Scraping Bear Bottom: P&G's Toilet Paper Ads Declared Misleading

Last Updated Aug 12, 2010 9:05 AM EDT

Procter & Gamble (PG)'s Charmin toilet paper ads have been found misleading by an ad watchdog, and P&G has agreed to stop exaggerating how little TP is "left behind" when an animated bear uses it in the woods. Welcome to the toilet paper wars, where no petty argument is left unprovoked.

Brand managers ought to spend their time thinking up new ways to reward consumer loyalty to their products. But sometimes, particularly in categories where there's little ostensible drama or glamor, management decides that skewering the competition with pedantic legal challenges is the best way forward. We've seen similar viciousness between the advertisers of lint rollers, mayonnaise, soup and paper plates in the last year or two.

The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus' ruling came after Kimberly-Clark (KC) -- maker of Cottonelle Ultra -- challenged P&G to prove that the cartoon bears' experience with Charmin was realistic. Obviously, when you've got cartoon bears doing you-know-what in the woods, realism is a key concern.

More seriously, KC also took issue with a video demonstration in which Charmin was shown leaving fewer pieces behind than Cottonelle, if such an issue can be described as serious. P&G had been claiming that Charmin Ultra Strong "leaves fewer pieces behind than the Ultra Ripple Brand." The NAD judges solemnly declared:

NAD also observed that in the advertiser's commercials, which feature animated bears, a bear has numerous pieces of toilet paper left behind prior to using the advertised product, but is toilet paper-free after using the product.
Although a voiceover states that Charmin Ultra Strong leaves "fewer" pieces behind, NAD determined that the language is directly contradicted by the visuals, which depict no pieces left behind.
P&G promised it would not allow the bears to tell such outrageous falsehoods in future. Of course, this can only mean one thing. P&G and its ad agency, Publicis, will be working overtime to come up with an airtight comparison campaign that shows Cottonelle coming off worse, and thus KC may live to regret this victory.

The temptation on both sides will be to engage in a price war, just to punish the opposition. Cooler heads must prevail -- just because you're willing to give up your credibility doesn't mean you have to give up your profits too.

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