ASA bans 'misleading' Harpic ad after Unilever complaint

Unilever has succeeded in derailing a Reckitt Benckiser TV ad that claimed Harpic Power Plus was 'five times' as effective as bleach after it complained to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Unilever, which makes rival cleaning brand Domestos, was the only complainant. It took issue with the claim that Harpic was better at cleaning toilets than bleach-based cleaners.

The ad featured a voiceover stating that: "Cleaning stains with ordinary bleach could make your job five times harder. That’s because bleach doesn’t remove tough limescale, it just whitens it, allowing germs to breed."

A woman was shown frantically scrubbing a toilet with bleach, but leaving limescale under the toilet rim. A close-up showed germs on it, with on-screen text stating: "Toilet after use".

The voiceover went on to say: "Try Harpic Power Plus. Just one application is five times better than bleach at powering through limescale, helping keep your loo germ-free and squeaky clean."

Harpic was then shown penetrating limescale and dislodging germs, and two toilets were shown for comparison - one had limescale on it with an accompanying close-up of multiple germs. The other had no limescale on it and a close-up of what seemed to be only one small germ.

The voice-over concluded that: "Harpic Power Plus, five times better than bleach," while on-screen text stated "5X BETTER THAN BLEACH."

Unilever claimed that the ad misleadingly implied bleach, when used in toilet cleaning, could not kill germs in the presence of limescale.

Unilever also said that the claim that Harpic Power Plus was "five times better than bleach" was misleading, and bleach was "equal to or better" than Harpic at disinfecting, but conceded that bleach was not as effective at removing limescale.

Reckitt said Harpic Power Plus was superior to bleach because it removed limescale, which could harbour bacteria. They disagreed that the ad suggested Harpic Power Plus was more effective than bleach at killing germs in the first place.

They said consumers would understand that Harpic Power Plus was five times better than bleach at removing limescale, which they backed-up with laboratory research to show Harpic Power Plus against several bleach-based cleaners.

The ASA upheld Unilever's complaint, that the ad breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rule 5.1.1 (Misleading advertising), and ruled that: "The ad did not give the impression that bleach had proven germ killing capabilities, and suggested that Harpic Power Plus was more effective than bleach at killing germs."

The ASA said the ad would suggest that Harpic Power Plus would be five times better than bleach at dislodging and dispensing with germs, while in the comparison of two toilets – one cleaned with Harpic and the other with bleach, "It was not clear that the germ build-up on the toilet cleaned with bleach would be gradual."

However, the ASA ruled that the ad did not breach Rule 5.2.1 (Evidence), and while the firm held evidence to support some of its claims, they were not addressed in the ad.

The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form.

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