www.boots.com promoted “Little Me Organics Oh So Gentle Hair and Body Wash” but a complaint was made to the ASA that “organic” was misleading as the wash contained less than 5% organic ingredients. But with no UK legal standard for “organic” cosmetics, was this a problem? Heidi Bernard reports.
Topic: Health & Beauty
Who: Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA"); Boots UK Ltd ("Boots")
When: 17 October 2012
Law stated as at: 26 October 2012
A "Little Me Organics Oh So Gentle Hair and Body Wash" advert on the Boots website was banned by the ASA as it was found to be misleading in its implied "organic" claim.
The Boots.com website advertised "Little Me Organics Oh So Gentle Hair and Body Wash." Copy said "Little Me Organics Oh So Gentle Hair and Body Wash has pear, mallow & organic aloe vera to clean and moisturise your baby's delicate hair and sensitive skin."
A single complainant challenged whether claims that the product was organic were misleading.
Boots stated that there was no legal definition of what constituted "organic" with reference to cosmetics. "Little Me Organics Oh So Gentle Hair and Body Wash" was the brand name of the product, and "Little Me" was a registered trademark. Boots insisted that a reasonable consumer would understand that the product contained organic ingredients: pear, mallow and aloe vera, as stated in the product description and on the label. They had taken the claims from the packaging and reproduced them on the website. Therefore, this was no different to an in-store shelf display that customers would view when purchasing the product.
Boots supplied the ASA with certification for the organic ingredients from four independent bodies, and gave a breakdown of the percentage of the organic ingredients in the product, which was less than 5%.
Although the ASA acknowledged that the pear, mellow and aloe vera in the product had been certified as organic, and that there was no legal standard for organic cosmetics in the UK, a number of independent certification bodies with their own organic standards existed which only defined a product as "organic" if it contained a high proportion of organic ingredients.
The ASA considered that consumers would assume that a product described as "Little Me Organics" had been independently accredited or that it used a high proportion of organic ingredients.
As this was not the case, the ASA concluded that the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.3 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation) and told Boots that the ad must not appear again in its current form. The retailer must not promote the product in future marketing unless it provides a prominent statement disclaiming the implied "organic" claim.
Why this matters:
The ad was held to be misleading although no legal definition for "organic" cosmetic products exists and the product did contain some organic ingredients. Therefore, advertisers must be aware of what consumers may assume a statement implies, even if the claim is correct in a strict legal sense.
Furthermore, as the word "Organics" forms part of the brand name for the product, the ruling suggests that no retailer can advertise the product without making a prominent statement disclaiming the implied "organic" claim.
Osborne Clarke, London