The claims at issue include:
“It’s time to fight back. MICHELIN fuel-efficient, long-lasting tires help you save money.”
“Michelin makes the most fuel-efficient line of tires on the road, which saves you money over the life of your tires.*”
“ABOUT $300 or 68 GALLONS OF GAS that’s what a set of MICHELIN Latitude Tour HP tires can save you.”
“ABOUT $200 OR 51 GALLONS OF GAS that’s what a set of MICHELIN Primacy MXV4 tires can save you.”
“Rolling resistance testing based on SAE J1269 Industry Practice. MICHELIN Latitude Tour HP 255/55R18 105H compared to Bridgestone Dueler H/L Alenza 255/55R18 109H. MICHELIN Primacy MXV4 215/50R17 91V compared to Bridgestone Turanza with Serenity Technology 215/50R17 95V. Calculated fuel/cost savings are approximate estimations based on several variables, not precise measurements; vehicles equipped with four Michelin brand tires; and fuel at $4 per gallon.”
The focus of the challenged advertisement was the impact of the advertiser’s tires on vehicle fuel efficiency and their ability to save consumers money “at the pump”.
As a preliminary matter, NAD recognized that rolling resistance or a tire’s drag on the roadway is “the main source of the tire’s influence on fuel consumption,” and that there is a well-established and verifiable relationship between tire rolling resistance and vehicle fuel economy.
However, NAD noted, the heart of the issue presented was not whether rolling resistance is an appropriate measure of a tire’s contribution to vehicle fuel economy, but rather the message or messages conveyed by the advertising and whether the advertiser’s evidence is sufficient to support those messages.
NAD determined that the challenged advertisement refers to the Michelin line of tires as a whole, noting that the top of the advertisement features the “Michelin Man” arm-wrestling a gasoline pump under the express claim, “It’s time to fight back. MICHELIN fuel-efficient, long-lasting tires help you save money.” And below the Michelin Man image the advertisement states: “Michelin makes the most fuel-efficient line of tires on the road, which saves you money over the life of your tires.*”
Although the advertisement does refer to two specific tire models, nothing in the advertisement limits the “most fuel efficient line of tires” claim to a specific group of tires, nor does the advertisement inform consumers that this claim is based upon an average of its tires’ rolling resistance scores.
NAD concluded that these claims could be reasonably understood by consumers to mean that they can expect that each of the tires in the Michelin line is the “most fuel efficient” in comparison to competing tires. NAD has previously held in order to substantiate a line claim, an advertiser must produce evidence demonstrating that all of the products in the line will perform as promised.
The evidence in the record demonstrated that Michelin has the most fuel efficient tire in 20 of the 37 categories tested. Such evidence, however, was insufficient to support the product line claim at issue.
With respect to the savings claims, NAD determined that the challenged advertisement was likely to be understood by consumers to mean that the advertised savings reflected “on the road” savings that consumers could typically achieve if they purchased Michelin tires. NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue its use of the phrase “on the road” in order to avoid conveying the unsupported message that the advertiser’s cost savings claims are based upon real-world or “on the road” consumer experiences.
NAD further determined that advertiser’s disclosure regarding rolling resistance was insufficient to inform consumers about the basis of Michelin’s cost-savings claims. In particular, NAD determined that the statement, “Calculated fuel/cost savings are approximate estimations based on several variables, not precise measurements,” was too vague to provide the consumer with a clear understanding of how the cost savings were calculated. Given the small type, its placement within the print ad, and the language used, NAD determined that the disclosure was not adequately clear and conspicuous, as required by law. NAD recommended that the advertiser modify its advertising to more clearly reflect the basis of its cost savings claims and make future disclosures more prominent so that all qualifying information is clear and conspicuous to consumers.
Finally, given the variability of fuel costs, NAD also recommended that the advertiser include the dollar per gallon cost basis in the main claim, rather than as part of the disclosure. The company, in its advertiser’s statement, said that it is “committed to the progress of mobility by delivering innovative technologies and high quality, long-lasting, fuel-efficient tires to consumers.”
“At Michelin, we place an emphasis on respect for the facts and these advertisements are no exception,” said a Michelin spokesperson. “It is important to note that through the NAD’s decision, Michelin has been encouraged to modestly modify verbiage in its advertising claims, but received favorable mention for the credibility of its data.
“The NAD did not contest the quality or safety of Michelin’s products, nor the sufficiency or credibility of Michelin’s data/testing/formulas supporting the claims at issue. Michelin respects the NAD’s self-regulatory process and will take the decision under advisement in creating future marketing pieces that address the fuel-efficient attributes of Michelin tires.” (Tire Review/Akron)