification. It also highlights the difference between claims which merely indicate that a particular threshold has been reached and comparative claims. A comparative claim, such as “Best on test” is an assertion that the product has received a higher score than all competitors and it needs to be verifiable, in accordance with rule 3.35.
A claim which indicates that a specific standard has been met, such as “Best Buy” simply states that the applicable threshold has been met (in this case that it has achieved a certain overall test score). It will not be subject to rule 3.35 but will still need to be substantiated and must not mislead consumers.
Any practical tips?
When making comparative claims, ensure that the ad either:
- contains sufficient information to allow consumers to understand the comparison and to check the accuracy of the claims, or
- directs consumers to a page which contains sufficient information to allow them to understand the comparison and to check the accuracy of the claims.
Remember to include enough verification information. While this will depend on the nature of the claim, this ruling suggests that more, rather than less, detail is what is needed to meet the sufficiency standard.