A TV ad, for a washing powder, showed a man who was playing tennis fall on a grass court. He was then shown inspecting green marks that covered his white polo shirt. A voice-over stated "Removing challenging grass stains? You cannot be serious. Luckily for us there's Ariel with Actilift. It helps remove grass stains, but on a cool wash ...". The man was shown placing the shirt in a washing machine and turning the temperature down to 30 °C. On-screen text stated "100% cotton polo shirt washed with Ariel Actilift Powder at 30°C". The man was then shown wearing a clean, white, stainless shirt.
The complainant, who said he had not experienced the same performance on grass stains as that shown in the ad, and had been advised by the advertiser that up to eight washes might be necessary in order to realise the full benefit, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
Procter & Gamble UK (Procter & Gamble) said the ad accurately reflected the performance results achieved after washing a 100% white cotton polo shirt with grass stains, with Ariel Actilift at a 30 °C wash. They regretted that the customer did not feel that their product performed as he expected but said, for them to investigate the complaint fully, they would need to study various elements such as his stained items, washing machine and other garments used in the cycle. They believed a misunderstanding had led the customer to understand that he was required to wash garments eight times to achieve the results. They said Ariel Actilift had received a Which? Best Buy award. They submitted a page of stain tests from Which? and said this substantiated the product's performance as shown in the ad.
Clearcast said, via their consultant, that the ad stated "helps remove grass stains" and that Ariel Actilift Powder helped remove grass stains at 30 °C. They submitted details of a test submitted by Procter & Gamble which showed that a blend of 200 ml of freshly picked grass and 200 ml of water was applied onto pre-washed T-shirts with a paintbrush and left to dry for one hour, before being washed at 30 °C. They also said a comparative test compared Ariel New Actilift Powder with the original Ariel Actilift Powder under a 30 °C wash and that the removal of grass and mud stains, for both products, was identical.
The ASA acknowledged Procter & Gamble's assertion that the complainant had been misinformed about how to achieve the results shown in the ad, but was concerned that an e-mail sent to the complainant, from a member of staff in Procter & Gamble's customer relations department, stated that "Although the Actilift effect starts working from the first time you are washing with Ariel Actilift, for optimum performance it may take up to 8 washes to reach the full potential of the Actilift benefits".
We noted the Which? stain tests stated that Ariel with Actilift scored high for drinks and general stains such as grass and mud and scored five stars for stain removal. We also noted Clearcast said the test results showed that all stains were visually removed. However, we noted the tests applied a freshly made liquid grass mixture with a paintbrush and were concerned that this would produce a lighter stain and therefore be easier to remove than one produced from the weight of a tennis player skidding along grass, as shown in the ad. We noted Clearcast's consultant said stain removal testing was normally carried out on fabric which had not had its fibres mechanically or chemically damaged and that using a paintbrush maximised the stain without causing this damage. We also noted he said, because the effects of a stain caused by a person falling would be dependent on variable factors such as their mass, speed of travel when they hit the surface, angle of incident of the cloth to the surface, and the composition of the surface, they would be difficult to replicate. He believed the liquid grass mixture produced a concentration of grass pigment strong enough for testing and that a turf sample would be contaminated with soil or mud which produced a different type of stain from a grass stain.
We understood there were no standards for stain removal testing but considered that applying liquid stains with a paint brush was not a suitable substitute for the kind of grass stains that occurred from falling over when playing sport on grass, when weight and movement were likely to be a significant factor in bedding the stain into the fabric. We considered viewers would understand that they could achieve the same performance on the same degree of grass stains as shown in the ad, when washing a 100% cotton polo shirt washed with Ariel Actilift Powder at 30 °C. In the absence of evidence to demonstrate that, we considered the ad exaggerated the likely results of the product and concluded that it was misleading.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is 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) and 3.12 3.12 Advertisements must not mislead by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product or service. (Exaggeration).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Procter & Gamble not to exaggerate the performance of their products.