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Sensory claims substantiation: an overview

Sensory claims substantiation: an overview

Introduction

This white paper aims to define sensory claims, provide an overview of how they are regulated in the UK and explain how they can be substantiated. This document is not a step-by-step guide for substantiating sensory claims. Its purpose is to discuss the practicalities and possible issues surrounding the sensory claim substantiation process, and provide recommendations based on practical experience.

What is a sensory claim?

A sensory claim is a ‘statement about a product that highlights its advantages, sensory or perceptual attributes, or product changes or differences compared to other products in order to enhance its marketability’ (ASTM International, 2016). Sensory claims feature across all types of advertising media, including print (e.g. product packaging and magazines), TV (e.g. TV ads), radio (e.g. radio ads), online (e.g. manufacturers’ and online shopping websites) and outdoor (e.g. bill boards) media.

Why make a sensory claim?

In markets that are increasingly saturated and often very competitive, sensory claims can be a powerful marketing tool to highlight the unique selling point of a product (Choudhury, 2017). Claims are thought to help consumers shape positive expectations towards a product at the point of purchase (e.g. on-pack claims) or pre-purchase (e.g. claims within TV commercials). Ultimately, their goal is to positively impact on consumers’ purchase decisions. To that end, claims need to be perceived as meaningful, as well as relevant and credible by consumers (Wolf and Margoshes, 2014).

Sometimes sensory claims may be used as alternatives to health or nutrition claims. However, whilst consumer studies have demonstrated the positive impact of health and nutrition claims on product choice and purchase, to date not many studies have measured such an impact from sensory claims.

The different types of sensory claims

Sensory claims communicate a product’s performance (sometimes in comparison to similar products), improvement (vs. competitor(s) or a previous formulation) or parity with other similar products (Statistics for Industry, 2019). They are categorised into ‘comparative’ and ‘non-comparative’ claims (ASTM International, 2016):

Using a product example (fruit yogurt), Figure 1 provides examples for all the above types of claim.

The term ‘puffery’ is sometimes used to refer to claims such as ‘as light as a feather’ or ‘luxury never tasted this good’, which are obvious overstatements/exaggerations about a product (Rogers, 2012; Schneider-Häder and Beeren, 2015). Such claims cannot be substantiated but are generally accepted as most consumers would not believe them to be true.

The regulatory framework for sensory claims in the UK

Unlike health and nutrition claims, sensory claims are not subject to detailed statutory regulation, which often makes it easier for product manufacturers/ advertisers to use sensory rather than health or nutrition claims. In the arena of sensory claims, the Consumer Protection from Unfair trading Regulations 2008 is one piece of legislation which prohibits unfair marketing to consumers, including misleading or aggressive advertising (House of Commons Library, 2017). As the law that governs advertising claim substantiation (including sensory claims substantiation) is drawn from a variety of legal practice areas and disciplines (American Bar Association, 2017), obtaining legal advice is recommended (Corbin et al, 2019; Schneider-Häder and Beeren, 2015).

By law, product manufacturers/advertisers are required to have ‘reasonable basis’ for their claims (American Bar Association, 2017). Although there is no requirement to publish the substantiating evidence, there is a requirement to provide the latter for inspection in the event of a complaint. In the most extreme cases, the evidence can even be challenged through a court of law.

The type and amount of evidence required are not linked to the scope of the claims, i.e. whether the claims feature on product packaging or in TV commercials. In all circumstances, not only the claims need to be relevant (performance or benefit claimed to be noticeable by consumers), they also need to be reasonable, i.e. fair, representative and unbiased (Wolf and Margoshes, 2014). Product manufacturers and advertisers have the obligation to ensure that what they communicate about their products, whether implicitly or explicitly, is truthful, not misleading, exaggerated or ambiguous (Ware and Tye, 2014). Competitors, but also consumers, can complain about claims they have seen, which they believe to be e.g. misleading, harmful or offensive.

