In a decision released today, the division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus recommended Iams modify the "healthier longer" part, which it said implied comparison to other brands that wasn't supported by P&G's veterinary survey or other evidence. The NAD said Iams could support a "narrowly drawn and properly qualified claim that 'among the leading brands they recommend, four out of five vets recommend Iams.'"
Mindful of news events
The NAD said it "was mindful of the recent news events related to the product category," but the decision, which came on a challenge by Colgate-Palmolive Co., marketer of Hill's Science Diet pet food, wasn't prompted by the recall.
The 2006 veterinarian survey on which P&G based the claim was conducted before the recall in March. A P&G spokesman couldn't immediately be reached for comment on whether Iams had conducted a similar survey since the news.
The NAD said one Iams TV ad, in part by making qualifying language "barely legible," conveyed an unsupported message that four out of five vets recommend Iams over competing brands. The division also said it wasn't clear from P&G's survey results that vets recommended Iams because it keeps pets "healthier longer."
That part of the claim "begs the question of living healthier and longer than what?" the NAD said. Vets in the survey gave many reasons why pets live healthier and longer, many unrelated to food. "If the advertiser really wanted to find out why veterinarians recommend Iams dog food," the NAD said, "it should simply have asked."
P&G said in a statement that it would take NAD's recommendations into consideration in developing future ads but believes its survey did support the "healthier longer" portion of the claim.
Different version on website
A different version of the claim now appears on the home page of Iams.com: "Vets know how vital nutrition is to your dog's health. And four out of five veterinarians recommend Iams." An asterisk leads to "in a recent survey, among leading brands they recommend."
A section of the site for cat owners has the claim "Vets recommend Iams to help cats live healthier, longer," without specifying how many vets.
About five manufacturers that process more than 50 brands and retail private labels were affected by the pet-food recall, but P&G had more products recalled and has suffered a larger drop in market share than any other marketer.
The Food and Drug Administration has linked melamine, found in Chinese wheat gluten used in the affected pet food to about 20 pet deaths from kidney failure, though it received thousands of additional reports of deaths and illnesses that it hasn't tried to verify.
The recall began when Menu Foods, a contract manufacturer of wet and semi-moist pet food, said 16 pets that had been fed its food had died.
P&G was the biggest among dozens of Menu Foods customers, having sold its only wet-pet-food plant to the company in 2004. P&G has stopped buying products on the recall list from Menu Foods, and Menu Foods announced earlier this month that P&G would no longer buy any of its wet-pet-food products as of Oct. 1.