Unilever, GFA Brands Participate In NAD Forum

New York, NY – Jan. 26, 2009 – The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that the Unilever discontinue advertising claims for its Promise Brand Soft Spread that suggest or state the product has been endorsed by cardiologists. Unilever has said it will appeal the NAD’s decision to the National Advertising Review Board (NARB).

NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, examined claims for the product following a challenge by GFA Brands, Incorporated, which manufacturers competing Smart Balance soft spreads. 

The claims at issue include:

  • “Promise® spreads recently conducted a national survey of over 320 cardiologists and found that 9 out of 10 would endorse Promise® brand of soft spreads for their patients, based on nutritional information.”
  • “Cardiologist Endorsed” in large bright red lettering on product package.
  • “4 out of 5 cardiologists prefer Promise® Buttery Spread over Smart Balance® Buttery Spread for their           patients.”
  • “Cardiologists significantly prefer for their patients the nutritional profile of [Promise Brand Spreads] to that of [Smart Balance Brand Soft Spread]. “
  • On the Promise label, the phrase “Promise Brand of soft spreads endorsed by 9 out of 10 cardiologists” appears above a solid line and underneath the line appears the phrase “Cardiologists significantly prefer for their patients the nutritional profile of [Promise® Brand Spreads] to that of [Smart Balance® Brand  Soft Spread].”

In support of its endorsement and preference claims, the advertiser produced a 2007 survey of 320 cardiologists, a survey that the challenger maintained that the survey was so materially flawed that it could not support the advertiser’s claims.

The advertiser stated that the survey was methodologically sound and fully supported its advertising claims. The study was designed and conducted by a third party and the sample of cardiologists matched the American Medical Association’s cardiologist profile with respect to age, gender and region of practice.

The advertiser noted, as well, that the sample included only doctors who, as part of their daily practice, make dietary recommendations to patients: all surveyed respondents were required to engage in a practice that includes making recommendations to at least some patients that they modify there diet to reduce their intake of saturated fat, trans fat and/or cholesterol.

As a preliminary matter, NAD was satisfied that the survey was sufficiently large and limited to cardiologists who advised patients on diet modification. However, NAD noted that the cardiologists surveyed were not provided with the ingredients of the products. Without that information, NAD found the survey to be fatally flawed and the results unreliable. NAD recommended the advertiser discontinue the claim “Promise spreads recently conducted a national survey of over 320 cardiologists and found that 9 out of 10 would endorse Promise brand of soft spreads for their patients, based on nutritional information,” as well as the preference claim “4 out of 5 cardiologists prefer (or significantly prefer) Promise Buttery Spread over Smart Balance Buttery Spread for their patients.”

NAD also considered the “Cardiologist Endorsed” claim which appears in a red stamp on the product packaging and in Website advertising.  The advertiser’s survey, asked cardiologists if, based on nutritional information, they “would endorse” Promise soft spreads instead of asking the cardiologists directly if they did endorse Promise soft spreads. NAD questioned the reliability of the endorsements, given their prospective nature, and recommended the advertiser discontinue the claim.

Unilever, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company “supports the advertising self-regulatory process and appreciates the NAD’s careful review of this matter.”

The company noted that it acknowledges “NAD’s recommendations with respect to the survey and claims, but we respectfully disagree.  We believe that the survey provided adequate and complete information to cardiologists about the characteristics of the Promise products that are relevant to heart health, and that the survey was not biased or otherwise flawed.  Further, we believe that cardiologists’ strong response that they “would endorse” Promise fully supports our “cardiologist endorsed” claims, consistent with NAD precedent.”

For those reasons, the company said that “respectfully requests referral of this matter to the NARB … .”