Claims on www.colgate.co.uk stated "The new Colgate ProClinical A1500 electric toothbrush is the only toothbrush in the UK with smart sensors that automatically adjust the speed and direction of the brush strokes". A list of features was shown under the heading "FEATURES AT A GLANCE". One of those was "Sonic Wave Cleaning Action". An image of the top of the toothbrush was shown with lines emanating from it. Further down the page, the same image was shown with the following claim "SONIC WAVE CLEANING ACTION. Distinct sonic wave cleaning actions provide a superior* clean for teeth and care for gums. *vs. a manual flat-trim toothbrush".
Philips Electronics UK Ltd challenged whether the claims "sonic wave cleaning action" and "distinct sonic wave cleaning actions" and the image were misleading because they believed it implied sonic waves would emanate from the toothbrush to clean teeth, which was not the case.
Colgate-Palmolive (UK) Ltd said they believed the claim "sonic wave cleaning action" would be interpreted as referring to the frequency and directions of the movement of the toothbrush. They pointed out that "sonic" referred to the frequency at which the brush vibrates and was commonly used in the power toothbrush industry. They said that "sonic wave cleaning action" was a consumer-friendly way to describe the multi-directional toothbrush modes and the high frequency vibrations. They explained that the three product modes operated at a frequency between 20,000 and 32,500 strokes per minute, which was within the sonic range. They explained that the lines surrounding the toothbrush head on the image was commonly used in the industry to denote toothbrush movement. They said that the "How to Use It" video on the Colgate-Palmolive website showed the toothbrush working in contact with the teeth. They provided Colgate-Palmolive's published clinical studies on the product.
The ASA acknowledged that the product operated within the sonic frequency range. We also noted that Colgate-Palmolive had explained that the claims referred to the multi-directional modes of the toothbrush. However, we considered that consumers would interpret the claim "sonic wave cleaning action" to mean that sonic waves were emitted from the toothbrush and provided a cleaning function. We also considered that the lines surrounding the image of the toothbrush reinforced that interpretation. We considered that this was likely to impact on the decision of the consumer to purchase the product. Because of that, we concluded the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 3.11 3.11 Marketing communications must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product. (Exaggeration).
The ad must no longer appear in its current form. We told Colgate-Palmolive (UK) Ltd to ensure that claims about the product's cleaning function did not mislead in future.