So is Asda Shades toilet tissue ‘better, softer, thicker and longer’ than Andrex? Kimberley Clarke (Andrex) asked the Advertising Standards Authority to adjudicate. The ASA reached one conclusion, then changed its mind. We report at
Topic: Comparative advertising
Who: Asda Group Plc and Kimberly-Clark Europe
When: January 2004
Kimberly-Clark Europe complained to the Advertising Standards Authority over national press and magazine advertisements for Asda "Shades" toilet tissue. The magazine ad stated: "Better than the leading brand," and both claimed that Asda Shades Extra Softness Bathroom Tissue was "softer, thicker and longer" than "the leading brand" – according to independent laboratory tests.
Andrex maker, Kimberly-Clark objected to the claims "Softer than the leading brand," and, "better than the leading brand."
On the first claim, Asda accepted that softness could not be measured objectively, but it submitted the results of various panel tests and independent laboratory test reports, as well as other material including the results of consumer research undertaken in Asda's stores.
Asda also included information about a technique called "through-air-drying" which apparently resulted in "maximum softness." They said they used this technique for Flare Tissue, whilst Andrex did not.
First ASA take
First time round, the Advertising Sales Authority noted all this copious information, but it also noted that the panel sizes were small in each independent test and that one of the tests reported that most panellists thought that the difference between the two was not particularly noticeable. In conclusion, the ASA did not believe that the evidence provided by the advertisers proved the claim "softer than the leading brand" and it told Asda to remove it.
On the "Better than the leading brand" claim, Asda fared no better. It based its claim on the assertion that its product was "softer, thicker and longer."
It pointed to the product information given on the two packs. This showed that the Asda product was indeed longer. It added that a four-roll pack of Asda toilet tissue was £1.47 whilst the complainant's equivalent pack would be £1.78.
But this was not good enough for the ASA. Because Asda had thrown softness into the equation as well as thickness and length, and because the softness superiority was not established, the "better" claim as a whole had to go too.
Second ASA take
Then something interesting happened. Asda submitted yet more independent detailed research. This showed 63% of shoppers preferred the softness of its toilet roll to that of Andrex.
This persuaded the ASA to change its mind, on both counts.
It revised its verdict to indicate that the "better" and "softer" claims could be made in future advertising, provided Asda qualified the claims by cross-referring them to a footnote referring to the research.
Why this matters:
It is not clear from reports available so far whether this remarkable turnabout was achieved as a result of activating the Independent Review procedure.
In any event, the case shows that advertisers defending their claims should not necessarily give up the ghost if their advertising suffers a "complaint upheld" finding first time around.
It also shows the potential importance of properly conducted research which is done on a sufficiently large scale to be credible with the ASA.