National Advertising Division reviews Sonicare ads

May 4, 2011
The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that Philips Oral Healthcare, Inc., discontinue certain advertising claims for the Sonicare FlexCare and FlexCare+ toothbrushes. NAD determined, however, that the company could support certain claims, including the claim that “Sonicare FlexCare+ Is The #1 Recommended Brand By Dental Professionals.”

Advertising claims made by Philips Sonicare that were challenged by Procter & Gamble resulted in recommendations from the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Procter & Gamble, which manufactures Oral-B power toothbrushes, filed a complaint with the nonregulatory agency to mediate claims made in advertising about the Sonicare FlexCare brand. A NAD review recommended that Philips discontinued certain claims but added that other contested claims "had a reasonable basis" for continuing to be presented in the company's advertising.

NAD reported, "Philips respects the self-regulatory process and will take appropriate steps to address NAD’s concerns in preparing future advertising."

Procter & Gamble, however, found the NAD review to agree with the following claims about the Sonicare FlexCare:

  • “Sonicare FlexCare is demonstrated in vitro to remove three times more plaque biofilm than Oral B-Triumph.”
  • “Sonicare FlexCare+ is clinically proven to remove more plaque than ... Oral-B Triumph.”
  • “Sonicare toothbrushes are clinically proven to reduce ... gum recession ”
  • “Patients brushed significantly longer using Sonicare FlexCare+ in the gum mode than with the Oral-B Triumph with Smart Guide
  • “Sonicare FlexCare+ ... cause[s] 50% less dentin wear ... ” and is “two times gentler on dentin than Oral-B Triumph”

NAD compared product testing methods and research studies to arrive at the conclusion that Philips should discontinue making the claims in advertising.

Procter & Gamble's complaint, though, extended beyond the above statements. NAD suggested that Philips could continue to make the following statements in its advertising:

  • “Demonstrated in vitro to clean beyond the reach of the bristles.”
  • “The patented sonic technology of FlexCare creates a sweeping motion of the bristles that no other power toothbrush can match for unparalleled cleaning of the teeth and gums.”
  • “[G]entle brushing action helps prevent gum recession.”
  • Sonicare FlexCare+ combines patented technology and “the most advanced”” design available in toothbrushing.
  • “Sonicare FlexCare+ Is The #1 Recommended Brand By Dental Professionals”

According to the NAD report about the complaint, Philips provided an "advertiser's statement" that commented, "Philips Oral Healthcare, Inc. is grateful for NAD’s thoughtful review of this challenge, and particularly for its finding that Philips’ science supports many of the challenged claims, including the 'beyond the bristles' cleaning capabilities of the Sonicare line of products. Philips is also delighted with NAD’s finding that the evidence supports Philips’ presentation of its statements that the Sonicare FlexCare and Sonicare FlexCare+ are 'The #1 Recommended Brand By Dental Professionals,' employ 'the most advanced' design, provide 'unparalleled cleaning of the teeth and gums,' and 'help to reduce gum recession.' Philips also appreciates NAD’s guidance regarding the ways to describe the comparative plaque removal capabilities of the Sonicare FlexCare and FlexCare+, and how to describe the benefits of the FlexCare+ gum mode timer."