The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) performs a vital role in making sure that the way companies choose to market their products doesn’t mislead or offend consumers.
Sadly, though, it cannot act proactively – it can only act on a complaint.
Often it’s a competitor, armed with inside knowledge, that lodges the complaint and thereby lets the rest of us into some of that industry’s little secrets.
That’s if we bother to read the rulings. (www.asasa.org.za, click on Recent Rulings)
Last year consumers complained to the ASA that it was misleading of Unilever to label its soft pack of the Sunlight dishwashing liquid a “refill” – as in “Great Value Refill” – because at 700ml, it would not completely fill the 750ml bottle.
Compounding the misleading impression created by the pack, they argued, were four visuals in a diagram at the back of the pack, showing how to fill an empty bottle completely with the sachet’s contents.
Clearly, consumers who assumed there was the same amount of dishwashing liquid in the original bottle as in the soft-pack “refill” and compared prices only, would assume the “refill” was “greater” value than it was, millilitre for millilitre.
Responding, Unilever undertook to alter those misleading visuals, but argued it was “reasonable in principle” to describe their soft pack as a refill as the product was intended to be used to refill an empty bottle of Sunlight.
“The words refill and ‘top-up’ are used variably by the industry and consumers to mean total and partial fulfilment, depending on context,” Unilever said.
By way of example, they pointed out Colgate-Palmolive used the word “Refill” on its sachet of Ajax dishwashing liquid, despite the fact that it only contained 500ml of product as opposed to the Ajax bottle’s 750ml.
Unilever argued that if the retailers stuck to the recommended retail prices, the Sunlight refill was “marginally cheaper” than the 750ml bottle.
At the hearing last November, the ASA’s directorate said the “hypothetical reasonable person” would interpret the term “refill” to mean the product would completely refill the original 750ml bottle.
Also, the pack size – 700ml – was printed on the curve of the pack, which made it unlikely that a consumer would spot it.
The directorate also noted that Unilever couldn’t use the Ajax case as a defence. “One cannot argue that it was acceptable to mislead people because others are doing it,” the body said.
So why am I rehashing all of this now?
Because while Unilever has since come out with a new pack labelled “Great Value Pack” instead of refill, the Ajax soft pack has retained the word “refill” on its 500ml soft pack, despite the fact that it fails to fill the 750ml soft pack by a whole 250ml.
A reader wrote to me recently to question the Ajax packaging, being unaware of the ASA Sunlight ruling.
“Surely a refill of dishwashing liquid or anything else for that matter should do just that – re-fill the original container?” he asked.
So I asked Colgate-Palmolive how it justified not relabelling its pack to remove the word “refill” in light of the ASA ruling in the Sunlight matter.
Responding, Colgate-Palmolive’s legal director, Seneca Veeran, said the company had, in fact, taken a decision to remove the word “refill” from its Ajax “value” packs.
“We can confirm that the changeover is at |an advanced stage and consumers should begin to see the new packs in store during January,” she said.