The different organisations that regulate sensory claims and handle complaints in the UK

Ofcom (Office of Communications) is the regulator for all communication services (including TV, radio and broadband services), whose role includes the public’s protection from harmful or offensive material (Ofcom website). However, it is the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority), the UK’s independent regulator of both broadcast (incl. online, TV and radio materials) and non-broadcast (e.g. prints) advertising across all media, which is responsible for applying the codes of advertising (ASA website).

The codes of advertising, i.e. the CAP and BCAP codes, are written and maintained by members of the advertising industry, which are organised in committees: the Committee of Advertising Practice (or CAP for non-broadcast advertising) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (or BCAP for broadcast advertising). To comply with these codes, claims must not be misleading, ambiguous, harmful or offensive, and be verifiable, accurate, decent, honest, fair, etc. (Ware and Tye, 2014). Although each country has its own advertising as well as product labelling laws/rules, these key principles apply in most countries (Statistics for Industry, 2019).

The ASA checks ads across all media for non-compliance with the advertising rules, but also responds to complaints from consumers and businesses, and decides whether ads/claims should be banned or not. Most complaints are generally from members of the public and concern potentially misleading ads (ASA website). The number of complaints does not dictate how likely ads/claims are investigated (one complaint is enough to start an investigation) or banned/’upheld’. The ASA puts an emphasis on ads in sectors where there are potential consumer protection issues, or societal concerns about specific products (e.g. alcohol and e-cigarettes).

The ASA does not ‘clear’ those ads that are shown on television (or the sensory claims within it): this is the role of Clearcast, another non-governmental organisation. Clearcast primarily checks that ads which are to appear on television follow the BCAP code, but also offers a variety of services such as: supporting agencies with creative challenges in restrictive advertising categories, providing appropriate ad timing and scheduling restriction instructions for broadcasters, working with advertisers to defend complaints made to the ASA on ads cleared, helping agencies, creatives, advertisers and broadcasters get to grips with ad rules, offering international (including UK) ad compliance management, and reporting music used in ads (to the PRS) so that artists get paid.

Products and their packaging are generally excluded from the scope of the CAP code. However, when products and their packaging are featured in marketing communications (e.g. in a catalogue or in a product listing from a website), the presentation of the ‘pack shot’ and any claims that are visible fall within the remit of the CAP code. When product packaging features a promotion (e.g. a ‘Buy One Get One Free’ claim), the CAP code also applies to content which relates to that promotion.

Rather than the ASA, Trading Standards is the organisation that consumers can contact (using the citizens advice consumer helpline) to report misleading claims featuring on physical products (including sensory claims). Consumers also tend to contact Trading Standards (Citizens Advice website) if they were sold something unsafe or dangerous (e.g. a food past its use-by date), fake, not as described (e.g. something advertised that wasn’t included in a package deal), or that they didn’t want to buy (e.g. bought under pressure). Trading Standards advise on and enforce laws that govern the way we buy, sell and rent goods and services. Trading Standards acts as ASAs legal ‘backstop’ for non-broadcast advertising. Failure of an advertiser to comply with an ASA ruling could result in them being referred to Trading Standards (by ASA), who then decide whether to investigate and take any enforcement action (ASA website).

The type of evidence required to substantiate sensory claims

Three types of data can typically be used to substantiate sensory claims (ASTM International, 2016; Choudhury, 2017):

Note that both analytical and sensory data provide no indication of how consumers may perceive the product(s). For that reason, they are often collected alongside consumer data - even if the claim is related to the perception of a specific attribute, i.e. not related to acceptance or preference. Collecting more than one type of data increases the robustness of the substantiating evidence.

Guidance on data analysis and number of assessors

The data analysis of sensory and consumer data for sensory claims substantiation can be complex and detailed guidance can be difficult to find. The data analysis depends on several factors, including the number of samples tested, the type of task/question used, the distribution of the data and the number of assessors involved in the study.

