NARB Recommends Shell Modify, Discontinue Certain Claims for Shell V-Power NiTRO+ Premium Gasoline

New York, NY Nov. 20, 2017 – A panel of the National Advertising Review Board has recommended that Shell Oil Company modify or discontinue certain challenged claims for the company’s Shell V-Power NiTRO+ Premium Gasoline (SVPN+), including claims that SVPN+ provides the best total engine protection consumers can get.

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 at issue were initially challenged by BP Corporation North America before the National Advertising Division (NAD), which recommended that Shell discontinue certain claims.

The underlying NAD case and NARB appeal focus on Shell’s promotion of additives in Shell gasolines that are designed to protect engines against deposits – referred to by Shell as “gunk” – corrosion, and wear.

The claims at issue included:

  • SVPN+ provides “unbeatable protection against gunk” (including side-by-side image of intake valves after testing)
  • SVPN+ provides “unsurpassed protection against corrosion” (including side-by-side image of tested steel rods)
  • SVPN+ provides “superior protection against wear”
  • SVPN+ provides “the best total engine protection you can get”
  • SVPN+ “removes an average of 60% of harmful intake valve deposits left behind by lower quality premium gasoline”
  • All grades of Shell Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines provide “unsurpassed protection from performance-robbing gunk”
  • All grades of Shell Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines provide “unsurpassed engine protection” and “no other gasoline protects better” 
  • “Engineering Explained” video featuring discussion of SVPN+ engine protection claims by Jason Fenske, publisher of a website and videos on automotive engineering topics.

NARB noted in its decision that under standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce vehicle emissions and improve fuel economy, all gasoline sold in the United States must contain a minimum level of detergent additives to help reduce engine deposits. A group of automakers who felt that the EPA minimum standards did not go far enough developed more stringent standards for gasoline detergent additives and established a “Top Tier” certification for gasolines that meet these higher standards.

While both the EPA and Top Tier standards require gasoline detergent additives that reduce engine deposits within specified levels, gasoline manufacturers are free to develop additives that are more effective and/or provide additional benefits.

In support of its claims that SVPN+ provided superior protection from engine wear, Shell offered the results of a test designed to evaluate the relative effectiveness of diesel fuels in preventing engine wear. While the test has been used to evaluate gasoline fuels, the panel found that the record in this case did not sufficiently establish the degree to which the test results correlate with the real-world operation of gasoline engines. Overall, the panel found that the results of this test were not a good fit for the claim that SVPN+ provides superior engine wear protection as compared to other gasolines. The panel thus recommended that Shell discontinue:

  • The claim that SVPN+ provides superior protection from engine wear. The panel noted, however, that its decision doesn’t preclude Shell from making truthful non-comparative product attribute claims with respect to Shell gasoline additives providing protection against engine wear.
  • The claim that SVPN+ provides the best total engine protection consumers can get.

The panel found that Shell provided a reasonable basis for its claim that SVPN+ provided unbeatable protection against gunk. The panel recommended that this claim be modified to include clear and conspicuous disclosure of the type of engine used in the tests supporting the claim, including the fact that it is a port fuel injection engine.  Similarly, the panel recommended that Shell modify the advertised side-by-side images of intake valves after testing to disclose the type of engine used in the test and the type and grade of gasolines tested.

The panel found that Shell provided a reasonable basis for its claim that SVPN+ provides unsurpassed protection against corrosion. The panel recommended that Shell modify the advertised side-by-side images showing the results of its corrosion testing to clearly and conspicuously disclose that the images demonstrate the results of the test with corrosive salt water and do not represent what customers might see in their vehicles under normal driving conditions.

The panel found that Shell provided a reasonable basis for its claim that SVPN+ removes an average of 60% of harmful intake valve deposits left behind by lower quality gasolines, and recommended that Shell modify the claim to include clear and conspicuous disclosure as to the type of engines tested, including the fact that they are port fuel injection engines.

The panel also found that Shell provided a reasonable basis for its claims that all grades of Shell Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines provided unsurpassed protection from performance-robbing gunk. However, the panel recommended that Shell modify an advertising brochure to eliminate headlines that reasonably conveyed a broader engine protection claim that was not limited to protection from gunk.

Finally, the panel recommended that Shell modify the Jason Fenske “Engineering Explained” video appearing on Shell’s website and in any Shell advertising to clearly and conspicuously disclose in the video itself any material connection – including payments made by Shell for travel expenses or for other reasons – between Shell and Mr. Fenske.

Shell, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company “respects and supports the self-regulatory process of both the NAD and the NARB and will comply with the NARB decision.”

Shell noted that it is “pleased with the NARB’s decision that Shell can advertise that Shell V-Power NiTRO+ Premium Gasoline provides ‘unbeatable protection against gunk’ and ‘unsurpassed protection against corrosion.’ … Shell is steadfast in its dedication to innovation and continuous product improvement to address consumer-relevant problems and is happy with the ability to provide more information to consumers about its gasolines.”

Note: A recommendation by NAD to modify or discontinue a claim is not a finding of wrongdoing and an advertiser’s voluntary discontinuance or modification of claims should not be construed as an admission of impropriety. It is the policy of NAD not to endorse any company, product, or service. Decisions finding that advertising claims have been substantiated should not be construed as endorsements.