ASA Adjudication on The Scotts Company (UK) Ltd
The Scotts Company (UK) Ltd
1 August 2012
Internet (on own site)
Number of complaints:
The website www.lovethegarden.com viewed on 15 March 2012, stated "Miracle-Gro Organic Choice All Purpose Peat Free Compost ... Enriched with organic plant food, it is proven to grow stronger, healthier plants, fruits and vegetables ... Best by test! Miracle-Gro are also proud to announce a 'Best by Test' on their Organic Choice All Purpose Peat Free Compost! Now with a new formulation, independent trails [sic] prove that Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Compost grows plants bigger than leading peat free products!".
The complainant challenged whether the claim "independent trails [sic] prove that Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Compost grows plants bigger than leading peat free products!" was misleading and could be substantiated.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
The Scotts Company (UK) Ltd (Scotts) said the claim was based on the results of two independent trials, undertaken in 2009, which compared the Miracle-Gro peat-free compost with competing peat-free composts. They provided summaries and full reports of those trials, one of which was conducted using tomatoes and the other with petunias. Scotts said the use of tomato plants as indicators of product performance was universal in their industry, but by testing petunias as well they had tested a popular flowering plant and a fruiting vegetable plant. They said the results of those independent trials were supported by three trials they had conducted themselves; they provided summaries of all three, and full reports relating to two. They said there was not a full report for the third trial, because it was terminated early due to plants becoming diseased.
Scotts said they considered that "leading" in this context could mean both 'best-selling' and 'best-performing'. Scotts said their choice of which comparison products to include in the 2009 trials had been based on data sourced from a market research group between January and August 2008. They provided data relating to overall compost sales between 2008 and 2012 and said that data showed they had two key competitors in the compost market from 2008 up to 2012. They said that the market research company, and other sources of sales data in the sector, did not differentiate between peat-containing and peat-free products, since the peat-free sector of the market remained small. They had therefore selected the peat-free products offered from the leading compost brands in terms of sales, and had also included best-performing products. They provided copies of three Which? reviews on composts, published in 2010, which they said showed they had included best-performing products in the trials.
The ASA noted the claim was based on the results of two independent trials. We noted the in-house trial reports which had been provided as supporting information but considered that, because the claim in the ad was based specifically on the results of "independent trials", we could not take in-house trial results into account as evidence for the claim.
We noted the independent trials had been conducted on a number of different peat-free and non peat-free composts, including a few variants of Scotts' own peat-free compost and two other peat-free composts produced by the two companies Scotts had identified as key competitors. We understood from the data that the plants grown using the variant of Scotts' product which was on the market at the time the ad was published performed the best in measures of plant height and size, compared to plants grown using the peat-free composts produced by other companies. However, we noted that the trials examined the performance of the composts when growing tomatoes and petunias only. We considered that, because the claim "independent trails [sic] prove that Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Compost grows plants bigger than leading peat free products!" was preceded by the claim "it is proven to grow stronger, healthier plants, fruits and vegetables", consumers would understand that the product had been tested by growing a range of fruits and vegetables as well as plants more generally. Because the trials were limited only to growing tomatoes and petunias, we concluded the results did not substantiate the claims, and consequently the ad was misleading.
Notwithstanding the above, we noted the claim made a comparison between Scotts' peat-free compost and "leading peat free products", and therefore concluded that the independent trials should have included all leading peat-free products. We considered that, in the particular context of the ad, consumers would be likely to understand "leading" to mean 'best-performing'. We understood Scotts considered that the 2010 Which? reviews demonstrated that they had included best-performing composts in the independent trials. We noted that seven different peat-free composts had been included across the three Which? tests and that two of those composts had been included in the independent trials commissioned by Scotts. We noted that the performance of those two composts varied in the Which? tests, and that other composts which had performed better or similarly had not been included in the independent trials commissioned by Scotts. We considered the evidence provided did not substantiate that all best-performing peat-free products had been compared in the independent trials on which the advertising claim was based.
Furthermore, we noted that even if consumers understood "leading" to mean 'best-selling', we had not seen evidence that all best-selling peat-free products had been included in the independent trials. We understood that the sales data from the market research group showed the sales of all types of compost, rather than specifically showing the sales of peat-free compost. We were therefore concerned that the selection of comparator "leading" products to be included in the independent trials was not based on sales data relating specifically to peat-free composts, which we understood equalled a relatively small proportion of total compost sales. We noted Scotts' explanation as to why there was no sales data specifically for peat-free composts but we considered that in the absence of sales data relating to all peat-free composts on the market, a comparative claim relating to "leading peat free products" could not be substantiated because it could not be demonstrated that all best-selling peat-free composts had been compared.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.33 (Comparisons with Identifiable Competitors), and 3.38 (Other Comparisons).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Scotts to ensure that they held adequate substantiation for their advertising claims.