Febreze is a line of odor-reduction products manufactured by Proctor and Gamble. Competitor S.C Johnson & Sons, Inc, manufactures odor reduction products under the name Glade. S.C Johnson submitted a complaint to the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau, alleging that Febreze failed to substantiate claims that their line of products eliminated odors at a molecular and sensory level. So what is the big stink?
Sensory and Non-Sensory Claims
The Febreze line of products made claims in online advertisements, commercials, and on its website that the products eliminate odors using technology more advanced than that of its competitors. S.C Johnson challenged these ads, and Proctor and Gamble submitted evidence from sensory tests. However, the NAD smelled a rat: It ultimately agreed with S.C. Johnson that the sensory testing evidence did not substantiate the odor elimination claim at issue, which was not a sensory claim.
NARB Appellate Review
Proctor and Gamble appealed to the National Advertising Review Board (NARB), the appellate body that reviews NAD decisions. NARB upheld the NAD decision, which was based on its determination that the claims at issue were not about odor reduction–something that could be supported with the sensory tests submitted–but odor elimination, which required different substantiation. As a result, Proctor and Gamble could not use its sensory testing data to substantiate its claims. In particular, NARB recommended that Febreze discontinue the use of the following claims:
- “Febreze Air eliminates odors in an instant.”
- “Want to eliminate odors without heavy overwhelming scents? We get it. Introducing Febreze Light. It eliminates odors with no heavy perfumes in light scents you’ll love.”
- Febreze Fabric Refresher “eliminates sunk-in-stink with long-lasting freshness.”
NARB noted in its decision that “P&G has sufficient documentation of its OdorClear technology to support mode-of-action claims that are not combined with odor-elimination claims, including claims of instantaneous or continuous action.” Thus, the advertiser is free to keep claiming that its products reduce odor–it just can’t claim that they eliminate odor, at least if it continues relying on sensory data.
Malodorous Sensory Surveys
In this dispute, Proctor and Gamble relied on a type of sensory testing called Difference from Control testing, which cannot measure odor elimination at a molecular level. The NARB found that it was fine to use the test data as a basis for claiming that Febreze products reduce odor; eliminating odor, however, required other substantiation. As with all types of advertising claims, even the best research in the world won’t help if it’s not appropriate to substantiate the challenged claims.