Last week, we posted about an NAD case involving green claims that Georgia-Pacific made for its Quilted Northern Ultra Soft & Strong Bathroom Tissue. In that post, we examined issues related to how a company substantiates claims about its present achievements and future goals. Today, we’ll look at the same case, but focus on issues related to “sustainability” claims (and some broader principles that apply outside the “green” context).
The FTC’s Green Guides state that advertisers should not make broad, unqualified general environmental benefit claims.” Such claims “are difficult to interpret and likely convey a wide range of meanings” beyond what an advertiser can support. Because advertisers must be able to support all reasonable interpretations of a claim – not just the one they intended – this can be a problem. Instead, advertisers “should use clear and prominent qualifying language that limits the claim to a specific benefit or benefits.”
The front of the Quilted Northern packages prominently advertised: “Premium comfort made sustainably.” Georgia-Pacific argued that other statements on the front of the package – such as “3 trees planted for every tree used” and “energy efficient manufacturing” – served to qualify the claim to specific benefits. NAD didn’t agree, in part, because while the claim appeared at the top of the package, the qualifying language appeared at the bottom, and there were a lot of other things in between.
The same “sustainability” claim appeared on the back of the package. Right below that, however, Georgia-Pacific included qualifying language. NAD noted that the claim and qualifiers “appear in the same style of font over a unified background, suggesting that the statements should be read together.” Thus, “in this context, in direct proximity and integrated with qualifying language, consumers viewing the product label are not likely to miss or ignore that the claim is tied to the specifically described benefits.”
If you’re making green claims, this case demonstrates how difficult it can be to make these types of claims in a way that withstands scrutiny. If you aren’t making green claims, congratulations on reading this far. This case is still important because it illustrates some of the boundaries of what you can do with disclosures. The more your disclosure is separated from the claim, the harder it may be for you to argue that the disclosure effectively qualifies the claim.