Lifebuoy or Dettol?

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Posted 01 June 2012

This is an interesting ASA ruling. Essentially it is a fight between Lifebuoy and Dettol, with Dettol arguing that “that bar soaps and antiseptic liquids are distinctly different products which fulfill different, albeit complementary, functions” and that “a bar soap’s primary use is to clean germs from the body and does not necessarily affect germs in the water, which means that germs can be transferred back onto the body. In contrast, an antiseptic liquid’s primary function is to kill germs, whether on the body or in the water.”

This ruling is interesting for it shows how well the ASA were able to show that the “expert”, Dr Jardine, did not point out that the concentrations between Dettol and Lifebuoy were not compared using the same ‘strengths’. It shows how competitors try to compete in the same market. Worse, it shows how competitors will attack each other but hide the most important factor from you, the consumer: the ASA points out, ” [T]he commercial features two women, a mother and her friend, who discuss hygiene when the friend finds out that the daughter has a cold again and can therefore not sing.”

A reader has brought this to my attention:

What you don’t mention is the bit which I found most outrageous of all… That doctor (Jardine?) tested the germ busting properties of the Lifebouy soap against Dettol HYGIENE liquid which is not at all the same thing as Dettol ANTISEPTIC liquid – the traditional brown liquid which turns cloudy in the water – the product featured in the advert…Unbelievably misleading… .shocking in fact. 

The simple truth is that colds and influenza are mainly transmitted via airborne droplets (aerosols) and direct contact with infected nasal secretions. Bathing with either of these products is a useless form of protection. Of course, washing hands or the body does temporarily clear germs of the child’s hands, but as soon as the child is out of the bath and touches his/her nose, the germs are back on the hands! Still,  airborne droplets (aerosols) is the primary method of spread. 

Saying that, the ASA will not consider this claim unless a formal complaint is laid against this specific claim, and of course, neither the competitor and respondent will do so for obvious reasons. 

 

Advanced Lifebuoy / Dettol / 20233
Ruling of the : ASA Directorate
In the matter between:
Reckitt Benckiser South Africa (Pty) Ltd Complainant(s)/Appellant(s)
Unilever South Africa (Pty) Ltd Respondent

30 May 2012

http://www.asasa.org.za/ResultDetail.aspx?Ruling=6111

Reckitt Benckiser lodged a competitor complaint against a television commercial for Unilever’s Advanced Lifebuoy soap.

The commercial features two women, a mother and her friend, who discuss hygiene when the friend finds out that the daughter has a cold again and can therefore not sing.

Friend: “Well, I’m sure you’re taking proper care of your hygiene.”
Mother: “Yes, I use antiseptic liquid in her bath water.”

At this point, the mother is shown pouring a capful of antiseptic liquid into bath water, which clouds as it spreads in the water.

Friend: “Oh, that’s smart. But germs are also getting smarter, and your protection is still the same.”
Mother: “So what’s better?”

The friend takes out a bar of Lifebuoy soap.

Friend: “This!”
Mother: “Lifebuoy?”
Friend: “Advanced Lifebuoy! While bathing it gives better germ protection than antiseptic liquid.”

At this point, the commercial shows two images side by side – one of the daughter bathing with antiseptic liquid, and one of the daughter bathing with Lifebuoy soap.

COMPLAINT
The complainant submitted, inter alia, that bar soaps and antiseptic liquids are distinctly different products which fulfil different, albeit complementary, functions. Bar soaps have no registration requirements and are regarded as cosmetics in terms of Clause 3 of Appendix C. The typical characteristics of cosmetics include temporary action, improvement of the appearance of the skin, are to be used regularly to maintain the effect, and the effect is aimed at grooming and enhancing the appearance of skin texture. In contrast, antiseptic liquids must be registered with the Medicines Control Council, and some of the typical characteristics include a more permanent or drastic effect after completion of use or treatment, such as killing bacteria. A bar soap’s primary use is to clean germs from the body and does not necessarily affect germs in the water, which means that germs can be transferred back onto the body. In contrast, an antiseptic liquid’s primary function is to kill germs, whether on the body or in the water.

The claim “But germs are also getting smarter, and your protection is still the same” implies that using antiseptic liquid to protect against germs is outdated and insufficient to protect against these “smarter” germs. The commercial also claims that Advanced Lifebuoy is better, or more effective, than antiseptic liquid at protecting against germs. This must be substantiated.

The complainant further pointed out that Dettol is the only antiseptic liquid available in South Africa that clouds in water as a result of the unique active ingredient chloroxylenol. Advertisements for Dettol often include a depiction of the antiseptic liquid clouding in water. Given this, and given that the colour of the liquid in the respondent’s commercial is the same as the colour of Dettol antiseptic liquid, the television commercial is a direct (or at the very least indirect) attack on Dettol antiseptic liquid.

