Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A TV ad for the Always Discreet Ultimate Day incontinence pad, seen on 1 July 2023, began with two women practising yoga and discussing concerns about incontinence pads. In a later scene, the two women were conversing in a changing room. One of the women said, “Don’t compromise your practice just because of a bulky pad, wear Always Discreet like me”, to which the other replied, “Will this deal with my leaks?” A close-up of a glass of water being poured over the Always Discreet pad was then shown. On-screen text stated “Waiting time 20s. 95% of 146 women agree it protects and is discreet. Always Discreet Ultimate Day Pads vs Maxi Pad from the leading brand. For verification email [email protected]”.
The second woman was then shown looking shocked and asked, “Wow, where does it go?” as the water was absorbed by the pad. The on-screen text then disappeared. The first woman then responded, “Who cares? It protects, and it’s so much thinner” as two incontinence pads appeared in comparison on screen. The incontinence pad labelled “Leading Brand” appeared thicker than the incontinence pad labelled “Always Discreet”.
Essity UK Ltd, who believed that the ad made comparative claims regarding the performance of the advertised product with their brand of incontinence products, challenged whether the:
1. basis of comparison was misleading because it did not compare the Always Discreet pad with the most appropriate product from the leading brand; and
2. placement of the on-screen text misleadingly implied 95% of women surveyed preferred the Always Discreet pad to the maxi pad from the leading brand.
1. Procter & Gamble UK t/a Always explained that traditional incontinence pads were based on traditional soft fibre superabsorber technology, but that the Always Discreet pad was made using multi-layer core technology which enabled highly absorbent pads to be thinner than the traditional counterparts. Because of that, they believed it was fair to compare their product to the Tena Discreet Maxi pads and highlight the thinness of the Always Discreet pad in comparison.
They said that the Always Discreet Ultimate Day pads offered the highest level of protection as part of their adult incontinence day pad range, and they had ranked it as having six “drops” on their absorbency scale. They explained they only indicated six “drops” on products when they were satisfied that it dealt with heavy leaks. They highlighted that, at the time the ad was aired, the competitor Tena Discreet Maxi pads were rated as five and a half “drops” on Tena’s absorbency scale. As such, they considered that consumers who were considering the purchase of the Always Discreet pads would compare them to the Tena Discreet Maxi pads, because they had both been rated as having a similar absorbency. They asserted that consumer choice was driven by the number of drops listed on the packaging, among other factors, rather than a product’s specific absorbency in grams.
They also stated that Tena had adjusted the droplet allocation for the Tena Discreet Maxi product from 5.5 to 7 droplets since the broadcast of the ad. They believed that demonstrated manufacturers were free to affix the number of droplets to packs as they saw fit, and that the number of droplets a product had was not linked to a fixed capacity of absorption. They also stated that, unlike menstrual pads, that the number of droplets on adult incontinence pads were not standardised or regulated at an industry association level.
They said that absorption was not the only important factor in determining the protection offered by an incontinence pad. They also believed that the speed at which the liquid was absorbed by the pad, the capacity for the surface of the pad to stay dry, and whether the pad contained barriers to avoid leaks, contributed to the level of protection. In addition, alongside the protection of the pad, they stated that consumer choice was driven by the comfort of the product, its ability to prevent malodours, and its discretion. As such, they considered that focusing on the capacity of absorption between the two products as the sole basis for comparison was too narrow and did not align with a consumer’s perception of the product.
Always disagreed with the methodology used in relation to evidence provided by Essity as part of their complaint, which evaluated the absorbency of both incontinence pads featured in the ad. They stated that the methodology was intended to test the theoretical capacity for absorption and did not reflect how much a product could absorb in practice. They also re-iterated the consumer relevance of measuring absorbency using that method; they asserted that consumers had no understanding of the theoretical capacity of a pad, and instead, chose their preferred product from the droplets on the pack which represented the absorption capacity. Furthermore, they stated that the results from the test reflected that the two products had a similar absorbency level. They explained that 200g of urine loss per 24 hours was classified as severe incontinence. As such, according to the study shared by Essity, both products were suitable to deal with severe incontinence because they both absorbed over 200g in test conditions. They therefore believed that demonstrated the product met the same need for consumers.
In addition, Always believed that the Tena Discreet Extra pad, an incontinence pad which Tena considered to be a more suitable product for comparison but was not featured in the ad, did not meet the same consumer need as the Always Discreet pad. They evidenced that point with an image of a side-by-side comparison of the two pads and commented that the Always pad was longer and thinner, and therefore not intended to cover the same consumer need.
