A TV ad, for Sure Invisible Black+White deodorant, stated "Trust the experts with our superior Black and White protection … superior to Nivea against yellow stains …". A bar chart entitled "YELLOW STAIN PROTECTION" was seen that showed a higher reading for a Sure product than a Nivea one. On-screen text stated "For more details go to [website address] *Instrumental testing".
Beiersdorf UK Ltd challenged whether the ad's claim for Sure Invisible Black+White antiperspirant to be superior to Nivea Black and White antiperspirant could be substantiated.
Unilever UK Ltd explained that the ad represented a new formula of Sure Invisible Black+White, which offered improved yellow stains protection compared to the previous formula and the best protection against white marks and yellow stains within the Sure range. They said independent testing had also shown that Sure Invisible Black+White offered better anti-yellow stains protection compared to Nivea Invisible Black and White, the leading competing product. The ad included two distinct claims: "our superior black and white protection" and "superior to Nivea against yellow stains".
Unilever believed it was clear that the claim "our superior black and white protection" referred to the advertised product as the best for black and white protection (the protection of black clothes against white stains and white clothes against yellow stains) within the Sure brand range and sent studies to show that testing had been carried out that confirmed this message. They also pointed out that the claim used 'our' to indicate that the claim was aimed at products within the Sure range.
They said the claim "superior to Nivea against yellow stains" was clearly a claim of superiority over a competing Nivea product and was intended to highlight that the Sure product left significantly less yellow staining on clothing than the Nivea product, as measured by consumer and laboratory testing. They confirmed that the testing involved externalised, blinded data and submitted information on the testing protocol and results to the ASA.
Clearcast explained that they had based their approval for the ad on the evidence submitted to them, which included extensive information on the differences in product technologies and their mechanisms of action, and an explanation of the test methods used. They pointed out that one of the tests had been conducted independently and that it had given results to support a claim of superiority of the Sure product over that of Nivea in preventing the yellowing of white cotton. On-screen text had qualified that the results were based on 'instrumental testing', and more details could be found at a given web address for viewers who wanted to verify the results.
The ASA noted the opening voice-over claim "Trust the experts with our superior black and white protection" and that the ad further stated "New Sure Invisible Black plus White, superior to Nivea against yellow stains". We acknowledged Unilever's argument that the ad represented two distinct claims, but considered that viewers were likely to infer from the ad as a whole that Sure Invisible Black+White was the superior product available in terms of black and white protection. The initial statement, “Trust the experts”, introduced an element of comparison over other antiperspirant manufacturers. In addition, the claim, supported by visuals, that the Sure product was superior to the Nivea product in guarding against yellow stains added to the likely understanding that Sure was the superior product of the two, but did not go so far as to clarify that Unilever's intended message was for their competitive 'superiority' claim to refer only to a benefit over Nivea's product for protection against yellow stains. While the voice-over claim was being made, characters in both black and white clothes were shown, and the claim referred to 'superior black and white protection', rather than, for example, a 'superior product'. We considered that, to substantiate the likely interpretation of the ad, Unilever should demonstrate that their product was a superior product to that of their competitors for black and white protection.
We understood that Unilever had not intended to make a comparison with competing products in relation to a claim that the Sure product was superior in terms of 'black' protection. However, they sent studies to show that their Invisible Black+White product had shown parity results with their leading competitor's product, Nivea Invisible Black and White, for 'black' protection. They also sent information to show that their product produced parity results when measured against their leading competitor for its antiperspirant effect.
We considered the evidence in support of Unilever's comparative claim that their Sure product was superior to that of Nivea Invisible Black and White against yellow stains. We understood that the testing was measured using laboratory instruments and on-screen text stated "Instrumental testing". However, we considered that, to support their claim for Sure Invisible Black+White to be superior to Nivea Invisible Black and White, Unilever would need to demonstrate that users of their product were likely to notice a difference to the level of staining on their clothes compared to their competitor's product. The ad showed a woman in a variety of intense situations, such as exercise and performance, and we considered that supporting evidence should demonstrate that reduced staining was shown when the product was used in situations that replicated those in the ad.
Unilever had carried out two sets of testing: in vitro and consumer perception. While the results appeared to be in favour of Sure, we noted the conditions set for the in vitro test did not recreate the different scenarios that had been demonstrated in the ad, such that an improved effect on the clothing of active women users could be demonstrated in relation to everyday wear and associated regular washing. In addition, the testing was carried out only on material that consisted of 100% cotton. This was unlikely to match consumers' expectation from the claim in context, i.e. the Sure product was superior against yellow stains compared to a competing Nivea one for women, not that this superiority had been demonstrated on a specific material type, particularly given that the clothing featured in the ad did not appear to consist of only 100% cotton. Overall, while the testing might be seen to demonstrate comparative results under specific circumstances, for example, a set level of perspiration, a given material type and a set number of wear and wash cycles, this was not representative of the message viewers were likely to understand from the 'superiority' claim as it was used in ad, that: Sure Invisible Black+White was proven to be superior to Nivea Black and White against yellow stains on women's clothing resulting from everyday wear and washing.
In addition to the in vitro testing, Unilever had carried out a consumer study on the two competing products, to examine consumers' perceptions of each. The study involved real world application and use of an antiperspirant. Based on the summaries of the results we had seen, we acknowledged that they appeared to be in favour of the Sure product. However, we noted from that information, for example, that the study did not involve the range of fabrics shown in the ad and was carried out only on male subjects. The product featured in the ad, however, was "Sure Women Crystal Invisible Black + White" and we had not seen evidence to demonstrate the applicability of the results to women. Although we had in any case not seen the full details of the study, given the disparity between the gender of those in the study and the target market, we considered that the consumer study was not appropriate to support the implication of the second claim in the ad, that: Sure Invisible Black + White was superior against yellow stains on women's clothing resulting from everyday wear. In addition, it did not demonstrate an effect on the relevant range of materials.
We concluded that the ad had implied Sure Invisible Black+White antiperspirant was a superior product for black and white protection and that women would experience a noticeable effect as a result of everyday wear, but that this implication had not been substantiated.
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 3.33 3.33 Advertisements that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, consumers about either the advertised product or service or the competing product or service. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Unilever UK Ltd to ensure that all objective claims, including implied claims, were supported by appropriate substantiation.