NAD Examines Advertising Claims For P&G’s Iams Pet Food, Following Challenge By Hill’s Science Diet

New York, New York – August 3,  2009 – The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that Procter & Gamble Pet Care modify or discontinue certain nutrition, veterinarian-recommended and implied claims in broadcast, Internet and print advertising made for the advertiser’s Iams Brand pet food products.

NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, examined the advertising following a challenge by Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc., the maker of the competing Hill’s Science Diet and Hill’s Prescription Diet brand pet foods.  The following claims formed the basis of this inquiry:

Express Claims:

  • “No other dog food stacks up like Iams.”
  • Iams is the “top dog”/“top cat” in nutrition.
  • “More veterinarians recommend Iams than any grocery brand.”
  • “Iams ProActive Health Helps Promote 7 Signs of healthy vitality in your dog.”
  • The Iams Product Comparison tool and Iams Nutrition Check which indicate that Iams, but not Hills, contains certain specific ingredients such as egg protein and beet pulp.

Implied Claims:

  • Iams Products are nutritionally superior to all other competitive brands.
  • Hill’s is a grocery brand.
  • Hill’s does not promote the 7 signs of healthy vitality in pets.

NAD, in its decision, noted that the Website advertising at issue invited consumers to view comparisons between various products (e.g., Iams ProActive Health Adult Lamb Meal & Rice Formula and Hill’s Science Diet Adult Lamb Meal & Rice and Hill’s Science Diet Adult Original) and see “which one emerges as the top dog.”

The print advertisements asked whether your dog food “stacks up” to Iams and included the “veterinarian recommended” claim, as well as a nutrition chart that featured Iams and competing adult maintenance formulas and listed seven ingredients, each linked to one of the “7 signs of healthy vitality” – such as “strong muscles” and a “healthy heart.” The chart featured bright white check marks in each column for the Iams product and faint and sporadic check marks for listed competing products.

The television commercial showed a dog playing with its owner while the voiceover stated, “My muscles are strong.  My heart and digestion are healthy.  My coat is so shiny I can see myself.  When I play it’s a power play.”  The commercial then showed the Iams ProActive Health product, asked consumers how their dog food “stacks up” to Iams, stated that Iams has ingredients to “promote the 7 signs of healthy vitality” – displaying the nutrition check list – and closed with the statement “I am more than just a dog.  I am an Iams dog” and an invitation to consumers to compare their dog food to Iams ProActive Health. 

Following its review of the evidence, NAD determined that each advertisement conveys the message that Iams ProActive Health is nutritionally superior to competing dog foods and that dogs and cats that consume Iams ProActive Health will, unlike pets that consume competing products, experience the “7 signs of healthy vitality.” The nutrition checklist, in particular, conveyed the message that Iams is nutritionally superior by linking specific nutrients to particular health benefits and references bright white check marks for each ingredient for Iams and, for competing products, faint and few check marks. 

NAD determined that the basis of comparison in the advertising at issue was not clear and noted that there was no evidence in the record regarding testing that compared whether or not dogs/cats that consumed Iams ProActive Health (versus competing products) would, in fact, experience the “7 signs of healthy vitality.”  Further, NAD noted, there was no evidence that demonstrated that Iams ProActive was nutritionally superior to all other adult maintenance formulas or that competing products that contained the same ingredients as Iams ProActive Health contained those ingredients in lesser quantities, the message communicated by the faint check marks.

NAD recommended that the superiority claims “No other dog food stacks up like Iams,” Iams is the “top dog”/“top cat” in nutrition, and “Iams ProActive Health Helps Promote 7 Signs of healthy vitality in your dog” (the latter when used with a superiority claim) be discontinued. NAD further recommended the advertiser discontinue implied claims that Iams ProActive Health is nutritionally superior to all other competitive brands of adult maintenance formulas or that competing products do not promote the 7 signs of healthy vitality in pets. 

NAD also recommended that the nutrition checklists be substantially modified to make clear the basis of comparison by identifying the exact products being compared, remove the references of each of the seven signs of healthy vitality to a specific ingredient, and use the same check mark used for the Iams product for competing brands that contain the referenced ingredients.  NAD recommended that the television commercial be discontinued or modified to reflect these recommendations and that the advertiser, in future advertising,  make clear that the basis of comparison is as to the exact adult maintenance formulas.  

Regarding the claim in print advertising that “[m]ore veterinarians recommend Iams than any grocery brand*” (*In a recent veterinarian survey, among leading brands recommended”), NAD recommended that the advertiser avoid the claim where Hill’s Science Diet or other non-grocery brand pet foods are depicted and identify which products constitute “grocery brands” to make clearer the basis of comparison because consumers may not know which pet foods are “grocery brands” and could take away the message that all of the products referenced in the nutrition checklist (which includes Hill’s Science Diet) are grocery brands when, in fact, Hill’s Science Diet is not. 

P&G Pet Care, in its advertiser’s statement, said it is “disappointed” by certain NAD findings.

“We remain confident that the reasonable interpretation of any comparison claim made in this advertising is made clear through the context of each ad.  In addition, we are equally convinced that the chart is clearly understood without modification and that all claims and reasonable interpretations are fully substantiated and supported by the evidence submitted by P&G Pet Care. Nonetheless, as a strong supporter of the self-regulatory process, P&G Pet Care will apply the NAD’s recommendations to all applicable advertising,” the company said.