NARB Finds Something Smelly About Trash Bag Claims

Advertising Law

The National Advertising Review Board (NARB) threw out Reynolds Consumer Products’ pricing claims for Hefty Ultra Strong trash bags, finding that the advertiser conveyed an unsupported line claim and lacked substantiation.

Competitor The Clorox Company—maker of Glad trash bags—challenged television advertisements that featured the claim “COSTS LESS THAN GLAD” next to a visual of a single box of Hefty Ultra Strong trash bags (accompanied by a disclaimer in small print reading “Based on avg. retail price per bag. Nielsen 52wks ending 6/4/16” and a voice-over that stated, “Now costs less than Glad”).

The National Advertising Division (NAD) recommended that Reynolds discontinue the cost claim, as consumers could reasonably take away a line claim that was not limited to the Hefty Ultra Strong bag featured in the ads. In addition, the self-regulatory body concluded that the price data submitted by Reynolds did not provide a reasonable basis for the claim.

The advertiser appealed to the NARB and provided market data with a head-to-head comparison of Hefty and Glad premium trash bag prices at retail outlets where both were sold. Clorox responded with a similar comparison that also included warehouse and club stores, which showed the average price of Glad bags was cheaper.

Siding with the NAD, the panel recommended the challenged claim be discontinued.

With no consumer perception studies in the record, the NARB stepped into the shoes of reasonable consumers to determine the meaning of the messages conveyed by the commercials. One of those messages: that all Hefty trash bags cost less than comparable Glad trash bags.

Although the Hefty Ultra Strong box was the only identifiable Hefty product appearing in the commercial, the panel noted multiple “general references” to Hefty trash bags in the commercials, including the Hefty logo at the end of the ads and an image of a supermarket display of Hefty boxes that did not clearly show the Ultra Strong name but did have a “Hefty New Low Price” sign.

“Of particular importance is the fact that the challenged television commercials do not specify any specific Glad products as the object of the price comparison,” the NARB pointed out. “The panel does not agree with Reynolds that consumers will reasonably interpret ‘Glad’ to mean only Glad’s premium kitchen trash bags that are comparable to Hefty’s Ultra Strong kitchen trash bags.”

The commercial’s general reference to “Glad” as the object of the price comparison “strongly suggests” that the comparison was being made to the entire line of Glad trash bags, the panel added.

As for the appropriate universe of trash bag prices for the lower price claim, the NARB agreed with the NAD that warehouse and club store prices were relevant to many consumers’ purchasing choices and should not have been excluded from the “broad, unqualified” lower-price claim made by the advertiser.

“The panel also agrees with the NAD that this data may be sufficient to support a narrower product and market specific lower price claim,” the NARB explained. “The panel further agrees with the NAD that this data is not sufficient to support the broader line claim reasonably conveyed by the challenged television commercials.”

Reynolds should discontinue the challenged “COSTS LESS THAN GLAD” claim, but the decision does not preclude the advertiser from making “a truthful, narrower low-price claim that is both product- and market-specific,” the panel concluded.

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

Why it matters: The advertiser’s claim triggered concern from the self-regulatory body because of both the product and the market the advertiser used for comparison. However, the NARB was clear that a low-price claim that clearly identifies the products as the basis for price comparison and is market-specific (including warehouse and club stores) would pass regulatory scrutiny.

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