NARB Cleans Out Litter Box Claims

Advertising Law

Cat litter product claims got messy at the National Advertising Review Board (NARB), with the self-regulatory panel both agreeing and disagreeing with the recommendations of the National Advertising Division (NAD) on appeal.

Van Ness Plastic Molding Company, a manufacturer of cat litter pans, challenged claims made by Petmate about its cat litter pans. The claim “With Built-In Antimicrobial Protection” appeared on the principal package panel, followed by the product description and the statement (in smaller but still easy-to-read letters) “Inhibits the Growth of Odor-Causing Bacteria on the Pan” in solid capital letters. In small print at the bottom was a disclaimer: “This product does not protect users or others against disease-causing bacteria.”

Van Ness asserted that the claims communicated a health benefit message going beyond odor reduction for which the advertiser lacked support. The NAD agreed, finding that the advertising communicated a message of antimicrobial protection against the possible spread of disease and recommended that Petmate discontinue the challenged claims. The advertiser appealed to the NARB, arguing that the only message sent by the packaging was an odor-protecting claim for its litter pans.

The NARB sided with Petmate on the health benefit message claim. “[F]airly read in context, the challenged package claims do not convey a health-related message,” the panel wrote.

However, the panel did determine that the advertising communicated “a strong, implied odor-protection or odor improvement message” that lacked support. Petmate relied on qualitative—not quantitative—testing that failed to document the amount or degree of actual odor suppression or inhibition, the NARB said.

The panel also noted concerns with aspects of the advertiser’s testing, including that the pans tested were not obtained from the marketplace, the test was performed by the antimicrobial supplier (not an independent testing lab) and there was no control in the test.

“Nor can the test method determine whether users of the cat litter pans will detect a difference in the odor emanating from the pan,” the panel wrote. “For this reason, the panel believes that the testing does not substantiate the consumer relevance of the claims and agrees with NAD’s recommendation that the challenged claims be withdrawn.”

To read the NARB’s press release about the decision, click here.

Why it matters: Although the NARB agreed with the advertiser that the challenged claims did not convey a health benefit claim of antimicrobial protection against the possible spread of disease, the panel found that the product packaging communicated a message of odor protection or odor improvement. As the advertiser could not properly support or demonstrate such a benefit, the NARB agreed with the NAD that the claims should be discontinued.