Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, of which one was Upheld and one was Not upheld.
A website for Edward Bulmer paint, www.edwardbulmerpaint.co.uk, seen on 29 June 2018, featured text which stated "Edward Bulmer Natural Paints are the safe and beautiful choice for decorating your children's rooms". Further text stated "It is made from entirely natural ingredients" and "We're very proud that our paint is simply the most eco-friendly paint on the market".
Technical Specialities Ltd t/a Lakeland Paints challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:
1. "Natural Paints"; and
2. "the most eco-friendly paint on the market".
1. Edward Bulmer Ltd said they used "natural" to refer to ingredients from natural sources. They considered the ingredients used in the paints they obtained from AURO.DE (their supplier) to be entirely natural with the exception of one mandatory preservative. They referred to the list of raw materials published by AURO.DE, which, for the emulsion wall paints they supplied to Edward Bulmer, included mineral fillers, water, Replebin (a binding agent), titanium dioxide, mineral pigments, cellulose, surfactants made of rapeseed, castor oil, ammonia and benzisothiazolinone. Edward Bulmer calculated that the paint therefore comprised 40.9% renewable natural materials; 15.3% processed natural materials; 43.5% mineral materials and 0.3% synthetic materials. They proposed to amend the wording of their website to state that the ingredients used were of natural origin.
2. Edward Bulmer said they saw "eco-friendly" as referring to responsible protection of the biosphere; maximising the use of renewable ingredients (sustainability); using renewable energy and recyclable or recycled materials; being socially responsible; not using acrylic, vinyl or other petro-chemical based binders; using processing techniques that minimised energy requirements; not using products made from retort chemistry or which were supplied by the petro-chemical industry and keeping the buyer or user fully informed about the product, such as by including a full declaration of their ingredients, their purpose and their origin. They had checked the sustainability profiles of various suppliers in the paint market and considered AURO.DE the most ethical and transparent. They proposed to amend the wording of their website to explain the background to, and what was intended by, the "eco-friendly" claim.
1. Not upheld
The ASA considered that, in the context of an ad for paint, consumers were likely to interpret "natural" in any one of several different ways, to mean that specific components, or the product in general, were healthy, non-toxic, natural in origin, benign when disposed of or had undergone less processing. We considered some interpretations could conflict with each other – for example, something that was natural in origin might be toxic. With interpretations, and consumers' expectations, likely to vary so widely, we considered that a claim that a paint was "natural" needed to be accompanied by an immediate explanation of what was meant by the claim or what it referred to. Without that information, the claim was likely to mislead.
We acknowledged that the ad in this case was a web page which consumers were likely to see in the context of other pages on the website. Information about the composition of the paint as well as background information about the aims of Edward Bulmer paints and the paint industry more generally appeared on those other pages.
The page where the claim appeared was found under the heading "Nursery Paint". We considered consumers who saw that heading and were interested in that product might go directly to that page. Once on the page, text referred to the colour of the paint being inspired "by nature" and to the paint being made from "entirely natural ingredients ... This means no chemicals, no harmful VOCs, no plastic and no toxins ...". Although that information was found in different areas of the page, we considered that, in context, where the page took the appearance of a written article that could be read through from beginning to end, consumers were likely to understand the intended meaning of “natural”. We considered that consumers who decided, on the basis of the ad, to enquire further or to make a purchase, would not be misled about the basis of the “natural” claim.
We welcomed Edward Bulmer's proposal to amend the claim so that it referred even more clearly that the ingredients they were using were of natural origin. We concluded nevertheless that the ad in its original form was unlikely to mislead.
On that point we investigated the ad under 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) 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 CAP Code stated that the basis of environmental claims had to be clear and that marketers had to base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication stated otherwise, and had to make clear the limits of the life cycle. The Code also stated that comparisons with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product.
We noted that paint products were typically made with materials that were known to have a harmful effect on the environment, such as solvents and plastics. In that context, we considered consumers would understand the claim that Edward Bulmer's paints were "the most eco-friendly paint on the market" to mean that the paints contained little or no harmful substances; that their effect on the environment was therefore reduced and that Edward Bulmer's paints were superior in that respect to other paints on the market. We acknowledged that Edward Bulmer had explained the criteria they had used to judge whether their paint could be considered "eco-friendly". However, while we were aware of certification schemes that established the environmental credentials of paint, Edward Bulmer had not supplied evidence of certification for their paints, nor had they supplied evidence which showed their paints scored more favourably in terms of their impact on the environment than other paints on the market.
We welcomed Edward Bulmer's proposal to include additional information on their website to explain the background to the claim. Nevertheless, because we had not seen evidence to support the claim that their paints were the most eco-friendly on the market, 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), 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), 3.33 3.33 Marketing communications that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product. (Comparisons) and 11.1 11.1 The basis of environmental claims must be clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information. and 11.4 11.4 Marketers must base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle. If a general claim cannot be justified, a more limited claim about specific aspects of a product might be justifiable. Marketers must ensure claims that are based on only part of the advertised product's life cycle do not mislead consumers about the product's total environmental impact. (Environmental claims).
The web page must not continue to appear in the form complained of. We told Edward Bulmer Ltd not to make superiority claims for their products – for example, about the impact of their products on the environment – unless they held adequate evidence.