Be Careful When Making Competitive Cosmetic Claims

Advertising and selling in the cosmetic industry can be tricky. Even the big companies get it wrong sometimes. This report about Unilever’s recent body wash ads is a perfect demonstration. apologetic-dove

Regulating Cosmetic Advertising

In the United States cosmetic advertising is regulated. No really, it is. The government body who controls such things is the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Federal Trade Commission. The NAD is the place where companies can file complaints against other companies they believe are communicating misleading advertising.

In the case of this body wash ad Henkle, the owners of Dial Body Wash, objected to the way Unilever portrayed Dove as less harsh than Dial. There were side-by-side demonstrations and even an image of the Dial body wash bottle wrapped in barbed wire.

Claims don’t wash

Well, the NAD agreed that Unilever went too far. They said Dove was making some implied harshness claims that were not supported by specific studies. Unilever tried to support their claims using published literature that generally showed surfactants are more harsh, but that explanation was rejected because they didn’t do a study directly comparing their product to Dial. I suspect that this kind of study was done and the results were inconclusive but we can’t know for sure. In the end, the NAD asked Unilever to change their ads and stop using the barbed wire image.

That’s a lesson for anyone who wants to make a direct (or indirect) comparison between your product and a named competitor. Conduct a study that directly compares your products or don’t make the claim.

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