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Soap commercial not so squeaky clean

Lifebuoy soap bar displayed at a supermarket in Malaysia.
Lifebuoy soap bar displayed at a supermarket in Malaysia.
Image: 123RF/Mohamad Faizal Ramli

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) instructed Lifebuoy on Monday to withdraw their commercial for Lifebuoy Activ Silver Formula Total 10 soap‚ and that it may not be used again.

Lifebuoy competitor Reckitt Benckiser South Africa complained after the commercial was aired on March 19.

In the commercial‚ a boy and his mother go to a man dressed in a white coat identified as a school nurse.

The boy sneezes. The mother and the school nurse then have the following conversation:

Mother: “Nurse‚ it’s flu season‚ there are lots of germs around. We’ve been prescribed these medicines.”

School nurse: “I always tell parents: ‘Wash with Lifebuoy to clean and help protect from infection causing germs.’”

Mother: “Lifebuoy?”

School nurse: “Today‚ even common infections are becoming harder to fight because germs have become even stronger.”

Mother: “Oh!”

The mother takes out two blister packs with some medication missing‚ and puts them on the desk. The school nurse then takes out a bar of Lifebuoy Activ Silver Formula Total 10 soap and a tablet to show the difference between “normal germs” and “stronger germs”.

The school nurse then turns to the camera and says: “Wash with Lifebuoy Activ Silver Formula – it cleans and helps provide ten times better protection from stronger germs. Lifebuoy Activ Silver Formula - World’s number one selling germ protection soap.”

A protective bubble forms around the boy that repels germs when he washes.

At the end the commercial‚ four people in white coats appear and the on-screen wording says: “World’s no.1 selling germ protection soap.”

Reckitt Benckiser argued the school nurse recommends the soap as an alternative or complementary to prescribed medication. They believe reasonable consumers would think the soap is recommended by healthcare professionals to protect against infections.

“The impression is created that the soap will be more effective than a pharmaceutical in treating the elimination of germs or illness.”

Lifebuoy disagreed‚ and said the commercial advocates that avoidance is better than cure.

“The school nurse does not comment or give advice on the continued or discontinued use of the medicines.”

The ASA ruled the school nurse taking out the soap after the mother put down her son’s medication implies that once you are ill‚ prescription medicine offers inadequate protection.

“There is therefore an implied claim that infections and illnesses can‚ in fact‚ be treated with Lifebuoy.”

Lifebuoy said their soap is a “germ protection soap” similar to Dettol‚ Protex and Savlon soaps due to its “unique formulations”.

Lifebuoy submitted a survey it conducted via agency GeoPoll amongst 500 people‚ a doctor’s report‚ a letter from a market research company and test reports to support its claims.

These claims include that it offers 10 times better germ protection than ordinary soap and is the world number one selling germ protection soap.

The ASA found the test reports showed the soap was tested against eight and not 10 germs.

They said it would not have been a problem if Lifebuoy said it “protects from 10 illnesses caused by germs”.

It also that Lifebuoy’s submissions failed to substantiate their other claims.

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