The complainant also submitted that the comparative claims in the commercial do not amount to a like for like comparison.

The complainant requested that additional sanctions be imposed on the respondent in terms of Clause 14.5 of the Procedural Guide.

RELEVANT CLAUSES OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
The complainant identified the following clauses of the Code as relevant:

• Section II, Clause 2 – Honesty

• Section II, Clause 4.1 – Substantiation

• Section II, Clause 4.2.1 – Misleading claims

• Section II, Clause 6 – Disparagement

• Section II, Clause 7 – Comparative advertising

RESPONSE
The respondent submitted, inter alia, that certain strains of germs, or more narrowly, viruses, are “getting smarter” and it submitted a letter from Dr A Jardine in support of this claim. The respondent argued that the communication of the commercial is not that germs are getting smarter and that the effect of antiseptic liquid is therefore less. It argued that the communication of the commercial is that to combat modern germs, the use of Lifebuoy when you have a bath will provide stronger protection than antiseptic liquid used in a bath alone.

The respondent submitted confidential test reports in support of its claim that Advanced Lifebuoy provides better germ protection than the leading antiseptic liquid (Dettol) when used for bathing alone, as well as the letter from Dr Jardine.

The respondent argued that the commercial highlights a factual weakness in the industry and is therefore not disparaging, as it relates to consumers’ health and is therefore in the public interest.

The respondent further argued that Advanced Lifebuoy is a cosmetic with secondary germ kill function, and that the characteristics and purpose of the product must be considered in the context of the commercial.

ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered the relevant documentation submitted by the respective parties.

“But germs are also getting smarter, and your protection is still the same”

The respondent argued that this claim does not imply that germs are getting smarter and that the effect of antiseptic liquid is therefore less. Instead, it argued, the communication of the commercial is that to combat modern germs, the use of Lifebuoy when you have a bath will provide stronger protection than antiseptic liquid used in a bath alone.

Whilst the Directorate agrees with the respondent that the latter claim is made in the commercial, that does not mean that the former claim cannot also be made. The Directorate is of the opinion that the hypothetical reasonable person, when viewing the commercial, will understand the claim “But germs are also getting smarter, and your protection is still the same” to mean that antiseptic liquid (including Dettol) cannot provide you with the same level of protection against germs anymore. The Directorate also notes that the reference to “germs” is not qualified, meaning that consumers will understand the claim to apply to germs in general.

The evidence before the Directorate does not show that germs in general are “getting smarter”, nor that antiseptic liquids (including Dettol) are unable to provide one with the necessary protection against them. The evidence relied on by Dr Jardine appears to deal with a single bacterium and a single virus. Clearly this is insufficient evidence to support the respondent’s sweeping statement that germs are “getting smarter” and that antiseptic liquid protection is not.

Clause 6 of Section II states, inter alia, that advertisements should not attack, discredit or disparage other products directly or indirectly.

The Directorate notes that the respondent’s statement has the potential to severely affect the reputation of antiseptic liquids, including Dettol, in a negative way. It is also significant that the respondent chose to use an antiseptic liquid that appears to be the same colour as Dettol, together with imagery of antiseptic liquid clouding in water that is similar to imagery used previously in Dettol television commercials. It therefore appears that the respondent’s intention was to discredit the complainant’s product.

In light of the above, the Directorate finds that the claim “But germs are also getting smarter, and your protection is still the same” is disparaging of antiseptic liquids, and that the claim, together with the visuals of the antiseptic liquid clouding in water, is disparaging of Dettol antiseptic liquid in particular. The respondent has therefore contravened Clause 6 of Section II.

Given the above:

The claim must be withdrawn;

The process to withdraw the claim must be actioned with immediate effect on receipt of this ruling;

The withdrawal of the claim must be completed within the deadlines stipulated by Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide;

The claim may not be used again in its current format in future.

The respondent’s attention is also drawn to Clause 15.5 of the Procedural Guide.

“Advanced Lifebuoy! While bathing it gives better germ protection than antiseptic liquid”

The respondent submitted a number of confidential test reports from two laboratories as well as a published article in support of its claims, together with the letter from Dr Jardine. Dr Jardine’s letter states, inter alia:

“It has now been shown in the latest Unilever scientific support documents that Advanced Lifebuoy, at appropriate use concentrations, result in an average of 3 to 4 log reductions in the most relevant disease causing bacterial populations, whereas Dettol ASL average between 1 and 2 log reductions. Therefore, Advanced Lifebuoy does give better protection against disease causing germs than antiseptic liquid… Independent tests done on behalf of Unilever, demonstrate that Dettol hygiene liquid is less effective in the protection against Adenovirus, Feline Calicivirus, H1N1 virus, Rotavirus, MRSA and K.pneumonia (NDM-1) at the suggested pack dilutions. Only Dettol hygiene liquid provides product use guidelines on the pack. It may be reasonable to assume that consumers do not differentiate between antiseptic liquid and hygiene liquid sold together in the antiseptic liquid isle.”