Most of the guidance provided by the ASTM (ASTM International, 2016) is on the analysis of data obtained from preference questions (side-by-side presentation of two samples). For other types of questions, the usual parametric statistical methods (e.g. ANOVA) are referred to. Both confidence levels of 95% and 99% are used in the statistical tables provided, making it unclear what confidence level is necessary to avoid challenges.

Here is an overview of the guidance available per type of claim:

Best practices

For information on best practices relating to sensory claims substantiation, the following references can be used: Statistics for Industry, 2019; Corbin et al, 2019; ASTM International, 2016 and Wolf and Margoshes, 2014. A summary of some of the key points are:

Common pitfalls typically include (Statistics for Industry, 2019; ASTM International, 2016):

Conclusion

This document illustrates the different types of sensory claims and shows how these can be substantiated. It provides a framework from which further considerations can be built. The question of whether (and to what extent) sensory claims impact on consumers’ purchase decisions however remains and is due to be investigated in the next stage of this research project.

References

American Bar Association. (2017) Advertising Claim Substantiation Handbook. Chicago, Illinois: ABA Book Publishing.

ASA website. [Viewed 27 November 2019]. Available from: https://www.asa.org.uk/

ASTM International. (2016) Standard Guide for Sensory Claim Substantiation. E1958-16.

Chadhury, M. (2017) What’s in a claim? How to develop and validate successful sensory claims. Leatherhead Food Research white paper [online]. [Viewed 1 November 2019]. Available from: https://www.leatherheadfood.com/files/2017/03/White-paper-43-Whats-in-a-claim2.0.pdf

Citizens Advice website. [Viewed 27 November 2019]. Available from: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/get-more-help/report-to-trading-standards/

Corbin, R.M. et al. (2019) Practical Guide to Comparative Advertising: Dare to Compare. Academic Press.

Ennis, D.M. and Rousseau, B. (2019) Making Count-Based Claims for Sample Data. IFP Technical report, 22 (1).

Ennis, D.M. (2016) Parity Claims. Reprinted for IFPress (2006), 9 (4) 2,3.

Ennis, J.M. and Ennis, D.M. (2012) Justifying count-based comparisons. Journal of Sensory Studies, 27, 130-136.

Food Standards Agency. (2008) Criteria for the use of the terms fresh, pure, natural etc. in food labelling.

House of Commons Library. (2017) Consumer Protection from unfair Trading Regulation 2008. Briefing Paper [online]. [Viewed 27 November 2019]. Available from: https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN04678/SN04678.pdf

Ofcom website. [Viewed 27 November 2019]. Available from: https://www.ofcom.org.uk

Rogers, L. (2012) Sensory Claims Substantiation [PowerPoint presentation paper copy].

Schneider-Häder, B. and Beeren, C. (2015) Sensory Claims – Methodological approach to development and substantiation. DLG-Expert report 15/2015 [online]. [Viewed 24 October 2019]. Available from: https://dlg.org/fileadmin/downloads/food/Expertenwissen/Lebensmittelsensorik/e_2015_15_Expert_report_SensoryClaims.pdf

Statistics for industry. (2019) Claim Substantiation. How to Design and Analyse Trials to Support Product Claims [Course notes].

Thomas, S. (2019) Focus group study on consumers’ perception of sensory claim substantiation. I&I technical report. Campden BRI.

Ware, D. and Tye, J. (2014) The Insider’s Guide to Advertising Regulation [online]. [Viewed 24 October 2019]. Available from: https://www.sensorydimensions.com/files/1214/1623/0664/Insiders_guide_to_the_ASA.pdf

Wolf, M. and Margoshes, B. (2014) Navigating sensory claim substantiation for advertising [online]. [Viewed 24 October 2019]. Available from: https://www.sensorysociety.org/meetings/2014%20Presentations/W_AdClaims-WolfMargoshes.pdf