A website, www.getsmirk.com, for a teeth whitening product, Smirk, seen on 10 July 2018, included towards the bottom of the home page the heading “Results, the first time” and a before and after illustration of teeth. On the “Before” image the teeth were yellow and on the “After” image the teeth were white. Accompanying text said “Smirk can remove all external stains from years of overindulgence”.
A product page called “Teeth Whitening Powder” included an embedded video. The video showed a man brushing his teeth with the product. The final shot showed him smiling with very white teeth. Text under the video stated “Whiter teeth are just moments away with Smirk Tooth Powder. Results can be seen from the first use and each pot lasts up to 6 months of full-time use”. The page also included an image of the product packaging, which featured the text “Teeth Brightening Powder” and additional text on the product page stated “For whiter, brighter teeth from the very first brush, polish your pearly whites with our signature, peroxide-free powder”. On a page titled “Frequently Asked Questions” under the heading “Teeth Whitening Powder” text stated “Results can be seen from the first use! 95% of our users will see results after 3/4 uses”.
The complainant, who understood that the results were expected after 30 days of use, challenged whether the claims about results after first use were misleading and could be substantiated.
Smiles Powder UK Ltd said that the powder worked by using pentasodium triphosphate, a de-staining agent that could break down staining which had accumulated over time on the enamel. Teeth would then appear whiter and the first use, therefore, of their product would provide the best result.
They provided a copy of a clinical trial carried out by the manufacturer in 2013 which was conducted on people and showed whitening of the tooth enamel when tested against toothpaste. They said that their claim that the product worked after the first use meant that Smiles Powder removed external staining from the tooth from the first use due to its slight abrasive content.
Additionally, they provided a copy of a clinical trial which tested the effects of a dentifrice which included pentasodium triphosphate which they stated confirmed that the powder could brighten and whiten teeth. They also provided a copy of a clinical trial carried out after the ad was seen, which tested the effects of Smiles Powder on bovine tiles which they stated was the closest thing to human teeth and was used in the dental industry to provide like for like results.
They said that they did not claim to change the shade of the tooth which was why the product was named as a “teeth brightening powder”. They also offered a money-back guarantee for customers if they did not see results within 30 days.
They provided customer testimonials in the form of social media reviews and a copy of a brief statement from a dental professional who had used the product on their patients. They also said they had removed the claim “95% of our users will see results after 3/4 uses”.
The home page featured a “before and after” illustration with noticeably whiter teeth in the “after” image under the heading “Results, the first time”. The product page featured an embedded video which showed the product being used and the results immediately after it was used, accompanied by text which included “For whiter, brighter teeth from the very first brush” and “Whiter teeth are just moments away … Results can be seen from the first use”. The ASA considered that the image on the home page and claims featured on the home and product pages, which related to the results that could be achieved after the first use of the product, would be understood by consumers to mean that after using the powder once, their teeth would appear perceptibly whiter. This was further implied through the claim “peroxide free”, because various forms of peroxide were common ingredients in teeth whitening products. We also considered that consumers would understand the terms “whitening” and “brightening” as featured in the product description, to have the same meaning. We therefore expected Smiles Powder to provide evidence which demonstrated that the product had a whitening effect on teeth, which could be seen after the first use of the product. Whilst we acknowledged that pentasodium triphosphate was a common ingredient in toothpastes and had stain removal properties, we considered that we needed to see adequate substantiation for the specific advertised claims made for Smiles Powder.
We assessed the clinical trial carried out by the manufacturer of the product, which tested the whitening effect of traditional toothpaste against a tooth whitening powder on a randomised, double blinded sample which included 20 participants. Participants were instructed to use the powder twice daily for one minute in addition to a non-whitening dentifrice. The report stated that after a three-week period those who used the teeth whitening powder exhibited statistically significant lighter tooth shades relative to the baseline tooth shade and this was evidenced through photographs. We noted the report did not state how the trial was randomised, what the baseline was for each participant, the inclusion and exclusion criteria for the participants or what statistical analysis was used. The report did not include details of the quantity of ingredients used. The results of the trial were based on twice daily usage over a three-week period, which differed from the twice weekly recommended usage of the Smiles Powder product. Therefore, the trial did not assess whether the product had a whitening effect on teeth after the first use.
We also looked at a trial conducted over six weeks, which tested the whitening effect of a product which contained the same active ingredient as that included in the Smiles Powder product. The trial did not test the Smiles Powder product and did not reference the quantity of the active ingredient of pentasodium triphosphate used in the tested product, this meant we were unable to establish how similar the product was to the advertised product. The results of the trial were based on twice daily usage over a six-week period, which also differed from the twice weekly recommended usage of the Smiles Powder product. We therefore considered that the trial did not demonstrate that Smiles Powder’s product could whiten or brighten teeth after the first use.
Smiles Powder also submitted test results carried out on the Smiles Powder product which were conducted after the complainant saw the ad. Because those tests were conducted after the complainant saw the ad, the advertiser therefore did not hold that evidence before the ad was published, which is a requirement of the Code. We nonetheless reviewed whether those tests were sufficient to support future advertising claims. The in vitro testing was conducted on bovine enamel specimens and indicated that the product was able to remove stains from the test specimens. While we acknowledged that in vitro studies could form an important part of research and development in such products, in the absence of adequate human trials of Smiles Powder’s product we considered that the test submitted was not sufficient to support claims about the product’s whitening or brightening effect on humans after the first use of the product.
We also reviewed the customer testimonials and the letter submitted by a dental professional which stated that the powder was effective in removing external staining and patients had seen brightening results. However, testimonials and other anecdotal evidence were not sufficient in themselves to substantiate the claims in the ad.
Taking into account the full body of evidence submitted, we did not consider that it met the required standard to substantiate the claims in the ad that the product had a perceptible whitening effect on teeth which could be seen after the first use of the product. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.
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) and 3.11 3.11 Marketing communications must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product. (Exaggeration).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Smiles Powder UK Ltd not to present claims which exaggerated the whitening and brightening effect of the product nor to state that it could whiten or brighten teeth after one use unless they held adequate substantiation to support such claims.