Protex soap must drop claims that it offers “natural antigerm” protection thanks to flaxseed oil, SA’s Advertising Regulatory Bureau (ARB) has ruled.

But – in a blow to the efforts of competing brand Dettol – Protex may still advertise that its soap provides much better defence than the regular kind.
Soap manufacturers have for some time been battling it out in a series of vicious fights in front of the ARB, to date largely around alleged copycat branding and untrue value-for money claims.

Such claims featured again in the latest episode, with Reckitt Benckiser (which makes Dettol products) succeeding in a complaint that Protex (sold by Colgate-Palmolive) breached advertising rules with a “50g extra value” claim on some of its packaging.
The ABR said consumers would be misled by the claim, because Protex 200g soap bars cost more than the 150g versions, and though the bigger bar offers a saving, it is not 50 grams worth of saving.

But the two soap companies had more fundamental disagreements too, including on how soap works, and what flaxseed oil does when added to soap.

The maker of Dettol argued that Protex misleads by claiming to boost natural germ-fighting by the outer layer of the skin, and that such protection can outlast soap being washed off the body. Its competitor also interpreted parts of the Protex messaging to imply that the soap is somehow absorbed by the skin, and took it to task for making wild claims in the midst of a pandemic where hand-washing is core to preventing the spread of a virus.

Protex’s parent company shot back that its competitor did not seem to understand some basic science around skin and soap.

The ARB accepted evidence put forward by Protex, including a crucial piece of research its says shows its formulation with flaxseed oil is an order of magnitude more effective than regular soap in protecting against germs. That leaves Protex free to continue advertising, as it did in one Facebook post, that it goes beyond regular soap and “boosts your skin’s natural germ defences by 10x more, now at a time when it is needed most.”

In another important win for Protex, the regulator said it could not see how anyone would interpret the its marketing messages as implying that it passes through the barrier of skin.

But the ARB agreed with Reckitt Benckiser that Protex lays claim to being a natural product, which would require the soap – not just some of its ingredients – to be found in nature. 

So while Protex can still claim to be good at fighting germs, it has been ordered to withdraw advertising that it does so in “natural” fashion.