Prompted by a challenge from Benjamin Moore & Co., the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ ad arm has recommended that The Sherwin-Williams Co. drop its zero-VOC claim about the Harmony paint line.
This is the second time in less than a year that the Council’s National Advertising Division has intervened on a Sherwin-Williams product claim.
In the current case, NAD urged Sherwin-Williams to “modify or discontinue advertising claims that the ‘Harmony’ paint line is completely free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).”
NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, announced the decision after reviewing express and implied claims made by Sherwin-Williams in website and print advertising.
Sherwin-Williams said in a statement that it was disappointed by the decision but “out of respect for the self-regulatory process,” would accept the decision and “take the NAD’s findings into consideration in its future advertising for Harmony paint.”
Benjamin Moore challenged these express claims:
• “No-VOC formula.”
• “Zero-VOC formula.”
• “Formulated without silica and without VOCs for better indoor air quality.”
NAD also “reviewed the implied claim that the full line of Sherwin-Williams Harmony paints, including base paint and paint containing color, contain no VOCs.”
In a 15-page decision released late Tuesday (Jan. 18), NAD noted that although Harmony’s Deep and Extra White base coats contained less than 5.0 grams per liter (g/L) VOC, all tinted varieties tested showed coating VOC content ranging from 42 g/L to 112 g/L—“significantly higher than” the 5.0 g/L threshold generally established for zero-VOC claims.
The testing was conducted by CalPoly at Benjamin Moore’s request.
Consumers ‘Falsely Told’
“The challenger emphasized that Sherwin-Williams’ advertising does not in any way communicate to the consumer that the Zero-VOC claims refer only to the base paint, and not to the paint with the added colorants which the consumer actually purchases at the point of sale,” NAD noted.
“Thus, consumers are being falsely told that the paint which they will bring home and apply to their walls is VOC free when, in fact, it has significant levels of VOCs.”
Because Sherwin-Williams advertises only colored applications of Harmony, the ads should indicate that the zero-VOC claim does not apply to colorants, NAD found.
In responding to NAD, Sherwin-Williams contended that its EnviroToners colorant kept the Harmony VOC threshold below 5.0 g/L, but NAD noted that EnviroToners are available in only 28% of Sherwin-Williams stores.
NAD also rejected Sherwin-Williams’ claim that Benjamin Moore had singled out “atypical, unpopular” colors “with the aim of finding outliers” that exceeded the VOC threshold.
Sherwin-Williams attacked CalPoly’s test methods and results, but admitted that “certain colors” in the Harmony line would exceed the 5.0 g/L VOC threshold when its Deep Base was mixed with conventional colorants, NAD said.
The company maintained, however, that its zero-VOC claims were substantiated as to the entire Harmony line because the majority of the line fell below the 5.0 g/L threshold.
NAD rejected that contention as well, determining that the company’s “claim of ‘zero-VOC’ was a line claim for the full line of Harmony paints after the addition of colorants.”
The evidence “demonstrates that not all of the paint colors in the Harmony line perform as promised when Sherwin-Williams’ Deep Base is mixed with conventional colorants,” NAD said.
NAD recommended that Sherwin-Williams drop or change the claim “by clearly and conspicuously disclosing that the addition of conventional colorants to Harmony Deep Base paint may result in higher levels of VOCs for some colors.”
The Harmony case is Sherwin-Williams’ second rebuke by NAD in the last year. In March 2010, NAD recommended that Sherwin-Williams “modify or discontinue” claims that its Dutch Boy Refresh Paint eliminated odors. All of the Refresh paint advertisements featured the “odor-eliminating technology” symbol.
That successful challenge had been filed by PPG Architectural Finishes Inc.
NAD concluded that the claims conveyed the message that Refresh paint would reduce odors to a level that is not detectable to the average consumer —a message that Sherwin-Williams’ evidence did not support, it said.
Heat Rising on Green Claims
NAD has recently seen a rise in adjudication of environmental claims for a wide variety of products—from soup to Internet services to HDTV, said Linda Bean, Director of Communication.
NAD “supports innovation and the right of companies to promote new and innovative features of their products,” Bean said.
However, she added: “In fast-moving and dynamic industries, there is often fierce competition to distinguish consumer-relevant product features—and competitors keep a very close eye on the advertising claims made in the marketplace.”
“So, as the paint and coatings industry seeks to meet evolving consumer needs, it is not unexpected that there would multiple challenges.”