The Directorate notes, firstly, that the independent tests referred to by Dr Jardine, which, in his opinion, “demonstrate that Dettol hygiene liquid is less effective in the protection against… at the suggested pack dilutions”, were not also performed on Lifebuoy soap. Accordingly, these reports cannot be used to substantiate a comparative claim such as the one in question. In addition, the published article appears not to deal with Dettol Antiseptic Liquid, and can for the same reason not be accepted.

The Directorate further notes that Dettol Hygiene Liquid is a separate and distinct product from Dettol Antiseptic Liquid. The former is described as a “body cleansing liquid” to be used for “everyday washing and cleansing of your body”, whereas the latter is “indicated” for the cleaning of wounds, cuts, abrasions and stings. It is therefore not clear what the reason for the inclusion of the tests on Dettol Hygiene Liquid are, because the respondent’s commercial only refers to antiseptic liquid, not to hygiene liquid.

The respondent submitted three test reports that appear to be relevant in supporting its comparative claim. One of the laboratories tested Lifebuoy Total bar soap in addition to a Dettol antiseptic liquid product. The Dettol product was tested at two concentration levels – 1:1500 and 1:3000. The Lifebuoy soap was tested at a test sample concentration of 8%.

If one converts the concentration levels of the Dettol product in the tests into percentages, they come to about 0.067% (1:1500) and 0.033% (1:3000). This is significantly less than the concentration level (8%) at which Lifebuoy was tested. To put it differently, the concentration level at which Lifebuoy soap was tested was approximately 120 and 240 times as strong as the concentration levels of the Dettol product.

This appears at first glance to be a grossly unfair basis for comparison. As far as explaining this discrepancy, Dr Jardine’s letter only refers to “appropriate use concentrations” for Lifebuoy and mentions the “suggested pack dilutions” for Dettol Hygiene Liquid. Although there does not seem to be any suggested pack dilutions for Dettol Antiseptic Liquid, Dr Jardine argues that “[i]t may be reasonable to assume that consumers do not differentiate between antiseptic liquid and hygiene liquid sold together in the antiseptic liquid isle [sic].”

Dr Jardine’s letter unfortunately gives no explanation as to why the 8% concentration level is an appropriate use concentration for Lifebuoy, nor does it say why it would be appropriate to compare this to dilution levels of Dettol that are significantly lower.

The Directorate does not agree with Dr Jardine that it is reasonable to assume that consumers would not differentiate between Dettol Antiseptic Liquid and Dettol Hygiene Liquid, just because they are sold together in the same aisle. If a consumer were to purchase Dettol Antiseptic Liquid, the consumer would have no reason to dilute the product in a bath at the “suggested pack dilutions” because there are no such suggestions on the Dettol Antiseptic Liquid packaging. It is again pointed out that Dettol Antiseptic Liquid and Dettol Hygiene Liquid are distinct products with different indicated uses, and that the respondent’s commercial only mentions antiseptic liquid.

The Directorate finally notes that the contact tests on these products were performed for a period of one minute. It is unclear how this translates to a scenario where most people are more than likely to bathe for more than one minute.

In light of the above, the Directorate cannot accept the respondent’s evidence as substantiation for the claim that Advanced Lifebuoy gives better germ protection than antiseptic liquid while bathing. The respondent’s claim is therefore currently unsubstantiated and in breach of Clause 4.1 of Section II.

In light of the above:

The claim must be withdrawn;

The process to withdraw the claim must be actioned with immediate effect on receipt of this ruling;

The withdrawal of the claim must be completed within the deadlines stipulated by Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide;

The claim may not be used again in its current format until new substantiation has been submitted, evaluated and a new ruling is made in terms of Clause 4.1.7 of Section II of the Code.

The respondent’s attention is also drawn to Clause 15.5 of the Procedural Guide.

The complaint is upheld.

Sanctions
In light of the above findings and the complainant’s request for additional sanctions to be imposed, the Directorate hereby affords the complainant ten (10) days to submit further comments on whether additional sanctions are appropriate and if so, which sanctions should be imposed. Thereafter the respondent will be afforded ten (10) days to submit comments before the Directorate considers the issue of additional sanctions.

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