NARB Recommends Modification of Advertising Claims for Sonicare DiamondClean Electric Toothbrush; Upholds Validity of Philips Oral Healthcare Clinical Study

New York, NY – Aug. 06, 2019 A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) has recommended that Philips Oral Healthcare, Inc., modify certain advertising claims for the company’s Sonicare DiamondClean electric toothbrush.  The advertising at issue had been challenged by The Procter & Gamble Company, manufacturer of the competing Oral-B brand electric toothbrushes, before the National Advertising Division (NAD). The NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation and is a division of the BBBNP’s self-regulatory and dispute resolution programs.  Following NAD’s decision, Philips appealed all of the NAD recommendations adverse to it to the NARB, the appellate unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. P&G exercised its right under the applicable rules of procedure to file a cross-appeal.

In the underlying decision, P&G challenged comparative advertising claims communicated in a 30-second television commercial and on a Sonicare website. Among other claims, both promoted a top-of-the-line Sonicare brush as having outperformed a top-of-the-line Oral-B brush in a 6-week clinical study called the Starke Study.  Philips relied on the Starke Study to support its claims that the Sonicare brush reduced plaque by 82% more than did the Oral-B brush and improved gum health (measured by gingivitis reduction) by 70% more.

The NARB panel agreed with NAD’s conclusions that any presentation of the Starke Study results should include as part of the main advertising claim a disclosure of the fact that the Starke Study was conducted among participants with moderate gingivitis, as well as the models, brush heads, and mode (“Deep Clean”) used in the Starke Study.  The NARB panel also agreed with NAD and determined that the Starke Study was valid and that Philips need not add a disclosure of the study brushing time requirement of three minutes. 

Further, the NARB panel considered the alleged confusion caused by a website report on the results in the Starke Study, which tested the “Diamond Clean” model, followed by the comparison chart of the Sonicare Diamond Clean Smart Brush (a more advanced model than the Diamond Clean), with its Oral-B counterpoint, Genius 8000.  The panel agreed with NAD’s conclusion that the close juxtaposition of claims for the two different “Diamond Clean” Sonicare brushes could mislead viewers regarding the messages being communicated, and recommended that it be eliminated in any future uses of the website.

With regard to the chart on the Sonicare website comparing travel cases and location sensors between the Sonicare brush and the Oral-B brush, the NARB panel upheld P&G’s cross -appeal, concluding that the chart was misleading.  The panel expressed concern that the “deluxe charging travel case” comparison communicated to reasonable consumers that the Oral-B brush did not come with any charging travel case.  Further, with regard to the “built-in location sensor” comparison, the panel concluded that the chart conveyed the message that the Oral-B brush had no location sensor. 

Philips stated that it will comply with the NARB’s recommendations and expressed its appreciation for the panel findings that “the Starke Study is ‘valid’ and ‘methodologically sound.’”Note: A recommendation by NAD or NARB 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.