GlaxoSmithKline asked the Advertising Standards Authority to investigate the veracity of print and online ads for Colgate Palmolive’s Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief toothpaste which included claims to be “the most effective sensitive toothpaste.” Did Colgate come up whiter than white? Simon Fisher reports.
Topic: Health & Beauty
Who: Colgate Palmolive and the Advertising Standards Authority
When: 14 December 2011
Law stated as at: 4 January 2012
The Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") has upheld a complaint against advertising for Colgate Palmolive's Sensitive Pro-Relief toothpaste following complaints from its rival oral health manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, whose products include Sensodyne toothpaste.
GSK's complaint was that Colgate's advertising campaign carried on TV, online, in the press and via direct marketing last summer which urged consumers to "switch to the most effective relief for sensitivity" and which claimed "proven instant relief and superior lasting sensitivity protection", contained claims which were misleading and which could not be substantiated.
The majority of toothpastes marketed to consumers in UK for the relief of sensitive teeth are potassium-based which numbs the nerve-endings. However, Colgate's product uses arginine to plug the tubules to the nerve-endings themselves.
Colgate also has other products which use the active ingredients of strontium acetate or Novamin to similar effect and there is also a third party brand which uses a combination of calcium sulphate, di-potassium phosphate and baking soda.
The ASA was happy that Colgate could show through clinical trials that, with direct application, the product provided "instant relief" for a number of weeks and that it was more effective when compared to other toothpastes which used potassium or strontium as an active ingredient.
However, the ASA's key concerns were that:
- the average consumer would not be aware of the different types of technology which sensitive toothpastes use;
- Colgate implied that its product was potassium-based, when it was not;
- Colgate had made assumptions regarding the performance of other products which were not potassium or strontium based, which could not be substantiated; and
- Colgate implied that its product was the only product which provided instant relief or which blocked the passages to the nerves, which is not the case.
The ASA's decision was therefore that Colgate could not make absolute claims that the product was the "most effective" toothpaste or provided "superior" lasting relief and that this was a breach of the CAP and BCAP rules 3.1, 3.3 and 3.33 concerning misleading advertising and comparisons with identifiable competitors.
Colgate is prohibited from using the advertising campaign in its current form and in the future must avoid those implications set out above and in particular that its products are being compared with all other sensitive toothpastes on the UK market, if that is not the case.
Why this matters:
Under the CAP and BCAP rules, which apply to non-broadcast and broadcast media respectively, marketing communications must not materially mislead consumers or be likely to do so.
This includes omitting or hiding information about the product which the consumer needs to make an informed decision about the product or presenting it in a way which is unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely and, where comparisons are being made, about the competing product.
The majority of complaints upheld by the ASA are in respect of claims which are misleading and this present case is a good example of how careful advertisers must be in substantiating any absolute claims which they wish to make.