BBB National Programs Archive

NAD Recommends Dyson Discontinue ‘Paper Towels’ Video Following Challenge by Kimberly-Clark

New York, NY – Nov. 28, 2016 – The National Advertising Division has recommended that Dyson B2B, Inc., maker of the Airblade hand dryer, discontinue an internet video entitled “Paper Towels Aren’t as Clean as You Think,” following a challenge from Kimberly-Clark Professional, a maker of paper products.

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

Here, Kimberly-Clark challenged claims that included:

  • Paper towels have a “dirty secret,” i.e., they are contaminated with “large communities of culturable bacteria” that may be pathogenic.
  • Research shows that significant percentages of paper towels, which are contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, can transfer those bacteria to skin, including the face and mouth, during use.
  • Airblade dryers are less likely than paper towels to spread and transfer bacteria to users because (1) they use a HEPA filter that captures 99.97% of bacteria and particles as small as 0.3 microns and (2) they need not be touched during use.
  • The Airblade is a “cleaner way” to dry your hands.

It was the challenger’s position that Dyson’s marketing campaign for its Airblade line of forced-air hand dryers makes a number of claims, both express and implied, that communicate the falsely disparaging message that Airblade hand dryers are more hygienic, and less likely to spread illness, than paper towels, which are “dirty” and “contaminated.”  According to the challenger, the overarching message conveyed by such advertisements is that unused paper towels are almost certainly contaminated with disease-causing bacteria, that consumers should be concerned about the potential for contracting disease from paper towels, and that they should discontinue using paper towels in favor of hygienically superior Airblade hand dryers.

Dyson rejected Kimberly-Clark’s arguments, noting that the advertising at issue does not compare rates of disease or infection, address the relative amounts of bacteria that are left on people’s hands by different hand drying methods or communicate general comparative “hygiene” messages.  Dyson maintained that its advertisements make a specific and narrowly-drawn claim that unused paper towels have been shown to contain bacteria, some of which might be transferred to users’ skin during drying.

NAD noted, however, advertisers must be careful to not overstate the health benefits of their products either expressly or by implication.

“Notwithstanding the advertiser’s intention to simply convey a message that paper towels have been shown to contain environmental bacteria that, if given a choice, people might want to avoid during the hand-washing process, health claims have a powerful impact on consumers,” NAD said.

Following its review of the evidence in the record, NAD recommended that Dyson discontinue the challenged video and the following claims as they may appear on the company’s website or in other materials:

  • “Have you used a paper towel today? It wasn’t as hygienic as you might think.”
  • “Independent research shows that before they even reach the washroom, paper towels can contain large communities of culturable bacteria, including toxin producers that can be picked up from the manufacturing, storage, and handling process.”
  • “Once in the washroom, bacteria in the air and contamination from previous users can be picked up by paper towels.”
  • “Recent tests carried out in Chicago and New York show up to 88% of unused paper towels contain bacteria”
  • “When you dry your hands or wipe your face the bacteria can transfer to your skin.” 
  • “Using a Dyson Airblade hand dryer is different.  It’s the most hygienic hand dryer.  You don’t have to touch anything to use one.  And while all hand dryers draw in washroom air, Airblade technology cleans it first with a HEPA filter which captures 99.97% of particles the size of bacteria, as small as .3 microns.  So bacteria is trapped in the machine, not transferred to your hands.”
  • “Choose a cleaner way to dry your hands.”
  • “The most hygienic hand dryer.”

NAD noted that nothing in its decision precluded Dyson from making stand-alone claims regarding the Airblade technology and the benefits of its HEPA filter, provided that it does not communicate to consumers that the Airblade is superior to paper towels on that basis.

Although Dyson took issue with NAD’s findings and conclusions, the company said that as a strong advocate of the self-regulatory process, it would comply with NAD’s decision.

Note: A recommendation by NAD to modify or discontinue a claim is not a finding of wrongdoing and an advertiser’s voluntary discontinuance or modification of claims should not be construed as an admission of impropriety. It is the policy of NAD not to endorse any company, product, or service. Decisions finding that advertising claims have been substantiated should not be construed as endorsements.