NAD Recommends Unilever Discontinue Certain Claims for Suave Essentials Body Wash; Advertiser to Appeal

New York, NY – Jan. 13,  2017 – The National Advertising Division has recommended that Unilever United States, Inc., discontinue certain claims for the company’s Suave Essentials Body Wash products.

Unilever has said it will appeal NAD’s findings to the National Advertising Review Board.

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

The claims at issue were challenged by L Brands, Inc., a competing manufacturer of scented body washes, and included:

  • “Fragrances Preferred Over Bath & Body Works”
  • “We asked women to smell two different body washes and pick their favorite . . . and all of the women were shown to prefer Body Wash B, which was revealed to be Suave.”
  • “Without revealing the brand or product name, we asked women to smell two different body washes and pick their favorite. The results? Women preferred the scent of three of our favorite Suave Essentials body washes over three comparable Bath and Body Works fragrances.”
  • “Fragrances as Appealing as Bath & Body Works [Warm Vanilla Sugar, Cherry Blossom, and Juniper Breeze, Pearberry, Peach Bellini, or other Bath & Body Works variant]”
  • Suave’s Ocean Breeze fragrance is preferred over Bath & Body Works’ Juniper Breeze
  • Suave’s Cocoa Butter & Shea fragrance is preferred over Bath & Body Works’ Warm Vanilla Sugar
  • Suave’s Wild Cherry Blossom fragrance is preferred over Bath & Body Works’ Cherry Blossom
  • Claims that the scent of Suave Essentials Body Wash [variant] is preferred to Bath & Body Works [variant].
  • Claims that the scent of Suave Essentials Body Wash [variant] “is as appealing as Bath & Body Works [variant].”

NAD considered whether the advertising at issue implied that consumers prefer the scent of the entire line of Suave fragrances to the entire line of Bath & Body Works fragrances or whether they prefer the scent of every fragrance in the Suave Essentials Body Wash line to the scent of every fragrance in the Bath & Body Works line.

The challenged advertising claims appeared in a digital video and on product labels for Suave Essentials’ body wash products. The parties disputed whether the advertising conveyed a broad unqualified line claim or whether it conveyed a limited message about three specific comparisons of Suave Essentials body wash variants against Bath & Body Works body wash variants. The parties also disputed whether the scent preference claims in Unilever’s video advertising were adequately supported by the advertiser’s consumer preference test.

In determining the messages reasonably conveyed by a particular advertisement and in the absence of consumer perception evidence, NAD independently examines the totality or overall net impression created by an advertisement as a whole, not merely words or phrases standing alone, taking into consideration both the words and the visual images.

In this case, NAD determined that the video advertisement conveyed the message that the claim applied to each party’s line of body wash products. In order to substantiate a line claim, an advertiser must produce evidence demonstrating that all of the products in the line will perform as promised.

Here, NAD noted certain concerns with the advertiser’s consumer perception survey evidence and found that ultimately, it did not have sufficient information to determine whether the survey was reliable. NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue the video advertisement.

Further, NAD did not find the survey sufficiently reliable to support the parity claims that appeared on Suave’s product packaging, i.e. claims that a particular Suave body wash had a “Fragrance As Appealing As [Bath & Body Works variant].”

In arriving at this conclusion, NAD also took into account ASTM guidance that recommends a minimum of 300 respondents to substantiate a parity claim, a standard that the advertiser’s survey did not meet with its sample size of “200 completes per pair.”  NAD also questioned the statistical method used to calculate parity, which was not specified, noting that there were large numerical differences in several instances between the parties’ products, which were nevertheless declared to be at parity at 95%.

Consequently, NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue its parity claims.

Although Unilever is a strong and ongoing supporter of NAD, Unilever will appeal NAD’s decision. Unilever firmly disagrees with NAD’s finding that the challenged preference claim was a line claim, its finding that the claim is unsupported, and its recommendation that the claim must be discontinued. … In addition, Unilever strongly disagrees with NAD’s recommendation that its “fragrance as appealing as” claims must be discontinued. … Unilever will therefore appeal all of the aforementioned findings and recommendations.”

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.