NAD Recommends Shell Modify, Discontinue Certain Claims for V-Power NiTRO Premium Gasoline Following BP Challenge; Advertiser to Appeal

New York, NY March 29, 2017 – The National Advertising Division has recommended that Shell Oil Company modify or discontinue certain challenged claims for the company’s Shell V-Power NiTRO+ Premium Gasoline. The company has said it will appeal NAD’s recommendations to the National Advertising Review Board.

NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The claims at issue were challenged by BP Corporation North America and included:

  • “No Other Gasoline Protects Better.”
  • “No matter what you drive, this formulation works in all types of engines, both conventional and modern.”
  • “Engine threats lurk around every corner: corrosion, wear, gunk. But now you have the power to stay ahead of engine threats. Introducing new Shell V-Power NiTRO+ Premium Gasoline, the best total engine protection you can get.”
  • “Introducing new Shell V-Power NiTRO+ Premium Gasoline, a breakthrough in premium gasoline with unbeatable protection against gunk, unsurpassed protection against corrosion, and superior protection against wear, for the best total engine protection you can get.”
  • “Introducing a breakthrough in protection against gunk, wear, and corrosion. The best total engine protection you can get.”
  • “New Shell V-Power NiTRO+ Premium Gasoline is an innovative new premium formulation that provides the best total engine protection you can get. It delivers unbeatable protection against gunk and corrosion and superior protection against wear.”
  • “Tested against competitors’ premium fuels, using industry standard tests, Shell V-Power NiTRO+ Premium Gasoline delivered unbeatable protection against gunk.”
  • “[Shell V-Power NiTRO+] offers unbeatable protection against gunk and corrosion and offers superior protection against wear.”

As NAD noted in its decision, one of the ways in which retail gasoline brands can seek to differentiate their products from competitors is by promoting innovations and improvements to the various additives and detergents that are mixed with commoditized “base gasoline.”

This dispute, NAD noted, centered on a series of comparative claims regarding some of the benefits of Shell’s additive package, specifically its ability to better “protect” engines in which the fuel is used.

Given that the benefits provided by these additive packages represent one of the few areas where competing gasoline brands can seek to distinguish their fuels, comparative superiority claims about engine-protection benefits can have a significant impact on consumers.

NAD has long recognized that advertisers have a right to promote product distinctions and to compare their products to competing products. It is also well-established that advertisers are obligated to provide a reasonable basis for comparative claims and the benefits promoted to consumers are consumer relevant.

The advertiser’s “best total engine protection” claims relied on testing regarding SVPN+’s ability to protect engines against three threats: corrosion, wear, and “gunk.”

NAD determined that the testing could not support the “unbeatable protection against corrosion” claim and recommended Shell discontinue the claim.

NAD also recommended that the advertiser discontinue use of its image comparing corrosion on steel rods, because the image did not reflect the potential corrosion consumers might see in their vehicles in normal conditions when using competing gasolines.

NAD determined that the evidence in the record did not support the advertiser’s claim that SVPN+ provides “superior protection from wear,” because differences in the advertiser’s laboratory test results could not be reliably linked to the real world performance of competing gasolines. Given that finding, NAD noted, the claim that SVPN+ provides “the best total engine protection you can get” is also unsupported. NAD recommended the advertiser discontinue both claims.

NAD determined that the advertiser’s evidence did not support its comparative claim that SVPN+ “provides unbeatable protection from gunk” and recommended that the claim be discontinued. NAD further recommended that the advertiser discontinue the line claim that Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines provide “unsurpassed protection from performance-robbing gunk.”

NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue the use of the “Engineering Explained” video in its advertising because the video did not disclose the material connection between the maker of the video and Shell.

NAD determined the standalone claim “no matter what you drive, this formulation works in all types of engines, both conventional and modern” speaks to Shell formulation’s ability to protect from and clean “gunk” and was supported by the evidence in the record.

Further, NAD determined that the advertiser’s use of an image of two intake valves, one with “gunk” and one without, was not misleading as long as it discloses that the image depicted test results from a port-injection engine on SVPN+ and a LAC gasoline.

NAD noted that nothing in its decision prevents the advertiser from making an appropriately qualified stand-alone claim about SVPN+’s ability to protect against corrosion, even in testing environments that mimic a strongly corrosive condition.

Finally, NAD found that, in the context of the challenged advertising, the word “breakthrough” conveyed the message that SVPN+ utilizes a new and unique formulation of gasoline additives and detergents, a message supported by the evidence in the record.
Shell, in its advertiser’s statement, said it would “appeal the NAD’s decision in its entirety. Shell delivers groundbreaking gasolines with industry leading additive packages. Shell uses robust and scientifically sound methods to test its gasolines, including with recognized industry standard tests. Shell is therefore highly disappointed with and strongly disagrees with the NAD’s decision, which shows a lack of understanding and respect for the industry standards related to gasoline testing.”

Note: A recommendation by NAD to modify or discontinue a claim is not a finding of wrongdoing and an advertiser’s voluntary discontinuance or modification of claims should not be construed as an admission of impropriety. It is the policy of NAD not to endorse any company, product, or service. Decisions finding that advertising claims have been substantiated should not be construed as endorsements.