NARB Recommends Unilever Discontinue Claims Made in Video, Packaging that Reference Bath & Body Works Products

New York, NY – Nov. 13, 2017 – A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) has recommended that Unilever United States Inc., discontinue preference and parity claims made in advertising for Suave body wash that reference Bath & Body Works products.

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

Advertising claims made by Unilever were initially challenged before the National Advertising Division by L Brands, Inc., which manufactures Bath & Body Works products.

Following its review of the advertising at issue, NAD found that “Let Your Senses Decide” – a video available at the advertiser website and on YouTube – communicated a message that consumers preferred Unilever’s line of body wash products over Bath & Body Works line of body wash products. NAD determined that Unilever did not provide a reasonable basis in support of this message and recommended that the video be discontinued.

The NAD also found that Unilever did not provide a reasonable basis for the “Fragrance as Appealing as Bath & Body Works [variant]” claim on Suave body wash bottles and recommended that the claim be discontinued.

Unilever appealed NAD’s decision to NARB.

In considering the video, NARB noted in its decision that there was no context at the beginning of the video to alert viewers to the fact that the asserted preference claims are being made only for three Suave body wash variants,  compared to three Bath & Body Works body wash variants. Further, the decision notes, the imagery and vocal references combine to a reasonably communicated message that an overall line claim is being made.

During the video’s final five seconds, three Suave bottles are clearly displayed but reference to the Bath & Body Works variants is in very small type and difficult to read. And while the voiceover during the final five  seconds refers to “three Suave fragrances,” it states that they were preferred “over Bath & Body Works” without limiting the comparison to the three Bath & Body Works fragrances that are the object of the comparison.

The panel acknowledged that the context surrounding the video as it appears on Unilever’s website includes a statement noting that “three signature Suave Essential variations” were tested; however, the statement does not identify the three Bath & Body Works variants that were tested but rather indicates that the three Suave products were tested against a “premium brand.” Further, the panel said, reference to the overall Bath & Body Works brand in the introductory language contributes to the message that the entire line of Bath & Body Works body washes was tested. Even if the introductory language was more specific, the panel agreed with the NAD that all material information should be clearly and conspicuously communicated within the four corners of the video in which the claim appears.

“That is particularly true when, as here, the video appears on YouTube without the accompanying language on the Unilever website,” the decision states.

The panel also determined that the claim “Fragrance As Appealing As Bath & Body Works [variant]” on front of Suave body wash bottles is a parity claim requiring substantiation and not puffery, as the advertiser had argued.

Unilever relied on a preference study that it argued provided support for its “fragrance as appealing as …” claims on Suave body wash bottles and also for the  preference claims in the challenged video.

The panel determined, however, that the preference study did not show that each Suave body wash variant was preferred over the Bath & Body Works variant to which it was compared and thus could not support the line claim reasonably conveyed by the challenged video.

Further, the panel noted that Unilever did not submit the preference study itself and the information submitted by Unilever did not include the study protocol or raw data or information relating to the study’s statistical analysis, with the exception of summary charts showing results expressed as percentages. While the panel had a number of concerns with respect to the study’s validity, it found that the study was fatally flawed because the information submitted by Unilever did not show that the study was conducted on a sample of consumers representing major geographic regions.

Overall, the decision states, the panel found that the record did not establish the reliability of the preference study relied on by Unilever in support of the challenged “fragrance as

appealing as …” parity claims appearing on Suave body wash bottles or the line claim and preference claims communicated in the video.

The panel recommended that Unilever discontinue the challenged video and the

challenged “fragrance as appealing as …” claims on Suave body wash bottles.

Unilever, in its advertiser’s statement, said that while the company “does not agree with the panel’s assessment of the claims in context or the sufficiency of the underlying evidence, Unilever is a strong supporter of the self-regulatory process and therefore will comply with the NARB’s holding.”

Note: A recommendation by NARB 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 NARB not to endorse any company, product, or service. Decisions finding that advertising claims have been substantiated should not be construed as endorsements.