Does a word like “ultimate” used in advertising convey a message of superiority? When it came to claims made by Reckitt Benckiser for its Finish Powerball Ultimate Dishwasher Tablets, NAD thought so.

The Procter & Gamble Company brought this challenge against the advertiser for claims that its dishwasher tablets deliver the “Ultimate Clean” and are “Engineered for the Ultimate Clean in the Toughest Conditions,” among other similar claims. According to the challenger, claiming that the product provides the “Ultimate Clean” conveys the comparative superiority message that it will get all dishes, pots, and pans perfectly clean, and will do so better than other brands. 

But “Ultimate Clean,” said the advertiser, merely conveys a monadic message that its product, “Finish Ultimate,” delivers the best clean available among its own, other Finish products (and therefore not necessarily among other brands). 

So, what did NAD think? First, NAD addressed that it has previously found words like “ultimate” as having the ability to convey both comparative and monadic messages, depending on certain factors: does the claim contain a provable, quantifiable attribute? If so, what message is conveyed by the word given the overall context in which it appears? In this case, a dishwasher detergent’s cleaning ability can be measured – so, then, what message does “Ultimate Clean” convey when looking at the context in which it appears?

Well, NAD said that it could in fact convey a few different things. NAD agreed that “Ultimate Clean” could convey a self-referential superiority claim that the product cleans the best among Finish products in general, but also determined that it could convey a market superiority claim with a message that the product cleans better than all other detergents. “Ultimate Clean” could also convey the monadic performance claim that the product is able to deliver excellent cleaning results in the toughest conditions, depicted by before-and-after demonstrations.

Accordingly, NAD recommended the advertiser modify its advertising to avoid conveying the message that the product is superior to all other dishwasher detergents. It stated that when comparative claims are made without identifying the object of comparison, consumers may reasonably take away a message that the comparison is against significant competitors in the market. Here, even though the advertising does not reference competing products, the comparative message isn’t conveyed in such a way that would limit it to a self-referential comparison only, NAD said. 

For the claim that the product delivers the “Ultimate Clean” in the “Toughest Conditions,” NAD looked at the claim in the context of the advertising which depicted a severely burnt/stained casserole dish going from dirty to sparkly clean, and other similar images. In these contexts, NAD determined that “ultimate” means “most extreme,” in that the product provides excellent cleaning results in the most extreme conditions. However, since NAD determined that the advertiser's testing did not support such a claim, it thus recommended the claim be discontinued or modified to more closely reflect its testing results.

Reckitt Benckiser LLC (Finish Powerball Ultimate Dishwasher Tablets ), Report #7305, NAD/CARU Case Reports (May 2024)