They highlighted that they did not refer to absorbency during the comparison in the ad. They further detailed that the side-by-side comparison in the ad did not show the volume of liquid that the products could absorb, neither did it demonstrate the dryness of the pads. In addition, they believed that the depiction of the women undertaking yoga in the ad was a fair representation of the product’s use. They provided a survey of 16 women who suffered from adult incontinence and tested both pads during a yoga class. The women surveyed did not report any issues with absorbency when wearing the Always pad and rated it more favourably than the Tena pad. As such, Always concluded that the ad did not compare the absorbency of the Always Discreet pad with the Tena Maxi pad, but rather, that it was more discreet and presented its capability of meeting the same consumer need with a thinner sanitary product.
Clearcast were confident that the most appropriate product had been chosen for the comparison shown in the ad. They stated that, for the comparison to be fair, the competitor product needed to offer a similar performance to the Always Discreet Ultimate Day incontinence pad. They further explained that the competitor product shown, the Tena Discreet Maxi incontinence pad, was rated as having the highest absorbency in Tena’s range, excluding pads intended for night-time use.
They highlighted that, similarly, the Always Discreet Ultimate Day pads were also rated as having the highest absorbency in the Always range, other than the pads intended for night-time use. As such, they were satisfied that the basis of comparison was fair and appropriate.
2. Always did not agree that viewers would read the on-screen text and understand that “Always Discreet Ultimate Day Pads vs Maxi Pad from the leading brand” related to the prior statement “95% of 146 women agree it protects and is discreet.” They explained that the reference to the leading brand was included so that viewers would understand the visual comparison of the two products included in the next frame.
Clearcast said that the meaning of the on-screen text was clear. They said it was important to include the text “95% of 146 women agree it protects and is discreet”, because it clarified the dialogue “It protects, and it’s so much thinner …” that could be heard in the ad. They further stated that the on-screen text was a statement, without any inference of comparison.
They explained that “so much thinner” was the only comparative claim featured in the ad, and therefore, that it would be clear to viewers that the on-screen text “Always Discreet Ultimate Day Pads vs Maxi pads from the leading brand” qualified that comparative statement. As such, they considered the meaning of both statements was clear and that the first statement would be understood as independent of the second statement regarding the survey.
The ASA noted that the ad featured a side-by-side comparison of the Always Discreet Pad and another pad from the “leading brand”, which appeared considerably thicker than the Always pad. The ad also, in describing the difficulties faced by those who exercised wearing incontinence pads, referred to a “bulky pad”. We acknowledged that the ad did not explicitly reference Tena Lady, but we considered viewers who required incontinence products would be familiar with the sector and understand the leading brand to be Tena Lady, and that the reference to a “bulky pad” described one of their products.
We noted that the ad featured a woman who was doubtful that the thinner Always pad would be able to serve her incontinence needs and asked “Will this deal with my leaks?”, before the absorbency capabilities of the pad were demonstrated on screen, as a glass of water was poured on to the Always pad. The woman then stated, “Wow where does it go?”, before the other woman responded, “Who cares? It protects and it’s much thinner” in relation to the Always pad. As such, we considered that viewers would interpret that statement to mean the Always pad continued to offer a high level of absorbency, but was thinner than the equivalent pad from the leading brand.
We accepted Always’ comments that the absorption capacity of a pad was not the only factor considered when choosing a sanitary pad, and other factors, such as the capacity for the surface of the pad to stay dry, contributed to the level of protection offered by the pad. However, we considered that, in terms of protection, the ad focused solely on the absorption capabilities of the pad, and furthermore, we noted that other relevant factors in terms of protection were not mentioned or referenced in the ad. We therefore considered that the ad directly linked the absorbency of the product with the protection it offered, and that viewers would interpret the statement “it protects” solely in terms of the pad’s absorbency. We further considered that the overall impression of the ad was that, despite being much thinner, the Always Discreet pad offered an equivalent absorbency to the Tena pad. As such, we considered that consumers would assume Always had selected the competitor pad with the closest equivalent absorbency to feature in the ad in order to demonstrate that their pad offered a similar absorbency in a much thinner product.
We understood that both of the featured incontinence pads were rated as having the highest level of absorbency within their respective brand’s range. However, we noted that Always offered seven products as part of their women’s incontinence pad range, in comparison to Tena, who offered 11. Because Always had a smaller range of incontinence pads than Tena, the absorbency of the equivalent pads from each range would not necessarily correspond. We further acknowledged that both of the pads had a similar number of “droplets” ascribed to them, which commonly represented the absorbency level of a pad. However, we understood that the grading system of absorbency was not standardised across different brands of incontinence pads. We therefore considered that, despite the similar droplet rating of the products, the actual absorbency of the pads was not necessarily comparable, and their droplet measurement alone was not sufficient to demonstrate that Always had selected the most appropriate Tena incontinence pad to compare.
