A TV ad for Persil washing liquid, seen on 31 March 2022, began with an image of a beach strewn with litter and plastic, and then a boy viewing that image on a TV. A voiceover stated, “At Persil, we know that change doesn’t just happen in the comments section”, as the ad showed a woman writing “#plantmoretrees”, and scrolling through social media and clicking “Sad”. It then featured children collecting plastic litter from rivers and ocean waves on a beach, followed by a shot of muddy hands and a boy in a boat wiping his hands on his t-shirt. The voiceover stated, “For real change, we all need to roll up our sleeves and get dirty.”
The voiceover then stated, “That’s why Persil deeply penetrates the fibres of clothes to remove tough stains the first time, even in a quick or cold wash and our bottles are made with recycled plastic.” At the same time, the ad showed close up shots of dirt being washed from fibres and materials, and then clothes moving in a washing machine with on-screen text stating, “REMOVES STAINS AT 30ºC” and “60 minutes quick wash”. A Persil bottle was shown falling into water, followed by a moving conveyor belt filled with crushed plastic pieces, during which on-screen text stated, “MADE WITH 50% RECYCLED PLASTIC” and below in smaller font *Excludes cap & label”, for both shots.
The voiceover went on to say, “Tough on stains, kinder to our planet. Dirt is good” while it showed children in sunlit outdoor scenes running through white sheets hanging to dry and then a field with trees, also with on-screen text stating, “TOUGH ON STAINS, KINDER TO OUR PLANET”. It ended with an image of three Persil bottles with text alongside an ‘Aloe Vera’ bottle stating “NEW”, and text at the bottom of the screen stated, “DIRT IS GOOD”.
The complainant challenged whether the claims that Persil washing liquid was “kinder to our planet” were misleading and could be substantiated.
Unilever UK Ltd t/a Persil said the ad began with a message that action was needed to effect change and reduce impact on the environment, and then showed how Persil continually improved their products to be kinder to the planet. They said the ad focused on two specific features of their liquid detergents that made them kinder. Firstly, they were now proven to remove tough stains in a cold and quick wash first time, with no need to re-wash. Persil said they had conducted full stain removal testing on a variety of stains, materials and in different wash conditions for the products featured in the ad, including at 30°C in a 60-minute wash cycle. They stated it was well documented that reducing temperature reduced carbon emissions, and highlighted a news article by Which? reporting that washing clothes at 30°C rather than at 40°C used 38% less energy. They said the ad helped to promote washing at lower temperatures to consumers.
Secondly, Persil said that their plastic bottles now contained at least 50% post-consumer recycled plastic (PCR), reducing their use of virgin plastic and carbon derived from fossil fuels in packaging. They said using recycled plastic ensured bottles were kept in a circular plastic economy and out of landfill. The recycled high density polyethylene (HDPE) that the bottles were made of had a lower carbon dioxide equivalent per kg of resin compared with virgin HDPE plastic.
Persil said the initiatives were part of a wider Clean Future programme by Unilever, launched in 2020, which aimed to eliminate fossil fuels and ensure net zero carbon emissions in cleaning products by 2030. As part of that their liquid detergents were formulated with lower dose volumes and higher concentrations, and dosing balls had been removed, which had significantly reduced their use of plastic.
They also said the opening scenes in the ad showing children collecting plastic waste were a visual reference to Unilever’s ‘Dirt is Good’ project, aiming to engage and inspire children aged 6-13 years to consider climate issues and care for the environment, which included a school’s programme.
Persil said the ad therefore demonstrated how their liquid detergents were “Kinder to our planet” by saving energy through cleaning at lower temperatures and in quick washes and using 50% recycled plastic, and did not breach the Code.
Clearcast said the three products in the ad had been proven effective at removing a range of different stains in a cold wash at 30°C, and it was indisputable that washing clothes at lower temperatures saved energy. They said the products had also been proven effective in a quick wash (60 minutes), which also saved energy.
Clearcast said the advertiser was drawing attention to the improvements they had made to enable consumers to reduce their energy bills without compromising the quality of the laundry experience, and taking into consideration the bottles were made with recycled plastic to reduce waste, the basis for why Persil was kinder to the planet was very clear. Clearcast believed the product benefits were set clearly within the context of Persil’s own development in the ad, and therefore the basis for the environmental claim was fully justified.
The BCAP Code required that the basis of environmental claims must be clear. It also required that absolute claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation, but that claims such as “greener” or "friendlier" could be justified if the advertised product provided a total environmental benefit over that of the advertiser’s previous product or competitor products, and the basis of the comparison was clear. The Code also said that environmental claims must be based on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the ad stated otherwise, and claims that were based on only part of an advertised product’s life cycle must not mislead consumers about the product’s total environmental impact.
The ASA considered that the statement “kinder to our planet” was an environmental claim that was comparative. We acknowledged that the ad highlighted the liquid detergent products were effective at removing stains in “cold” washes at 30oC in “quick” 60-minute cycles, with bottles that were comprised of 50% recycled plastic. However, we considered the basis of the comparative claim “kinder” was likely to be ambiguous to viewers. The ad did not state or explain the basis of the comparative claim, such as whether the advertised liquid detergents were “kinder” in comparison to Persil’s own previous products or other products. While the ad highlighted the benefits of the detergents - being effective in cold and quick cycles, and the use of recycled plastic - it was not clear if those were new or recent developments, and whether they were specific to the advertised detergents or applied more widely to Persil’s range of products. One of the featured products was also labelled as ‘new’, but not the remaining two.
Furthermore, the ad featured various strands of messaging about Persil’s wider environmental initiatives including encouraging people to personally take action to care for the environment, and showing children collecting plastic litter, in conjunction with the statement “Dirt is Good”. In the context of the entire ad with several messages relating to environmental issues, we considered the meaning and basis of the claim “kinder to our planet” was unclear.
In addition to the requirement to make clear the basis of environmental claims, we would also require evidence that such claims were based on the full cycle of the advertised product. Although we acknowledged Persil were undertaking actions to reduce the environmental impact of their products, we had not seen evidence or analysis to demonstrate the overall environmental impact of the featured liquid detergents over their full life cycles, compared with Persil’s own previous products or other products, in support of the claim “kinder to our planet”.
We concluded that the basis of the claim “kinder to our planet” had not been made clear. Additionally, in the absence of evidence demonstrating that the full life cycle of the product had a lesser environmental impact compared to a previous formulation, we concluded the ad was likely to mislead.
The ad breached BCAP Code 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), 9.2 9.2 The basis of environmental claims must be clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information. 9.4 9.4 Absolute claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation. Comparative claims such as "greener" or "friendlier" can be justified, for example, if the advertised product or service provides a total environmental benefit over that of the advertiser's previous product or service or competitor products or services and the basis of the comparison is clear. and 9.5 9.5 Environmental claims must be based on the full life cycle of the advertised product or service, unless the advertisement states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle. If a general claim cannot be justified, a more limited claim about specific aspects of a product or service might be justifiable. Claims that are based on only part of an advertised product or service's life cycle must not mislead consumers about the product or service's total environmental impact. (Environmental claims).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Unilever UK Ltd t/a Persil to ensure that the basis of environmental claims was clear in future ads, and that such claims were based on the full lifecycle of the products, unless stated otherwise.