The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rapped UK retailer Boots UK Ltd over advertising for its “Little Me Organics” products on its website. The text on the website read “Little Me Organics Oh So Gentle Hair and Body Wash has pear, mallow & organic aloe vera to clean and moisturise your baby's delicate hair and sensitive skin”. A single complainant challenged whether Boots’ claim that the product was “organic” was misleading, because it implied that it met an independent organic standard. In response, Boots argued that “Little Me Organics” was the brand name and that there is no legal definition of what constitutes “organic” for cosmetics in the UK. They also said that they had taken the challenged claims directly from the product label; they did not see how that differed to an in-store display. Boots supplied the ASA with certification for the organic ingredients in the product from four independent bodies (The Soil Association, US. Mayacert, Quality Certification Services and Eco Cert) and provided a percentage breakdown for the product’s organic content.
Assessing the claim, the ASA accepted that the product contained organically-certified ingredients and that there is no legal standard for organic cosmetics in the UK, but said that consumers would understand “Little Me Organics” to mean that the product either met an independently defined organic standard or used a high proportion of organic ingredients. As this was not the case, and the product contained less than 5% organic content, the ASA concluded that the advertising was misleading. Banning the advert, the ASA told Boots not to promote the product in future marketing communications unless they included a prominent statement disclaiming the implied “organic” claim.
The popularity of organic cosmetics is growing amongst consumers, however this ruling highlights how much of a minefield organic claims can be. The take-away point here is that any “organic” products should meet an independently defined organic standard or should contain a high percentage of organic ingredients; otherwise the claims are likely to fall foul of the ASA. Further, brand names should be chosen carefully to avoid being accused of green washing. The decision is also an important reminder that the ASA is able to investigate and adjudicate on claims that appear on advertisers’ own websites, as well as other types of printed and broadcast advertising.