The Council of Better Business Bureaus National Advertising Division has recommended that Sherwin-Williams modify or discontinue advertising claims that its “Harmony” paint line is completely free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, reviewed express and implied claims made by Sherwin-Williams following a challenge by competitor Benjamin Moore & Co.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines VOCs as “any compound of carbon, excluding carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, carbonic acid, metallic carbides or carbonates, and ammonium carbonate, which participates in atmospheric photochemical reactions.” For purposes of this challenge only, both parties agreed that a “zero VOC” or “no VOC” claim is substantiated if the paint contains less than 5.0 grams per liter (g/L) VOC. NAD considered the advertiser’s representation that, based on its Material Safety Data Sheets and Technical Data Sheets, certain colors in its Harmony line would exceed the 5.0 g/L VOC threshold when its “deep base” paint was mixed with conventional colorants, but the majority of the Harmony paints would yield less than 5.0 g/L.
Sherwin-Williams questioned the testing and maintained that because the majority of its Harmony paints fall below the 5.0 g/L (or other de minimis) threshold, its zero-VOC claims are substantiated. NAD determined that the advertiser’s “zero-VOC” claim was a line claim for the full line of Harmony paints after the addition of colorants. The evidence, NAD noted, “demonstrates that not all of the paint colors in the Harmony line perform as promised when Sherwin-Williams’ Deep Base is mixed with conventional colorants.”
NAD recommended that the claim be discontinued or modified to clearly convey that there are exceptions to the line claim by disclosing that the addition of conventional colorants to Harmony Deep Base paint may result in higher levels of VOCs for some colors. Sherwin-Williams said the company “is disappointed that the NAD did not agree with its position that both consumers and the industry understand zero-VOC claims to pertain only to the majority of colors in a paint line, as opposed to being a 100 percent ‘line claim.’ However, out of respect for the self-regulatory process, Sherwin-Williams will accept the NAD’s decision and will take the NAD’s findings into consideration in its future advertising for Harmony.”