The featured Always Discreet pad had an absorbency capacity of 242.63g, while the Tena pad had an absorbency capacity of 453.11g, when tested using the Rothwell method. We understood that the Rothwell method was the universal standard for measuring theoretical absorption capacity, and that once the absorbency has been measured, a product’s absorbency could be categorised on a scale from 1 to 15 for incontinence pads, with 1 indicating the least and 15 the most liquid absorbed. We understood that the absorbency of the Always pad was graded as 4 on the scale, whereas the absorbency of the featured Tena pad was graded as 6, and therefore had a higher absorption capacity. We acknowledged comments from Always in relation to the methodology of the Rothwell method, that it was only suitable to measure theoretical, rather than practical absorption, which could be affected by other factors such as posture or position of the user. However, we understood the Rothwell method was a universally accepted test to measure absorption of incontinence products, and we therefore considered it could be used to give an indicative guideline of the difference in absorption capacity between the two products. Given that, and in the absence of evidence which demonstrated a superior absorption capability of the Always pad, we considered that the absorbency capacity of the featured Tena pad was larger than that of the Always pad.
We assessed the image of the Always Discreet pad and a different Tena incontinence pad, the Tena Discreet Extra, which was not featured as the “leading brand” pad in the ad, provided by Always. The image was an overhead shot and so we considered it was not possible to assess the thickness of the pads or whether the Always pad was thinner. In any case, whilst we noted that the Tena pad was smaller in length, we considered that this feature did not constitute a different consumer need or purpose, because both were intended to prevent moderate incontinence. Furthermore, we understood that the Tena pad had an absorbency capacity of 278.33g. We considered that was comparable to the Always Discreet pad and, similarly, was graded as 4 on the Rothwell scale. As such, we considered the absorbency of the Tena Discreet Extra pad was more comparable to that of the Always Discreet pad. In addition, we understood that the Tena pad was much thinner than the other Tena pad featured in the ad. Had the ad compared the product with the most similar absorbency, the difference in thickness would have been substantially different.
Because the basis of comparison between the two pads in the ad was established against the absorption capability of the pad and its thickness, we considered the most appropriate competitor product had not been featured in the ad, and therefore, because viewers would assume the comparison was against the nearest equivalent product, we concluded the basis of the comparison was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 and 3.2 (Misleading advertising) and 3.33 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
On-screen text stated, “Waiting time 20s. 95% of 146 women agree it protects and is discreet. Always Discreet Ultimate Day Pads vs Maxi Pad from the leading brand”. The text appeared when a close-up of water was shown being poured onto the Always pad and remained on screen until the end frame. We considered viewers would understand that the first portion of on-screen text, “Waiting time 20s”, related to and qualified the clip of water being poured. We further considered that the survey results referred to in the on-screen text would be interpreted in relation to the statement “Iit protects, and it’s so much thinner” heard later on in the ad, because the on-screen text directly reflected the statement. However, we considered it was not explicitly clear to viewers what the on-screen text “Always Discreet Ultimate Day Pads vs Maxi Pad from the leading brand” related to, and in the absence of further information, that viewers would understand that it qualified the survey results referred to in the previous sentence of on-screen text.
We understood that the survey did not assess the performance of the Always pad in relation to the Tena pad, and instead, that the on-screen text referred to the visual comparison of the pads which could be seen in the ad. However, we noted that when the comparison between the pads appeared on screen, large text labelling the pads as “Always Discreet” and “Leading Brand” could be seen. We considered that further created the impression that the text “Always Discreet Ultimate Day Pads vs Maxi Pad from the leading brand” qualified the survey results, because the basis of comparison was highlighted to viewers via the labelling in large text at the relevant time. Because we considered viewers would understand that text as a qualification to the survey, rather than an independent statement which referred to the side-by-side comparison of the pads in the ad, we concluded that the placement of the on-screen text misleadingly implied that 95% of women preferred the Always pad to the Tena pad.
On that point, the ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 and 3.2 (Misleading advertising).
The ad must not be broadcast in its current form. We told Procter & Gamble t/a Always to ensure that the basis of comparison with competitor products did not mislead and not to misleadingly imply that survey results related to a competitor’s product with the placement of on-screen text.