Two toothpaste manufacturers have recently felt the bite of the ASA. Purity Laboratories Ltd claimed in a magazine advertisement that its products produced “whiter teeth in 1 minute” and attempted to substantiate this claim on its website by stating that ” a study conducted at Bristol University Dental School proved that Beverly Hills Formula toothpaste can remove over 90% of staining in just 1 minute.” When the ASA put Purity Laboratories Ltd to proof on this, it claimed that an inconsistency in spelling at the laboratory meant that not all product names stated in the test results accurately matched the names of its products and that it was awaiting further data. The ASA therefore held that this was misleading advertising under rule 3.1 of the CAP Code and the ads must not appear again in their current form.

Similarly Church & Dwight UK Ltd claimed that its toothpaste could produce “3 shades whiter clinically proven” and relied on a study which they had conducted by a leading dental research institute. When the ASA referred the study to an independent expert, it found that it was not “sufficiently robust” and even had a significant proportion of subjects who experienced darker teeth or no change at all. As a result of this the ASA found the claim to be misleading (breaching CAP Code rule 3.1) and incapable of substantiation (breaching CAP Code rule 3.9). As a result the ads cannot appear again in their current form.

Conversely Procter & Gamble were vindicated by the ASA when its ad featuring TV personality, Holly Willoughby, was investigated following claims that P&G had enhanced the whiteness of Miss Willoughby’s teeth in post-production. The ad was investigated for suspected breaches of CAP Code rule 3.1 (misleading), rule 3.9 (substantiation )and rule 3.12 (exaggeration) but was cleared by the ASA when Clearcast confirmed that P&G had not enhanced the film nor whitened Miss Willoughby’s teeth. P&G even produced a letter from Miss Willoughby stating that she had been using the toothpaste for a period prior to filming and had noticed a significant difference. On this basis the ad was cleared of any breach. There are two lessons to learn from these cases: i) always ensure that your advertised claims are backed up with solid independent evidence and ii) yes, Holly Willoughby’s teeth really are that white!