- Kimberly-Clark Viva Paper Towels Case
NAD carefully scrutinizes claims that expressly or implicitly disparage a competing product to ensure that they are truthful, accurate and narrowly drawn.
Basis of Inquiry: Superiority and certain disparaging claims made in television and Internet advertising by Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Viva Paper Towels, were challenged by The Procter and Gamble Company, maker of Bounty paper towels, a competing brand. The following claims formed the basis of NAD’s inquiry:
“QUIT the QUILT”
“1-STEP to BREAKING the Quilted Habit.”
“Quilted is towel speak for air. But VIVA puts 35% more towel between you and the mess.”
VIVA is more absorbent, stronger and thicker than Bounty paper towels.
VIVA is superior to Bounty paper towels.
I. Express Claims: “Quit the Quilt”; Quilted is “towel speak for air”
The challenger explained that Bounty is the market leader in the paper towel market and that its quilted towels are made using a proprietary technology involving papermaking, embossing and laminating that creates the well-known quilted design feature (Bounty is known as the “Strong Quilted Picker Upper”)1, which help provide Bounty paper towels’ superior performance by creating more thickness as well as inter- and intra-ply space in terms of absorbency thereby allowing the product to absorb and hold more water faster.2
The challenger referred to the television commercial, which is part of a broader campaign including a “bold relaunch” of the advertiser’s website, in which Sandy and a contingent of workers holding a giant Viva towel (intended to be used as a battering ram) approach a woman’s home; Sandy shows a self-help book (“1-STEP to BREAKING the Quilted Habit”) tells the woman in the house consumer that she has heard she is “struggling with the quilt” and is here to help, as the consumer responds that she has “always used quilted towels.” Sandy explains that “Quilted is towel speak for air” and that Viva “puts 35% more towel between you and the mess” as the consumer responds “Wow, 35% more?” at which point a super appears: “Viva towels compared to the leading quilted paper towel by basis weight and sheet bulk.” The consumer then passes a Viva sheet over a substantial spill on her kitchen counter which appears to be absorbed with one swipe, implying that Viva is stronger, thicker and more absorbent than Bounty when that is not the case.
The challenger argued that the commercial is falsely disparaging by communicating the message that use of quilted towels is a bad and harmful habit3 that requires intervention to quit (including references to substance abuse programs—e.g., “1-step program to quit the quilts”) and that Bounty’s quilted design and pore space are flaws. The challenger contended that the advertiser is conveying the message that consumers who purchase Bounty are buying “air” and, as such, are getting less towel for the same amount of money. The challenger disputed the advertiser’s contention that the commercial is humorous vignette whose message is limited to communicating that Viva’s design is different and effective and not that Bounty is bad based on the aforementioned references to quilted towels, noting that humor does not relieve the advertiser’s burden to support all reasonable interpretations of its claim, including any denigrating ones.4
As support, the challenger submitted an Internet consumer perception survey it commissioned from survey experts Bruno & Ridgway which it claimed showed that consumers take away implied superiority messages of absorbency, strength and thickness for Viva towels as compared to quilted towels [i.e., Bounty]. In response to open-ended questions, consumers reported that the central message communicated by the commercial was a comparison between Viva and quilted paper towels and that Viva towels are superior to quilted paper towels in terms of absorbency (57 percent—Viva towels are more absorbent/pick up/clean up better), thickness (52 percent) and strength (17 percent), with stronger takeaways for the closed ended questions as to the specific attributes (88 percent, 76 percent and 70 percent, respectively) and significant takeaways even when...