Persil Caught Greenwashing by ASA
A TV advert for Persil washing liquid, began with an image of a beach strewn with litter and plastic and a child looking at the image. A voiceover stated, “Removes stains at 30’” and “60 minutes quick wash” and on-screen text stated, “tough on stains, kinder to our planet”. The TV ad also had on-screen text which stated, “Made with 50% recycled plastic” and below in smaller font stated “excludes cap and label”.
The complainant challenged whether the claim that Persil washing liquid was “kinder to our planet” were misleading and could be substantiated.
Unilever UK Ltd t/a Persil said that the ad began with the message that action was needed to effect change and reduce impact on the environment and showed how Persil continually improved their products to be kinder to the planet. They said that the ad focused on specific features of their detergents which made them kinder, their ability to remove tough stains in a cold and quick wash and that their plastic bottles now contained at least 50% post-consumer recycled plastic and provided evidence to that effect. They concluded that these processes saved energy and used less plastic and therefore the ad demonstrated how their detergents were “kinder to our planet”.
The ASA upheld the ruling stating that the basis of environmental claims must be clear. They also stated that the BCAP code requires that absolute claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation but claims such as ‘greener’ or ‘friendlier’ could be justified, if the product advertised provided a total environmental benefit over that of the advertisers previous product or competitor products, and the basis of the comparison was clear. The Code also states that environmental claims must be based on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless stated otherwise, and claims that were based on only part of an advertised products life cycle must not mislead consumers about the products total environmental impact.
The ASA considered that ‘kinder to our planet’ was a comparative environmental claim, and whilst the ad highlighted the liquid detergent products were effective at removing stains in “cold” and “quick” washes with bottles that were comprised of 50% less plastic, they believed that the claim “kinder” was likely to be ambiguous to viewers. The ASA went on to state that the ad did not state or explain the basis of the comparative claim, such as whether the products were “kinder” in comparison to Persil’s previous products or other products in the market. The ASA acknowledged that the ad highlighted the benefits of the detergent, it was not made clear whether these were new or recent developments, and whether they were specific to the product advertised or applied more widely to Persil’s range of products.
In the context of the entire ad with several messages relating to environmental issues, the ASA considered the meaning and basis of the claim “kinder to our planet” was unclear.
The ASA also require evidence that claims are based on the full life cycle of the advertised product. Whilst they acknowledged Persil were undertaking actions to reduce the overall environmental impact of their products, the ASA had not seen evidence or analysis to demonstrate the overall impact of the product of their full life cycles, compared with Persil’s previous products, or other products in the market, to support the claim “kinder to our planet”.
The ASA therefore concluded that the basis of the claim “kinder to our planet” had not been made clear. Furthermore, in absence of evidence demonstrating that the full life cycle of the product had a lesser environmental impact compared with previous products, the ASA concluded that ad was likely to mislead.