In the ruling dated 13 Jan 2021, The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) stated the social media ad, used a series of statements suggesting the product could "nourish" a baby's skin microbiome.
Responding to accusations the ad was misleading and could not be substantiated, Unilever said the claims did not state or imply the products could be used to make a medical diagnosis or treat or prevent disease, including injury, ailment or adverse condition.
“Instead, the claims made highlighed the product could help support and protect skin and its microbiome, an intrinsic part of the skin surface and component of the skin and keep it in good condition, which were both functions of cosmetic products.
At the centre of the issue was the word “nourish,” which was used in a series of statements, including "Every baby is born with a unique microbiome, a living layer that protects its skin, nourish it with Baby Dove wash and lotion. Available at Boots".
Use in cosmetics
The paid-for Facebook ad, posted by Boots to advertise the product in August 2019, also included a video with voice-over that stated, “Every baby is born with a unique microbiome. Nourish it with Baby Dove prebiotic moisturiser”.
The ad also featured on-screen text that stated, “Baby Dove gently nourishes with prebiotic moisturiser,” and “with prebiotic moisturiser” and “with 100% skin natural nutrients.”
Unilever countered, arguing the claim “to nourish” was used in skin care and skin cleansing cosmetics, where products with nourishing ingredients like lipids helped support skin function by moisturisation.
“In hair care, the word “nourish” is used to describe the appearance and manageability of the hair after use of the product,” said the British consumer goods giants.
“The average consumer was therefore likely to understand the word “nourish” in the cosmetic sphere to mean to provide with the care and support that was needed to keep in good condition.
“Therefore, their likely take-away from the ad would be that the products supported and cared for and kept the skin and its microbiome in good condition.”
Despite Unilever’s objections that the skin microbiome’s role in skin protection had been researched for over 16 years, ASA upheld the decision, quoting breaches to the CAP Code, specifically, ‘Misleading advertising,’ ‘Substantiation’ and ‘Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products.’
‘Nourish’ the offending word
More specifically, the use of the word ‘nourish’ in the text, “Every baby is born with a unique microbiome, a living layer that protects its skin, nourish it with Baby Dove wash and lotion,” “nourish it with Baby Dove prebiotic moisturiser,” was according to ASA referring specifically to the microbiome.
“We considered that consumers would understand that a product that was said to “nourish” the “living layer that protects the skin” would itself have a role in protecting the skin, by helping to keep the microbiome in an optimum state to protect the skin,” the authority said.
“The use of the word “prebiotic” further reinforced the impression that the products offered a unique benefit relating specifically to their impact on the skin microbiome, and beyond that of a standard moisturiser or cleanser.”
Referring to submitted scientific evidence by Unilever, ASA ruled the research as “insufficient to substantiate the claims in the ad as consumers were likely to understand them, namely that the products would have a protective effect on babies’ skin directly as a result of their impact on the skin microbiome. We concluded that the ad was misleading and breached the Code.