We know we told you our Tropicana post yesterday was the World’s Greatest Blog. But this is too. We can say that because it is not a claim, but just harmless puffery. There was nothing in the title that was objectively measurable. And it was not the sort of thing any reasonable reader would believe. Or at least that is our story and we are sticking to it as we cannot afford a credible survey to show preference for our advertising blog or yesterday’s blog in particular over others. And you, loyal readers, would not count as you are not a random sample.
Puffery does have a bit of a feel of the last refuge of scoundrels defense. And it is also risky to rely on this defense without having a Plan B. In a recent NAD challenge to Starbucks ads for the Verismo Single Serve Coffee System, Starbucks raised two defenses – that their ads were puffs or alternatively truthful and substantiated. And the NAD agreed in large part for the ads disseminated by Starbucks. The NAD had issues with some ads run by retailers selling the machines. (And we do not have all of the facts here but we flag this as an area to watch – whether NAD will hold manufacturers on the hook for claims made by their resellers.)
Starbucks sells a single serve home coffee system. Claims included “perfectly crafted Starbucks coffeehouse quality lattes;” “lattes are made to cafe standard;” “all-natural milk pods produce lattes just like the original;” and “with rich espresso, high-quality Arabica coffee, and the creamy foam of pure 2% milk, your favorite Starbucks beverages come together at the touch of a button.” The challenger claimed that these words implied the coffee beverages made with Verismo were identical in taste and otherwise to the drinks made at Starbucks. There were differences in the coffees according to the challenger as the milk pods used in the Verismo machine used real milk powder with 2% fat while your neighborhood barista steams 2% milk.
Starbucks said “coffeehouse quality lattes” and “Starbucks quality lattes” were nonactionable puffery. NAD disagreed and found that reasonable consumers could understand these phrases as claims that the at-home coffee was identical in all material respects with the store-made treat. Starbucks asserted that even if these words did make a promise that the claims were substantiated but NAD disagreed as the customer testing information presented was either not detailed enough for NAD to assess or based on sample sizes that were too small (16 cities) and not sufficiently diverse of the general coffee house drinking U.S. population (2 cities).
NAD concluded that the rest of the claims were substantiated, that the coffee was high quality and that the powdered milk was pure milk (rejecting the contention that a reference to milk would be only understood as liquid milk). The NAD also approved of imagery of the ubiquitous Starbucks white and green cup with check marks for latte and 2% and the addition of “make at home”. Its only beef was with the express reference to cafe or Starbucks quality.
It is probably too soon to make broad pronouncements but the Tropicana and the Starbucks cases read together might suggest NAD is taking a more liberal view of when messages are puffs rather than claims.