Guest Blog: Ten Tips for Making Advertising Claims

MRII and our educational partner University of Georgia are dedicated to helping you achieve market research success by enabling you to master the fundamentals so you can better realize the full potential and value of market research and drive innovation within it. In this post, Lisa Cooper, Senior Vice President, RTi Research shares ten tips for choosing, supporting and making advertising claims. 

Marketers love to make claims about their products and services.  Why?  Because ad claims work.  Remember “The Pepsi Challenge”?  If not, check out Roger Enrico’s The Other Guy Blinked: How Pepsi Won the Cola Wars, about Pepsi’s role in the introduction and ultimate demise of New Coke.

If you are a marketer, you will have to make decisions around how best to use advertising to support your brand strategy.  In service of this, you may consider using some form of an ad claim to set your brand apart.  That could mean:

  •  Highlighting a product benefit (“Our brand” comes in biodegradable packaging)
  •  Comparing your product to a “gold standard” (“Our brand” tastes like fresh brewed) or 
  •  Claiming superiority over a competitor (Customers prefer “our brand” over our “competitor’s brand”).  

When choosing, substantiating and executing any type of claim in your advertising, we suggest you keep these best practices in mind:

  1. Engage the entire team early.  It is critical to ensure that all team members are on the same page regarding the claim that will be made as well as where and how the claim will be communicated.  The team should meet early and often, with the charge being led by Insights and including Marketing, Brand, Legal/Regulatory, Sales and an experienced and trusted Market Research agency partner (more on this in #10).  If you don’t get all stakeholders aligned with the plan, there’s risk of a derailment down the road.
  2. Ensure that all claims are truthful, accurate and narrowly drawn.  The NAD (National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau) states that an “advertiser is free to tout product distinctions and highlight the benefits of its product, provided the advertiser does so accurately and that all its claims are adequately substantiated”. Further, the advertiser “must be able to support all reasonable interpretations of its advertising claims, not simply the messages it intended to convey.” For example, Bayer Healthcare challenged the claim that “Frontline Plus unleashes a complete killing force” with an animation of ninja-like creatures killing all the fleas and ticks on a pet within moments of the product’s being applied. The challenge was predicated on the fact that it actually takes hours for the product to reach full efficacy. The NAD (National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus) recommended that the advertisement be modified to avoid conveying a message or implication of immediate efficacy. 
  3. Be the consumer.  Think about all the ways that a “reasonable consumer” might interpret the claim you’re making. Advertisers must support both explicit claims (i.e., “our mouthwash tastes great”) AND claims that are not explicitly made or maybe even intended by the advertiser but are, instead, deemed to be IMPLIED (i.e., “our mouthwash kills the germs that cause colds” which, as per the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) contains an implied claim that the product will prevent colds. Although the ad doesn’t literally say that the product prevents colds, the FTC asserts that it would be reasonable for a consumer to conclude from the statement “kills the germs that cause colds” that the product will prevent colds).  Under the law, advertisers must have proof to back up express and implied claims that consumers take from an ad.
  4. Make competitive claims that bolster your brand without unfairly disparaging the competitor.  For example, you don’t want to suggest that your competitor is “trying to fool” consumers, or that the competitive brand is unhealthy if, in fact, it is not.  A competitive claim is among those most likely to be challenged, specifically by the competitor against whom you are making the claim.  For obvious reasons, then, you want to be very deliberate and buttoned up before “poking the bear”.
  5. Craft ads and marketing materials that very closely reflect the claim being made – execution matters.  For example, if you only have proof that consumers prefer the taste of your “original” variety over a competitor’s “original” variety, your ads should communicate and show only that one variety, not your (or their) entire product line.
  6. Do not overstate environmental or green benefits of your product.  For example, if your packaging is compostable, but only in industrial facilities (not backyard composts), and you still want to communicate “compostability”, you must make it clear that the packaging is not compostable at home; this limitation must be clearly visible and in close proximity to the main message. Read more about the Federal Trade Commission (FTC’s) guidelines on “green” claims
  7. When making a health-related claim you should take care to claim only what you can specifically support.  Highlight specific benefits (i.e., that the product contains no artificial colors) without conveying broader all-natural messaging if the broader assertion is not supported with strong evidence. As noted above, execution matters – you may not make an explicit “all natural” claim in your ad, but the way the ad is executed may imply this message. Read more about the FTC’s guidelines on health and fitness claims
  8. Get to know the watchdogs of Truth in Advertising: Both the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), can review advertising claims to determine if they are within the bounds of truth in advertising.  The NAD offers alternative dispute resolution with voluntary compliance; the FTC can enforce truth in advertising laws.  These two entities work hand-in-hand, and the NAD will refer a case to the FTC if it has recommended a change in advertising and the advertiser does not comply.  
  9. Know that the NAD itself initiates 20-25% of its cases each year based on its own monitoring of advertisingin a wide variety of product categories. Specific issues that catch the eye of the NAD include claims that: Target a vulnerable population (elderly, those with special needs, children); Capitalize on consumer fears or misunderstanding; Address novel or emerging issues of interest for the advertising industry (a current focus is how brand influencers are used)
  10. Work only with a market research company that knows how to get this very specialized work right; that has specific expertise in designing/executing ad claims substantiation research and can, therefore, guide you through assessing and mitigating the inherent risks.  

If you’re hungry for more information and loads of examples, download RTi Research’s eBook on ad claim substantiation: Prove It!

To learn more about MRII and our online market research courses with University of Georgia, click here.

About Lisa Cooper and RTi Research

Lisa Cooper is Senior Vice President at RTi Research, which has over 40 years of experience advising on, designing and executing ad claims substantiation research for some of the world’s best-known brands. 

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