One of the issues that frequently comes up in NAD cases is “line claims.” Does an ad convey a claim about a specific product? Or does it convey a claim about an entire line of products? This week, NAD released a decision that explores that issue in the context of a funny commercial by Charter in which a DIRECTV salesman shows up at a homeowner’s door and tries to pitch an offer.
The salesman starts his pitch by offering the “DIRECTV Select Double Play package with no ESPN.” When the homeowner declines, the salesman “sweetens the deal” by offering “no CBS Sports Network, no NBC Sports Network.” From there, the deals get progressively worse until the salesman’s final offer: “What I see is someone who wants to play hardball. OK, batter up! I’ll give you no popular sports channels, the early termination fees, AND I’ll add deeply disappointing AT&T Internet . . . .” The homeowner shuts the door on the salesman mid-pitch.
Although it’s true that DIRECTV’s Select Double Play package does not include any of the popular sports channels mentioned in the spot, DIRECTV argued that the commercial conveys a misleading line claim – in other words, the commercial suggests that no DIRECTV package offers those channels, something which isn’t true. Charter disagreed, and offered a survey in support of its argument that consumers weren’t confused. NAD found that the survey was flawed for a number of reasons, including problems with the survey universe, the control, and some of the questions. Therefore, NAD ignored the survey and stepped into the shoes of a reasonable consumer to determine how they would view the commercial.
One of the factors in determining whether an ad conveys a line claim is whether the ad mentions specific products or whether it refers to the brands as a whole. Here, the commercial started with a specific reference to the DIRECTV Select Double Play package. Although that’s usually helpful, NAD determined that the initial reference was not enough to avoid a line claim. Among other things, NAD focused on the manner in which subsequent “deals” were pitched, and determined that a consumer could “reasonably take away the message that the starting offer is as good as it gets, as DIRECTV has nothing better to offer – indeed, that it has nothing in the way of sports channels to offer the homeowner.” Because Charter couldn’t support that message, NAD recommended that they either modify or stop running the commercial.
If you make a claim that applies only to some products – whether they are a competitor’s products or yours – you need to be careful not to suggest that the claim applies to an entire line of products. There are certain things you can do to help avoid conveying a line claim. For example, it usually helps to focus on specific products, rather than making general brand references. But as this case demonstrates, it’s not always easy to distinguish between line claims and narrower claims. NAD frequently errs on the side of finding a line claim, so it pays to be careful.