An email from an industry news outlet, for Vileda Professional Microfibre wipes, received on 19 January 2021, featured the subject line “Remove Corona at a wipe!”. Text in the email included the headline “Remove Corona”, followed by the claims “99.51% bovine corona virus removal”, “Using just water”, “Externally tested with bovine corona virus” and “Meet MicronSolo, one of our best-in-class microfibre wipes – scientifically proven to remove up to 99.51% of corona virus”. The email included an image of a gloved hand wiping a table with the cloth as well as a QR code, which could be scanned for further details. Further text stated “Discover the details at https://www.vileda-professional.co.uk/virus-removal” and “Contact us” which contained a link to send an email.
The complainant, an employee of a District Council, who understood that the product had only been tested on bovine coronavirus, challenged that the ad misleadingly implied that the product could remove Covid-19.
ResponseFreudenberg Household Products LP t/a Vileda said that they had modified their headline claim and provided a copy of their amended ad. They also provided copies of two test reports for the product. They said that as a trusted and well respected brand in the professional cleaning industry, they had submitted everything they could to substantiate the efficacy of their product and had done everything from a legal, responsible and truthful standpoint.
We understood that the email was sent to subscribers to a trade media outlet for cleaning and hygiene industry professionals. The ad was seen in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. While we acknowledged that some recipients might have better knowledge of cleaning and hygiene than the average consumer, and while the ad did not refer to “Covid-19” specifically, in the absence of further information, we considered that references to “Coronavirus” would be understood as references to Covid-19. We therefore considered that recipients of the email would interpret the claims “Remove Corona at a wipe”, “Remove Corona” and “Meet MicronSolo, one of our best-in-class microfibre wipes – scientifically proven to remove up to 99.51% of corona virus” to mean that the microfibre wipes could remove the Covid-19 virus from surfaces with a very high level of efficacy and would therefore help to prevent infection. While we acknowledged that there was a link to additional information on the website, we considered that it was insufficient to counter the initial impression that the microfibre wipes could remove the Covid-19 virus. We also considered that even if the recipient clicked though and found that the study related to bovine coronavirus, it would be insufficient to counteract the overall impression that the product would also be effective against the current Covid-19 strain.
We acknowledged that the original headline “Remove Corona” in the ad had been amended to state “Remove bacteria and viruses with one good wipe”, however, the ad still contained the claim “scientifically proven to remove up to 99.51% of corona virus”. We therefore considered that this did not change the overall impression of the ad.
The product was a single-use microfibre wipe used to clean surfaces. We sought advice from the Health and Safety Executive. Although the product worked via mechanical means, and would not be classified as a biocidal product, given that it was intended to remove harmful organisms from a surface, it was relevant to consider the evidence provided under the same principles used for evaluating the efficacy of biocidal products. Efficacy Guidance provided by the European Chemicals Agency for Biocidal products described various forms of data that might be expected to determine the efficacy of a product. We understood that the EN16615 standard was the test method used for surface disinfection for disinfectant biocides and that this required testing on surfaces and the skin: it required a bacteria removal rate of 99.999% and a virus removal rate of 99.99%.
Those percentages related to the calculation of the reduction in very large numbers of pathogens. So even small changes in the percentage figure represented significant changes in the reduction of pathogens. For example, the 99.99% reduction required by the standard meant a 10,000 times decrease (log 4) whereas a 99% reduction would represent a 100 times decrease (log 2).In order to substantiate the efficacy claims, we expected to see methodologically-sound evidence that reflected how the product might be used in real life.
We considered the evidence provided by Vileda. We understood that at the time, Covid-19 virus samples could not be used for lab testing, and that manufacturers were using other coronaviruses as a substitute to test the efficacy of their products. The first test report described testing of the product against the bovine coronavirus (BCoV) as a surrogate for SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The test evaluated the virus removal of the product on PVC floor covering plates against the bovine coronavirus by wiping the plates with the product soaked with 40 g of purified water, and the method was based on the EN 16615:2015 testing standard. The test results showed a 99.51% reduction, which was a log 2.31 reduction. That did not meet the 99.99% removal rate for viruses as set out in the Efficacy Guidance. We considered the second test report, which used the same methodology as the first test report. The results showed a 99.995% reduction, which was a log 4 reduction. Vileda explained that side effects owing to the methodology may have had an impact on the overall result, leading to differences in outcomes between the tests. While the second test result met the removal rate for viruses set out in the Efficacy Guidance, we were concerned by the inconsistency in the results. We had not been provided with an adequate explanation as to why we should accept the second set of results as representative of the capabilities of the product, in light of that.We considered that the impression given by the ad, that the product could remove the Covid-19 virus from surfaces with a very high level of efficacy and would therefore help to prevent infection, had not been adequately substantiated. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading and breached the Code.
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).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Freudenberg Household Products LP t/a Vileda to ensure that they did not state or imply that their microfibre cloth could remove viruses, including Covid-19, with a high level of efficacy, if they did not have sufficient evidence to substantiate their claims.