Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, of which one was Upheld and one was Not upheld. The third issue was informally resolved after Ecozone Ltd agreed to amend their advertising.
A website for Ecozone, www.ecozone.com, a manufacturer and retailer of environmentally-friendly household products, seen on 12 September 2017. Text on the page that promoted their “Laundry sensitive ecoballs” stated, “Ecoballs soften clothes even in hard water and their … ingredients work hard to wash dirt clean away”.
The complainant challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:
1. “Ecoballs soften clothes even in hard water”; and
2. “Their … ingredients work hard to wash dirt clean away”.
1. Ecozone Ltd provided information, commissioned by the Human and Environmental Risk Assessment on Ingredients of Household Cleaning Products (HERA), on the ingredient sodium carbonate which they said identified its primary use as being to soften water. They also provided a user trial report undertaken by a product testing and certification company, which they said showed that the majority of users of the product agreed that Ecoballs softened clothes in hard water. Ecozone also said that the presence of sodium carbonate in the Ecoballs formula would soften water through a basic chemical reaction. The presence of sodium carbonate coupled with the positive response of users to the product, they said substantiated the claim. During the course of the investigation Ecozone expressed a willingness to remove the claim and said they would not use it again.
2. Ecozone provided a report on the cleaning capacity of ecoballs undertaken by the product testing and certification company. The test used three sets of cotton squares soiled with stains commonly found in typical laundry, such as blood, chocolate and oil or carbon. The soiled cotton squares were placed in a washing machine on a 40 degree, 30-minute wash programme; two new Ecoballs were added to the wash load. Ecozone said the test results showed that the Ecoballs cleaned at a level significantly above that of using water alone.
We considered that consumers would understand the claim “softens clothes even in hard water” to mean that their clothes would feel softer after they had been washed with the Ecoballs in hard water.
We acknowledged that one of the ingredients in the Ecoballs, sodium carbonate was widely used as a water softener. However, the claim was that Ecoballs softened clothes, rather than softening water, and Ecozone did not provide any evidence that softened water automatically produced softened clothes. Therefore the presence of sodium carbonate in Ecoballs did not in itself substantiate the claim that the product softened clothes when washed in hard water.
We considered that the HERA report provided did not relate to Ecoballs or any similar product, but was instead intended to assess whether there was any adverse effect from the use of sodium carbonate in household cleaning products. The report also did not provide evidence that softened water would cause softer clothes. As such, we did not consider that the report was relevant to the claim that the Ecoballs softened clothes in hard water.
The user trial submitted by Ecozone reported that participants, including those using hard water, generally thought their items felt soft after being washed with Ecoballs. However, we considered that there were many different variables between the users, such as different washing machines, different clothes and different washing habits. There was also no standardised measurement for the rate of softness, or means of ensuring that participants would have rated softness in the same way. We considered that those factors would impact on the consistency and reliability of the results, and noted that this was acknowledged in the report itself. Furthermore, the sample of 45 participants was small and the report was produced over ten years ago with no further data provided since then. For those reasons, we considered that the user report was not sufficient to substantiate the claim that Ecoballs softened clothes in hard water.
We welcomed Ecozone's willingness to remove the claim and the steps they told us they had taken to correct the ad. Nevertheless, because the evidence provided was insufficient to substantiate the claim that Ecoballs softened clothes in hard water we concluded that the claim was misleading.
On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 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).
2. Not upheld
We considered that consumers were likely to interpret the claim that Ecoballs “ingredients work hard to wash dirt clean away” to mean that Ecoballs contained ingredients that could remove dirt and stains present in clothes after they were washed with them.
Ecozone submitted a test report by an established product testing and certification company, which reported the cleaning capacity and endurance of the Ecoballs. We noted that the initial cleaning performance of the Ecoballs was tested first, over three wash programmes comparing soiled fabric washed with Ecoballs, plain water and a non-biological detergent. The cleaning performance after 50, 100 and 150 washes with Ecoballs was tested afterwards. The results showed that when initially used, the cleaning performance of the Ecoballs was greater than using water alone and similar to using the non-biological detergent. The report stated that after 150 washes the cleaning performance of Ecoballs decreased and was equivalent to using water alone.
While the report stated the cleaning power of Ecoballs on any individual wash may not be as great as a conventional biological detergent, we considered that the test demonstrated that Ecoballs ingredients did possess a capacity to clean and could remove dirt or stains for a significant period of use.
We therefore concluded that the claims in the ad were not misleading and had been substantiated.
On that point we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 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), but did not find it in breach.
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Ecozone Ltd to remove the claim, “soften clothes even in hard water” and not to use similar claims with the same meaning, unless they had adequate evidence that their product could achieve the claim.