Clean sweep for Dettol in misleading advertising cases

Greece
In cases involving advertisements for Reckitt Benckiser's Dettol spray and liquid soap, and Unilever's Klinex bleach and bleach spray, the Council for the Regulation of Communications has ruled mostly in favour of Reckitt Benckiser (Cases 4043 and 4044, September 11 2009).  

In the first case, in fast-track proceedings brought by Colgate-Palmolive, Elais-Unilever, Lowe and Geo & Y-R, the council scrutinized advertisements for Reckitt Benckiser's Dettol spray and liquid soap. Anti-bacterial products are widely popular in Greece, partly due to the current H1N1 flu scare. At issue was whether:
  • the phrase “10 times more effective than regular soaps” is misleading - and, if so, whether its use in advertisements constituted unfair competition with regard to the complainants;
  • the indication “based on European Standards EN 1276 and 12054” was accurate;
  • the statement “recommended by the Institute for Preventive Medicine and First Aid Care” on the label of the Dettol liquid soap was authorized and met the relevant criteria under EU Law (in particular, those set forth in Regulation 1924/2006);
  • use of the term 'anti-bacterial' was proper and accurate in relation to the advertised products;
  • use of the term 'microbe killing' in the advertisements violated the relevant regulations; and
  • use of the phrase '100% security' in the advertisements was misleading in that it created the impression that the products killed 100% of germs (or whether the phrase referred to the fact that the products were 100% guaranteed by Reckitt Benckiser).
The council first pointed out that, when dealing with health and safety issues in advertising, the level of scrutiny to be applied is higher than in other cases. The council accepted most of Reckitt Benckiser's arguments and ruled in its favour.
 
In particular, the council found that the phrase “10 times more effective than regular soaps” and the statement “based on European Standards EN 1276  and 12054” did not violate the relevant advertising regulations. In addition, the council found that Reckitt Benckiser had successfully demonstrated that the term 'anti-bacterial' was accurate: the evidence showed that the two Dettol products eliminated 99.9% of bacteria. However, the council determined that the terms 'microbe killing' and '100% security' might be misconstrued by consumers, as the latter do not possess specialist knowledge with regard to the differences between 'bacteria' and 'microbes'.

The issue of whether use of the statement “recommended by the Institute for Preventive Medicine and First Aid Care” was authorized was found to be moot, as it had been removed from the label of the Dettol liquid soap following the expiry of the collaboration agreement between Reckitt Benckiser and the institute.
 
Subsequently, the complainants filed a petition for a preliminary injunction against Reckitt Benckiser in the civil court, alleging unfair competition and requesting that the goods at issue be seized. The court also ruled in favour of Reckitt Benckiser and dismissed the petition (Case 4135, December 10 2009).
 
In the second case, similar issues were brought to the attention of the council by Reckitt Benckiser with regard to Unilever's Klinex bleach and bleach spray products - namely:
  • whether the statement “removes 99.9% of microbes” was misleading;
  • whether the phrase “guaranteed disinfection” violated the relevant advertising legislation; and
  • whether the assertion that “no other disinfectant product for the household is more effective against viruses and microbes than bleach” might be interpreted by consumers as a claim that the Klinex products were superior to rival disinfectant products.
The council ruled in favour of Reckitt Benckiser on all the above issues.
 
Eleni Lappa, Drakopoulos Law Firm, Athens

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