ASA Adjudication on Ecos Paints
Heysham Business Park
18 April 2007
Number of complaints:
A national press ad for Ecos Paints stated "ECOS ORGANIC PAINTS ... ~The World's best selling organic paint ... WHICH? MAGAZINE BEST BUY". Small print stated "Ecos organic paint is a registered trademark and there is no UK standard for organic paint".
Natural Deco Ltd (ND) challenged whether:
1. the claim "organic" was misleading;
2. the claim "The World's best selling organic paint" could be substantiated and
3. the claim "WHICH? MAGAZINE BEST BUY" was misleading, because it implied the award was current and referred to organic or environmentally friendly products.
CAP Code (Edition 11)
1. Ecos Organic Paints (Ecos) said there was no UK standard for organic paint. They said they defined "organic paint" as non-toxic paint free of pesticides and herbicides. They said those were the same basic requirements stipulated for organic food and organic cotton, currently the only products in the UK that had organic standards.
Ecos said the Soil Association allowed the use of 37 synthetic chemicals in the production of organic food. They said that showed the term "organic" did not mean 'chemical free' or 'natural' and, in that context, their paints could be called organic.
2. Ecos said they were the only company that sold paint that was described as organic. They said their only significant competitor, a German company called Auro, no longer described its products as organic. Ecos said there were other companies, with a smaller market share than theirs, that marketed paints that were natural, green or eco-friendly but did not describe them as organic.
3. Ecos said Which? Magazine rated Ecos Paints as "Best Buy" in an "Eco-Friendly Paint" comparison. They said Which? Magazine had not conducted any subsequent tests on "Eco-Friendly Paint". They noted Which? asked participating parties not to use their name in publicity but believed they did not prohibit it. They said the claim "WHICH? MAGAZINE BEST BUY" was a genuine statement from a published source.
The ASA considered that readers would understand the claim "organic paint" to mean that the paint met an independently defined organic standard, not merely a standard defined by the manufacturer. Notwithstanding the fact that "Ecos organic paint" was a registered trademark, we noted no UK standard existed for organic paint and considered that the footnote "Ecos organic paint is a registered trademark and there is no UK standard for organic paint" contradicted rather than clarified the headline claim. We concluded that the claim "organic" was misleading.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 49.1 (Environmental claims).
We considered that the claim implied Ecos sold more organic paint than all their competitors worldwide. However, because there was no UK standard for organic paint, we considered that it was not possible to establish which other brands of paint should be included in the comparison. Because there was no clearly agreed range of paints against which Ecos's product could be compared, we considered that it was not possible for Ecos to prove that their product was "The World's best selling organic paint". We noted Ecos had not provided us with documentary evidence which compared the sales of their paint with those of their worldwide competitors. We concluded that Ecos had not substantiated the claim "The World's best selling organic paint".
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 19.1 (Other comparisons).
We considered that the claim "WHICH? MAGAZINE BEST BUY" implied the award was current. Because the ad stated "Ecos organic paint is a registered trademark and there is no UK standard for organic paint", we considered that readers were unlikely to infer that the award referred to organic products.
We noted Which? Magazine's policy on the use of their name stated "Which? asks all companies mentioned in our publications not to use this fact for promotional purposes. Each copy of the magazine includes a copyright notice expressly forbidding the use of any of our published research for advertising, sales promotion or publicity. The reasons for this policy are simple enough; first, we believe that the regular use of the Which? name in advertising will eventually undermine our reputation for independence as the public come to see us as just one more marketing tool; secondly, we do not like to see our reports quoted in a partial way and out of context since we believe this misleads consumers".
We noted the April 2003 edition of Which? Magazine had conducted a survey of emulsion paint and Ecos had been awarded "Best buy" in the "Eco-friendly paints" category.
We noted Which? Magazine had conducted a survey of white gloss paint in April 2006 and Ecos had not been awarded "Best buy" in the "Green paints" category of that survey.
We noted the claim "WHICH? MAGAZINE BEST BUY" was used without the permission of Which? Magazine but considered that, because the endorsement was a genuine statement from a published source, the Code did not require Ecos to obtain Which?s permission to use it. However, we considered that, because the "Best buy" award was four years old and Ecoss paint had not been awarded "Best buy" in a similar category of a more recent Which? survey, the claim was likely to mislead readers.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clause 7.1 (Truthfulness). We also investigated the ad under CAP Code clause 14.5 (Testimonials and endorsements), but did not find it in breach.
We told Ecos to remove the claims "organic", "the World's best selling organic paint" and "WHICH? MAGAZINE BEST BUY" from future ads.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)