A website for home and beauty products included a video introduction to the company and its products. The video stated, "The simplicity of it is that everything is organic and everything works as a treatment. I was really inspired to create genuine, organic but really luxurious products." An image of the featured candles was shown, followed by other products and the video continued, "Women are able to enjoy skincare and fragrance products that are genuinely organic but also utterly luxurious and really enjoy them so you don't have to choose between something that is synthetic and something that is organic and maybe not as luxurious."
The complainant challenged whether the reference to the candles as "organic" was misleading and could be substantiated.
NEOM Ltd (NEOM) stated that the vast majority of candles on the market were made with paraffin wax (a derivative of crude oil), synthetic fragrance and a variety of additives including wax bleaches, scent boosters and dyes. They said that they had created a range of candles that were made using vegetable waxes and 100% pure essential oils. They stated that unlike candles made with paraffin wax, the by-product of their candles, when burnt, did not release any visible black soot into the air or into the container and believed that when customers breathed in the pure essential oil fragrance, they worked as an aroma therapeutic treatment, hence the name "Organic Treatment Candles". They stated that the candles were made from 90–92% vegetable waxes and 8–10% pure essential oil and therefore contained no non-organic ingredients.
They said that, despite their efforts to lobby for products such as candles to be organically certified, the use of the word "organic" was formally recognised in certain industries and primarily in relation to food and cosmetics products. They said that in the absence of an industry or government standard for "organic" candles, all they could do was take the generally accepted dictionary definition of "organic" which stated "produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals". They believed their candles met this definition and provided a declaration from the manufacturers to state that the wax used in the candles met the generally understood definition of organic. They also provided certification from various independent testing labs which stated that the soya wax, which constituted 92% of the candle product, had been dermatologically tested, was kosher and also GM free. A further certificate from an independent lab stated that the wax was pesticide and herbicide free. Lab results were also supplied on the remaining fragrance ingredients which stated that the fragrance oils were natural and safe.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand the claims that the candles were "organic" to mean that the product met an independently defined standard or used a high proportion of organic ingredients. We considered that in the absence of a defined "organic" standard for candle products, evidence would need to be provided to demonstrate that the majority of the ingredients had been certified organic by an independent organic certification body. The evidence that was supplied demonstrated that independent lab tests confirmed that the wax ingredient (100% soya bean) was natural, kosher, GM free and free from pesticides and herbicides. However, neither the reports from the lab tests nor the wax manufacturer’s documents made any reference to "organic" or "organic certification", and evidence was not presented to demonstrate that the soya bean ingredient met any agreed "organic" standard.
The website included a frequently asked questions section which explained that certification companies did not allow waxes to be classed as organic because of the process of turning oil into wax and that NEOM had taken the decision to refer to the candle products as organic nonetheless. Although we understood this additional information was intended to explain that the "organic" description was not certificated under an industry standard, we considered that it contradicted rather than qualified the "organic" claim in the main body of the ad. Because NEOM had not demonstrated that the candles were "organic", we concluded that the "organic" claim 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) 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 should not appear again in its current form. We told NEOM not to use "organic" in relation to their products unless they held robust evidence.