NAD Examines Advertising for Castrol GTX

New York, NY – Nov. 20, 2008 – The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that BP America, Inc., modify or discontinue certain advertising claims for the company’s Castrol GTX motor oil. BP America has indicated it will appeal NAD’s finding to the National Advertising Review Board.

Broadcast and Website advertising claims, as well as claims included in a technical brochure, were challenged before NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, by Pennzoil-Quaker State Company.

The challenged television commercial depicts a stunt driver about to jump a line-up of buses, when the car he is driving is drenched by a torrent of sludge, causing the car to stop dead. The voiceover states: “Engine sludge can strike anyone. So get Castrol GTX. It’s superior sludge protection, 57% better than the leading 5W-30. Tests prove it.” An on-screen super reads: “In M271 Sludge Test.”

The challenged Website featured the television commercial, as well as the claims:

  • “Superior Sludge Protection. 57% better than the leading 5W-30. Tests prove it”
  • “our new formulation in 5W-40 and 10W-30 grades is so powerful that it passed the industry’s toughest sludge standard. . . Superior Sludge Protection Among Leading Oils*” [*In 5W-30 and 10W-30 grades.”

The challenged technical bulletin (brochure) featured the claims:

  • “The latest TV ads for GTX continue Castrol’s extremely successful series of spots highlighting GTX’s proven superior sludge protection. The newest GTX claim is: “Tests prove GTX 5W-30 provides superior sludge protection, 57% better than the leading 5W-30 competitive oil in the M271 sludge test.
  • This new GTX claim is simple, powerful and true. GTX 5W-30 provides superior sludge protection, as proven in M271 tests, where GTX provides 57% more sludge protection than Pennzoil 5W-30.
  •  . . Castrol relies upon a test created by a major global automobile manufacturer, which clearly separates the two oils. GTX 5W-30 passes a higher recognized level of sludge protection. Pennzoil 5W-30 does not. In fact, Pennzoil falls so far short, that the difference in sludge protection is 57%.
  • Consumers and trade partners should use and sell GTZ 5W-30 with the total confidence of knowing that independent tests prove that it provides superior sludge protection—57% better than the leading competitor in a meaningful and relevant sludge test.

The advertiser’s evidence included the results of the M271 sludge test, a proprietary test created by automaker Mercedes-Benz for the purpose of testing motor-oil performance in European Mercedes Benz cars which are driven on European roads. The central question before NAD was whether the advertiser’s M271 test results could support its expressly quantified sludge-protection superiority claims.

NAD noted that the protocol, reference data, and reproducibility statistics for the M271 test are unpublished. Further, the tests were run on the engine that is used in the Mercedes E and C Classes, and there is no published correlation to U.S. standards for motor-oil tests and no field correlation to North American cars. Following its review of the evidence, NAD concluded that the M271 test is not an appropriate test on which to base a broad, unqualified “57% better” claim.

NAD therefore recommended that in the context of the advertiser’s television commercials – television being a medium that is not ideally suited for the type of extensive and detailed explanation that would be required to sufficiently qualify and explain the substantial limitations of the 57% claim – the advertiser should discontinue its “57% better” claims; and  in the context of the advertiser’s website claims and technical bulletin – media that are more suited to nuanced and elaborated claims – the advertiser should either discontinue its “57% better” claims, or modify them to expressly state, in the body copy of the advertisement,  that the superiority claim is limited to the motor oil’s performance in certain European Mercedes-Benz vehicles, as measured by a European automaker’s proprietary testing. NAD noted that such a change would be best accomplished by altering the body of the claim, rather than using a disclaimer.

BP America took issue with NAD’s findings. In its advertiser’s statement, the company said that it “strongly believes that consumers have a right to be informed about products like Castrol GTX, which are engineered to exceed the minimum performance standards met by Pennzoil’s conventional oil.”

The company noted that it appreciated NAD’s attention to the matter, but “view of our disagreements, BP has asked NAD to refer this case to an NARB Panel for appellate review.