NAD Considers the Meaning of Ultimate” Claims

Reckitt Benckiser advertises that its Finish Powerball Ultimate Dishwasher Tablets provide the ultimate clean,” even in the toughest conditions,” and even when you skip the rinse.” In my house, the pre-rinse cycle runs flawlessly on dual-canine technology, but if you don’t have that technology, I can see how these claims may catch your attention. They also caught Procter & Gamble’s attention, and the company filed an NAD challenge focused on the ultimate clean” claim.

One of the key issues in the case is exactly what message the ultimate clean” claim conveys to consumers. NAD reviewed a series of ads for the tablets and concluded that the claim could convey one of three different messages, depending on the context in which the claim appeared. It’s instructive to walk through some examples to see how NAD came to its conclusions and what those conclusions meant for the company’s substantiation requirements.

  • Product Line Superiority Claims: One web page ranked different Finish products as Good,” Better,” Best,” and Ultimate.” NAD determined that in the context of this explicit hierarchy, the Ultimate Clean’ reasonably conveys the message that Finish Ultimate is the superior product among the Finish line.” Similarly, a statement inviting consumers to try our best clean & shine” conveyed the message that Finish Ultimate provides the best clean and shine among the Finish products.
  • Market Superiority Claims: In other places, the Ultimate Clean” claim appeared in conjunction with language describing Finish Ultimate as the only tab” with CycleSync technology and claims that it provides revolutionary performance.” NAD determined these statements position Finish Ultimate as having performance characteristics that other detergents do not have and, thus, reasonably conveys a comparative superiority message” across the market – not just across Finish products.
  • Monadic Performance Claims: Other places touted the benefits of CycleSync technology without invoking a comparison.” For example, in these contexts, Reckitt didn’t mention that it was the only detergent with that technology or that it provided revolutionary performance.” NAD determined that those claims do not convey a message of comparative superiority. Rather, the description of the technology provides a monadic explanation for how Finish Ultimate achieves its performance in the toughest conditions.”

NAD noted that Reckitt’s substantiation requirements would differ depending on the context (and, therefore, meaning) of the claim. For example, for the product line superiority” claims, Reckitt would just need to test against other products in the line. For the market superiority” claims, Reckitt would need to test against all significant competitors in the market” – a much higher burden. For the monadic claims, Reckitt may not need comparative tests at all.

This case is worth noting for anyone who wants to make an ultimate” claim, but the lessons are broader than that. The same claim can convey a different message, depending on the context, and small differences in wording can translate into big differences in substantiation requirements. It’s important to scour through your claims to figure out what messages they convey as carefully as you scour your dishes to clean them (especially if you’re not lucky enough to have dual-canine pre-rinse technology).