NARB Panel Recommends BP Lubricants Discontinue ‘Stronger’ Claims Based on Company’s ‘Torture’ Test

New York, NY – June 19, 2014 – A five-member panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) has recommended that BP Lubricants USA, Inc., discontinue challenged “stronger” claims, made for the company’s Castrol EDGE motor oil, that were based on a “torture test” that did not measure “strength” under normal driving conditions.

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

The claims, made in television commercials and on BP’s website, YouTube, and Facebook pages, were initially challenged before the National Advertising Division (NAD) by ExxonMobil Corporation, the maker of competing motor oil products.

The challenged claims included:

  •  “DRIVEN STRONGER”
  •  “Some oils are strong. Castrol EDGE is stronger.”
  •  “At Castrol, when we engineer Castrol EDGE we don’t stop at strong. We’re driven stronger.”
  •  “Destroyed Mobil 1 in [BP’s] own test of extreme endurance.”
  •  “See how Castrol EDGE was proven stronger than Mobil 1.”
  •  “Some motor oils are strong. We push Castrol EDGE harder to prove it’s stronger.
  •  “Because a stronger oil is an oil you can count on.”

BP relied on a torture test in which vehicles were placed on a dynamometer that was loaded to simulate 1600-pounds of weight and a 7% incline. Vehicles were run at 75 miles per hour until engine failure. The torture test was depicted prominently, as a centerpiece of the advertising.

In the underlying case, the NAD held that torture tests can be used to support product claims only if they represent conditions that have real world relevance to consumers. The NAD found that BP had not demonstrated that its torture test had any relevance to real world consumer use and recommended that BP discontinue the “stronger” claims based on the test. The NAD additionally determined that the BP torture test was not sufficiently reliable to support the challenged claims.

BP argued that its torture test need not be consumer relevant given that its advertising was narrowly tailored to convey a message about extreme conditions only. BP further argued that its test was scientifically reliable, based on the opinions of experts in the field, and that the NAD applied a higher standard of substantiation because the challenged claims were comparative.

The panel agreed that torture testing that is clearly depicted in advertising as extreme in nature need not reflect real world, consumer relevant conditions. The panel, however, found that BP’s advertising conveyed a message about performance under consumer relevant conditions, not simply extreme conditions. The panel, therefore, held that BP should have possessed consumer relevant testing.

The panel noted that past NARB decisions and the Federal Trade Commission “have made it very clear that comparative claims do not require a higher degree of substantiation” than non-comparative claims. However, the panel noted, because the message in a comparative claim “is generally one of product superiority, substantiation must provide a reasonable basis for the claimed superiority.” The panel determined that BP’s testing did not provide a basis for the message that Castrol EDGE is “stronger” than Mobil 1 under normal driving conditions.

The panel further noted that it shared NAD’s concerns over certain aspects of the “torture” test, and said that there was no evidence in the record to indicate that the engine used in BP’s testing served as “an appropriate representative for the wide variety of engines in vehicles driven in the United States.”

Overall, the panel said, it agreed with the NAD that the BP test was not sufficiently reliable to support the “stronger” claims made in the challenged advertisements and
recommended that BP discontinue the claims.

BP, in its advertiser’s statement, stated that it is gratified that the NARB rejected the NAD’s contention that torture tests, as a rule, must represent consumer relevant conditions. However, BP said, the company “takes exception with the new standard that the NARB seeks to impose for comparative product testing. The NARB sets an unprecedented and entirely impractical level of substantiation.”

Further, BP said that the NARB “has no basis to question the relevance of the common and highly representative engine type that was used, and moreover, BP had no opportunity to brief this point, which was never raised before the NAD or the NARB. According to BP, the engine that was tested has been used as part of the API Industry standards for oil performance since at least 2003.”

The company noted that it nevertheless “respects the self-regulatory process and will take the panel’s decision into consideration in future advertising.”