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NAD Recommends Sherwin-Williams Modify No-VOC Claims for Harmony Paints

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(New York, New York, Jan. 18, 2011)—The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that The Sherwin-Williams Company, maker of the 'Harmony' line of paints, modify or discontinue advertising claims that the '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 in Website and print advertising following a challenge by Benjamin Moore & Co., a competing maker of paint products.

Benjamin Moore challenged the express claims:

  • "No-VOC formula."
  • "Zero-VOC formula."
  • "Formulated without silica and without VOCs for better indoor air quality."

NAD also reviewed the implied claim that the full line of Sherwin-Williams Harmony paints, including base paint and paint containing color, contain no VOCs.

VOCs are defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 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 VOC content of the paint contains less than 5.0 grams per liter (g/L) VOC.

(Click here for full text of decision.)

In this case, 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 paints in its Harmony line would yield less than 5.0 g/L.

NAD also reviewed evidence that included the results of testing commissioned by the challenger on selected colors of Harmony brand paint. The results of that testing indicated that, after the addition of conventional colorants to Sherwin-Williams "deep base" paint, VOC levels ranged from 42 to 112 g/L for "Coating" VOCs (used by air quality districts to determine whether or not a paint is in compliance with the limits set by the district's rules.)

Sherwin-Williams questioned the testing and maintained that because the majority of its paints in the Harmony line fall below the 5.0 g/L (or other de minimis) threshold, its zero-VOC claims are substantiated as to its entire line of Harmony paints.

Following its review of the evidence in the record, NAD determined that the advertiser's claim of "zero-VOC" was a line claim for the full line of Harmony paints after the addition of colorants. The evidence in the record, 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 to consumers that there are exceptions to the line claim by clearly and conspicuously disclosing that the addition of conventional colorants to Harmony Deep Base paint may result in higher levels of VOCs for some colors.

Sherwin-Williams, in its advertiser's statement, 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% '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."

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NAD's inquiry was conducted under NAD/CARU/NARB Procedures for the Voluntary Self-Regulation of National Advertising. Details of the initial inquiry, NAD's decision, and the advertiser's response will be included in the next NAD/CARU Case Report.

About Advertising Industry Self-Regulation: The National Advertising Review Council (NARC) was formed in 1971. NARC establishes the policies and procedures for the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the CBBB's Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU), the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) and the Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program (ERSP).

The NARC Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the American Advertising Federation, Inc. (AAF), American Association of Advertising Agencies, Inc., (AAAA), the Association of National Advertisers, Inc. (ANA), Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc. (CBBB), Direct Marketing Association (DMA), Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Its purpose is to foster truth and accuracy in national advertising through voluntary self-regulation.

NAD, CARU and ERSP are the investigative arms of the advertising industry's voluntary self-regulation program. Their casework results from competitive challenges from other advertisers, and also from self-monitoring traditional and new media. NARB, the appeals body, is a peer group from which ad-hoc panels are selected to adjudicate NAD/CARU cases that are not resolved at the NAD/CARU level. This unique, self-regulatory system is funded entirely by the business community; CARU is financed by the children's advertising industry, while NAD/NARC/NARB's primary source of funding is derived from membership fees paid to the CBBB. ERSP's funding is derived from membership in the Electronic Retailing Association. For more information about advertising industry self-regulation, please visit www.narcpartners.org.

Press Contacts:

Linda Bean
(212)705-0129

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