New York, NY – Jan. 22, 2014 – The National Advertising Division has recommended that Zero Technologies LLC discontinue the use of a side-by-side demonstration that compares its Zero Water Z-Pitcher to the Brita water filtration systems made by The Clorox Company. Zero Technologies has said it will appeal that adverse finding to the National Advertising Review Board.
NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
NAD examined express claims that included:
- “Think your water filter is good? . . . Think again.”
- “Not only does Zero Water remove a little red wine from water, it removes virtually all dissolved solids, because conventional filters like Brita only have one or two stages, and Zero Water has five.”
NAD also considered whether the advertising at issue conveyed the implied messages that:
- The Zero Water filter is better than the Brita Filter because it removes all dissolved solids and/or because it has 5 stages and Brita has 1 or 2 stages.
- Consumers will get better quality water if they use the Zero Water filter rather than the Brita filter because Zero Water filters remove more total dissolved solids (TDS) than Brita.
- Any level of TDS greater than zero is not good.
- TDS readings are indicators of quality and safety.
In this case, the challenger took issue with claims made in a television commercial that depicted a comparative demonstration of water filtration pitchers. The demonstration began with the pouring of a mixture of tap water and red wine through each filter.
On screen, the phrase “Think your water filter is good? Think again” appeared. The filtered liquid poured from the the advertiser’s Zero Water pitcher was clear, while the filtered liquid from the Brita pitcher was tinted. Both filtered liquids were tested with a device that measured total dissolved solids. The Zero Water filtered liquid measured zero parts per million, while the Brita filtered liquid measured 282 parts per million.
At the close of the demonstration, a voice over stated: “Not only does Zero Water remove a little wine from water, it removes virtually all dissolved solids because conventional filters like Brita have only one or two stages and Zero Water has five.” Finally, a graphic appeared, diagramming the cross section of each party’s filtration system.
Key to this case were the implied messages conveyed to consumers by the language and demonstration in the advertiser’s commercial. The challenger argued that the advertisement sent the unsubstantiated messages that Zero Water’s filter produced “better” water than Brita, and that in fact, Brita’s filter was generally ineffective. The advertiser argued that the advertising was crafted to convey only the message that its filter removed more TDS than the challenger’s by showing a “mechanics of action” demonstration. It also stated that if an overall superior filtration performance message were inadvertently conveyed, it could be substantiated.
Neither party provided any consumer perception evidence regarding what consumers actually understood the advertising claims at issue to mean. In absence of such evidence, NAD routinely steps into the shoes of the consumer to determine what implied messages, if any, are conveyed.
NAD determined that the demonstration accurately showed the TDS removal capability of the Zero Water filter. However, NAD also found that the demonstration conveyed an inaccurate message regarding the challenger’s Brita filter. NAD determined that consumers could reasonably understand the demonstration to mean that the Brita filter did a “bad” job removing all contaminants from the water. Given that the evidence in the record did not support the implied message that the challenger’s filter is not “good” or not effective, NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue this comparative demonstration and avoid conveying the falsely disparaging message that the challenger’s filter pitcher is generally ineffective or not “good” at filtering water.
Zero Technologies, in its advertiser’s statement, said that “NAD has unfortunately struck the wrong balance between Zero’s ability to communicate a truthful message, and its desire to protect Brita from hypothetical disparagement. NAD’s recommendation effectively censors ZeroWater, as the new market entrant, from making a powerful and truthful comparison that conveys meaningful information about an undisputed performance advantage. We therefore respectfully appeal.”