“Representative of a nurse” said the on-screen disclaimer in a Colgate toothpaste ad. The “nurse rep” was shown first in nurse’s uniform at work and then in ordinary clothes at the dentist. She prefaced her comments about the product’s benefits “As a nurse I…” Did the caption stop the ad being misleading if she wasn’t? Heidi Bernard reports.
Topic: Health & Beauty
Who: Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA"), Colgate-Palmolive (UK) Ltd t/a Colgate ("Colgate")
When: 20 June 2012
Law stated as at: 27 July 2012
The ASA recently ruled on complaints that a TV and VOD ad for Colgate Total toothpaste was misleading in implying that the product was endorsed by healthcare professionals.
The ad in question showed a uniformed nurse in a clinical environment stating "As a nurse I keep people healthy by fighting bacteria". On-screen text read "Representation of nurse".
The nurse was then shown during a visit to her dentist in which she continued "So I was shocked when my dentist showed me all the bacteria in my mouth, the cause of most dental problems. He recommended I switch to Colgate Total, and wow!
The bacteria was [sic] practically gone". On-screen text stated "Creative representation".
A male voice-over said "No other toothpaste provides superior anti-bacterial protection and protects your mouth from these eight dental problems" (which appeared on-screen). The nurse then concluded: "Unbeatable protection. Which is good because smiling is an important part of my job".
Seven complaints were made to the ASA challenging whether the depiction of a nurse at work and a reference to fighting bacteria misleadingly implied that Colgate Total was endorsed by members of the nursing profession.
Colgate responded that the ad featured an actress cast as a nurse informing viewers that even a nurse, who is likely to deal with bacteria on a daily basis, might not be aware of the levels of bacteria in the mouth. The overall impression was therefore fictitious, telling the story of a fictitious nurse, and included the disclaimer that the actress was only a "Representation of nurse". Further, the nurse appeared as an individual, and as a consumer, making references only to herself and not on behalf of other members of the nursing profession.
Clearcast stated that the ad featured an everyday consumer who happened to be a nurse, giving her own personal, rather than her professional opinion.
Although the ASA noted Colgate's statement that the actress referred only to her own experience not that of the nursing profession, and that she was shown in non-uniform at the dentist, she was otherwise shown in a nurses' uniform in a clinical environment.
In the context of the ad, antibacterial claims were made and an actress shown who appeared to be a healthcare professional. Consequently, viewers were likely to infer that the product was endorsed by members of that profession.
The ASA acknowledged that on-screen text stated "Representation of nurse" but did not consider this enough to prevent the overall impression that the product was endorsed by members of the nursing profession. Therefore, it concluded that the ad was misleading.
The TV ad breached BCAP Code rule 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 11.8 (Medicines, medical devises, treatment and health). The VOD ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.47 (Endorsements and testimonials).
Why this matters:
The ASA ruling in this case highlights that attempts to circumvent breach of advertising codes by stating that actors and actresses are only representations of member of a particular profession will not be enough if the overall impression suggests that the profession depicted has endorsed the product. The visual context of the ad may mislead consumers despite the script making reference to only personal opinion.