NAD Recommends BP Discontinue Broadcast Demonstration that Disparages ExxonMobil’s ‘Mobil 1’ Oil; BP to Appeal

New York, NY – Jan. 22, 2014 – The National Advertising Division has recommended that BP Lubricants USA, Inc., the maker of Castrol EDGE motor oil, discontinue comparative advertising claims based on a “torture” test that pits BP’s product against ExxonMobil Corporation’s “Mobil 1” motor oil.

NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The advertising at issue depicted two cars on dynamometers running at 75 miles per hour on a seven percent grade and fully loaded at 1,600 pounds.

As a voiceover stated: “We pushed Castrol EDGE at maximum output for five days straight,” visuals depicting the control panel of the dynamometer displayed the load, speed and incline, while “Day 1,” “Day 2,” “Day 3,” “Day 4,” and “Day 5” text flashed and the cars ran in the background.

At Day 5, the Mobil 1 engine failed, shooting smoke and sparks into the air while the Castrol EDGE engine continued to run.

NAD reviewed the following claims:

  •  “DRIVEN STRONGER”
  •  “Some oils are strong. Castrol EDGE is stronger.”
  •  “Destroyed Mobil 1 in [BP’s] own test of extreme endurance.”
  •  “At Castol, when we engineer Castrol EDGE we don’t stop at strong. We’re driven stronger.”
  •  “Find out what makes Castrol EDGE stronger than all leading synthetic motor oils.”
  •  “See how Castrol EDGE was proven stronger than Mobil 1.”
  •  “Stronger than the so-called leading synthetic.”
  •  “Castol EDGE is engineered stronger.”
  •  “Castrol EDGE is driven stronger than Mobil 1.”
  •  “Castrol EDGE 5W-30 lasted longer than Mobil 1 5W-30 in a Castrol extreme test of endurance, with engines running at max output for 5 days.”
  •  “Castrol. It’s more than just oil. It’s liquid engineering.”

In this case, BP relied on a “torture test” to support its claims that its oil was “proven stronger than Mobil 1.” NAD noted in its decision that there was no dispute that the advertising at issue accurately depicted the conditions of the torture test, and the parties agreed that the test conditions did not represent conditions to which consumers would ever subject a car’s engine.

The sole questions for NAD were (1) whether a torture test, when clearly depicting the conditions of the test, must be consumer relevant; and (2) whether BP’s testing was sufficiently reliable to support the comparative claims made.

The advertiser argued that NAD has never held that torture testing must be consumer relevant – only that the testing conditions must be accurately disclosed or depicted in the advertising and that the underlying testing must be reliable. NAD disagreed, noting in its decision that previous NAD cases have made clear that all advertising must be consumer-relevant. Torture tests, NAD noted, can be used to support product claims but only if they represent conditions which have real world relevance.

NAD also noted several weaknesses in the test protocol, including the small sample size, failure to randomize the order of the oils tested, a failure to prepare a statistical design for the number of tests performed and the statistical model to be used for determining statistical significance before the tests were performed.

Following its review of the evidence in the record, NAD determined that the testing was not sufficiently reliable to support the strong comparative claims and denigrating demonstration at issue. NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue any comparative superiority claims based upon its torture testing.

BP Lubricants USA, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company will appeal to the NARB the portions of the NAD’s decision regarding consumer relevance, as well as NAD’s adverse findings regarding its testing.

“Advertisers have the right to advertise true, distinguishing features of their products even if those distinguishing features are present only in extreme conditions. Consumers can weigh for themselves whether the product attributes are desirable or meaningful to them,” BP noted in its advertiser’s statement.

Further, BP noted, the NAD “has unfortunately struck the wrong balance between BP’s ability to communicate a truthful message and the desire to protect the Challenger from perceived disparagement.”