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This article was originally published in The Tan Sheet

Executive Summary

ORAL-B LABS TOOTHBRUSH ADVERTISING CASE REFERRED TO NARB (the National Advertising Review Board) at the request of the Gillette division following a review by the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. According to the November NAD Case Report, Oral-B is challenging NAD's decision regarding its claims of "unsurpassed" interproximal penetration and superior end-rounding that were made in print and TV ads. NAD had concluded that "an advertiser should not make an implied comparative claim of superiority in the absence of proof that the purported difference is material to the consumer" and recommended that the claims be discontinued. Oral-B maintained that it had substantiated the claims. The ads were brought to NAD's attention by Procter & Gamble, manufacturer of the Crest Complete toothbrush. P&G superiority claims for its Crest Complete toothbrush were deemed substantiated by NAD in a previous review that was initiated by Oral-B in 1992. P&G resubmitted all of the data it used in the 1992 review as part of its challenge. Commenting on the ongoing review of Oral-B's claims, P&G said that Oral-B testing that "shows product parity should not negate past Crest Complete tests showing superiority." Regarding the penetration claim, Oral-B stated that it "believes the NAD's decision was wrong, and that Oral-B's claims were well-grounded and properly supported by laboratory testing." The firm added that its "laboratory methodology was validated by clinical cleaning studies which showed parity in interproximal cleaning between Oral-B and other leading brushes." To support the claims, Oral-B submitted four in vitro tests demonstrating that Oral-B and Crest Complete toothbrushes are at a parity with respect to penetration. The firm noted that an in vitro penetration test provided by P&G during the 1992 NAD review of its claims and resubmitted in the Oral-B case had "numerous methodological flaws." Addressing the claim that the Oral-B Toothbrush has a higher percentage of highly end-rounded bristles, Oral-B said it "questions why NAD believes" that the claim, which is "addressed to health care professionals, should be supported by clinical evidence, whereas superior or interproximal penetration claims, addressed to consumers, should not be. In this respect, NAD's decision is not consistent, yet NAD offered no explanation for this dichotomy." Oral-B pointed out that P&G makes similar claims for its product, and that P&G should be "held to the same standard" as Oral-B. NAD had concluded that "without the proper long-term clinical data, it is inappropriate for the advertiser to claim that its toothbrush has a greater number of highly end-rounded bristles if it may potentially mislead consumers into believing that such a difference will be manifested by superior product performance." Oral-B had submitted three tests that "purport to refine the previously accepted methodology of grading bristle tips for acceptable end-rounding using a digitized determination called 'shape factor analysis,'" NAD said. In addition, Oral-B questioned the reliability of evidence submitted by P&G to grade bristles for end-rounding. Oral-B stated that it is not challenging NAD's decision that the company's "properly conducted tests provided a reasonable basis for its parity claims of cleaning efficacy." In its review of Oral-B's teeth cleaning claims, NAD determined that the firm had provided a reasonable basis upon which to base its advertised claims. The claims included that the toothbrush is "unsurpassed at cleaning your teeth vs. the leading brands. No leading toothbrush you can buy removes plaque better"; and that the toothbrush is "proven unsurpassed in cleaning the whole mouth, between teeth and along the gumline, compared to the leading toothbrush in single-brush studies." To support the claim, Oral-B submitted six clinical tests including two one-time, cross-over studies of Oral-B, Crest Complete and another leading toothbrush using 50 and 46 subjects, and a three-month study of Oral-B and two leading toothbrushes. Oral-B questioned the number of participants used in a P&G plaque removal test used to support P&G's claims and described a consumer preference test submitted by P&G as an "unacceptable substitute for clinical data." Following the NAD review, Oral-B withdrew advertising claims that the toothbrush is less likely to cause gingival damage and toothbrush abrasion. The ads stated that "as patients brush interproximally utilizing a variable-length bristle design, the less flexible or stiff short bristles can increase toothbrush abrasion and gingival margin damage. Conversely, the long bristles in these designs can bend, bow and splay, injuring the enamel and gingiva. However, this does not occur with the leading flat-trim design."

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