BBB National Programs Archive

NAD Recommends Reckitt Discontinue Certain Claims that Link P&G’s Febreze to Fungi, Bacterium

New York, NY – Sept. 4, 2013 – Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of Lysol disinfectant products, has voluntarily discontinued advertising claims that associated Procter & Gamble Company’s Febreze products with fungi and E.coli, action the National Advertising Division determined was appropriate. NAD has further recommended Reckitt Benckiser modify broadcast advertising to avoid the implication that its Lysol disinfectant spray kills 99.9 percent of germs when sprayed on soiled diapers and shoes.

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

Advertising claims made by Reckitt Benckiser in broadcast and Internet advertising were challenged by P&G.

Specifically, the commercial’s voiceover stated: A “Mediterranean Lavender with a hint of … Fungi,” followed by ““Sweet Citrus with a note of … E. coli.”

During the voiceover, the camera panned to dirty shoes and a dirty diaper. The voiceover then stated: “Air fresheners like Febreze smell nice, but aren’t approved to kill the germs that cause odors.”

The commercial included a shot of a woman spraying Lysol on a garbage can as a text super stated: “Lysol disinfectant spray freshens the air and kills germs on hard surfaces when used as directed,” and a voice over added: “And now you can use it to freshen the air, too.”

The voiceover concluded: “Healthing. More than a pretty smelling home. It’s a healthy one.”

NAD noted in its decision that that Reckitt Benckiser modified the advertising upon receipt of NAD’s opening letter to delete the references to E. coli and fungus.

Although NAD did not share P&G’s concern that consumers would understand the commercial to imply that Febreze products actually contain fungus and E. coli, NAD determined that the advertising could reasonably convey the message that Febreze fails in its function as an air freshener by virtue of not being a disinfectant.

NAD determined that such a takeaway was particularly likely given the language used in the voiceover. NAD determined that the original, unrevised, commercial conveyed the message that Febreze not only left behind germs – which is true – but that it left behind malodors.

NAD next considered whether the commercial — both in its original and revised versions — implied that Lysol kills germs in the air.

NAD noted the advertiser is entitled to communicate the fact that its own product confers two benefits (air freshening and disinfecting), whereas Febreze confers only one of these benefits (air freshening.)

NAD determined that while the original version of the commercial did conflate these two functions and generate some confusion, the revised version appropriately conveyed the message that Lysol disinfects hard surfaces, but can also freshen the air.

However, NAD remained troubled by the visuals of the dirty sneakers and presumably soiled diaper and determined that the advertising conveyed the message that Lysol – an effective hard surface disinfectant – could kill 99.9 percent of germs when sprayed on sneakers and dirty diapers.

NAD did not take issue with the stand-alone claim that Lysol is good for “healthing” a home.

However, NAD appreciated Reckitt’s voluntary undertaking to discontinue the claim, “more than a pretty smelling home,” when the claim is made with reference to Febreze – action NAD determined was necessary and appropriate based on the evidence in the record.

Reckitt Benckiser, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company “believes it has support for all of its claims as shown in the advertising. However, as a strong supporter of NAD and the self-regulatory process, Reckitt Benckiser will make the revisions as described in the decision.”