BBB National Programs Archive

NAD Finds Sea Foam’s Laboratory Testing is Sufficient to Support Certain Advertising Claims Challenged by ITW Global Brands

New York, NY – Jan. 30, 2013 – The National Advertising Division has determined that the Sea Foam Sales can support certain advertising claims made for the company’s Sea Foam Motor Treatment, a product made for use in both automotive and small engines. NAD further recommended the advertiser discontinue certain claims.

NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The claims at issue were challenged before NAD by ITW Global Brands, which makes a line of customized engine-cleaning products that are sold under the “Gumout” brand. ITW challenged claims about the Sea Foam product’s ability to help clean various parts of engines, stabilize fuel and reduce emissions.

In an NAD proceeding, the advertiser has the initial burden of presenting a reasonable basis for its claims. As a general rule, NAD noted in its decision, product-performance claims should be supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence, with the gold standard being testing on the product itself. If the advertiser meets its burden of presenting a reasonable basis for its claims, the burden shifts to the challenger to establish that it has better data demonstrating a different result or that the advertiser’s substantiating evidence is materially flawed.

In this case, the advertiser presented NAD with the results of laboratory testing on the product, as well as 57 separate field tests.

Overall, NAD found the advertiser’s field tests flawed either by significant inconsistencies in test methodologies or incomplete documentation of test results. However, NAD determined that Sea Foam’s laboratory testing was sufficiently reliable to support certain challenged claims, including claims that the product helps clean various parts of engines, stabilize fuel and reduce emissions.

NAD determined that Sea Foam Sales had provided a reasonable basis for its cleaning claims, with the exception of the claim, “by using Sea Foam to help eliminate varnish and deposit buildup, mechanics can more accurately diagnose mechanical problems that may exist.” NAD recommended the advertiser discontinue the claim. Additionally, NAD recommended that the claim that Sea Foam “helps reduce emissions” be discontinued, although NAD found the advertiser could support its more general claim that “cleaner engines generally produce fewer emissions.”

NAD also determined that Sea Foam had supported its cleaning, lubrication and fuel stabilization claims, including the following claims:

• “When added to gas or diesel fuel tanks helps lube upper cylinders”
• “helps stabilize and condition fuels for engine storage.”

Sea Foam, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company “appreciates the opportunity to participate in NAD’s self-regulatory process, and it thanks the NAD for its careful and thoughtful consideration of this matter … .”