Clearing the Air: NAD Recommends Discontinuing Air Purifier Claims

Advertising Law

Performance and comparative superiority claims for an air purifier should be discontinued, the National Advertising Division (NAD) recently recommended, although the advertiser plans to appeal part of the decision.

Dyson challenged claims made by Molekule, Inc., for its Home One Air Purifier (MH1) on its website, in YouTube videos, on social media, and in testimonials and other online advertisements. The claims included pollution elimination claims, superiority claims about its technology as compared with other air purifiers that use HEPA filters, and asthma and allergy symptom relief claims.

The claims were unsubstantiated, Dyson argued.

Molekule countered that the technology used in the MH1 can destroy pollutants instead of collecting them, which avoids the problems associated with HEPA filters when they accumulate mold and bacteria.

Recognizing that it “is critical that consumers receive accurate information about the devices they purchase—particularly in matters that impact their health,” the NAD disagreed with the advertiser that its claims concerned the technology underpinning the product and not the MH1 unit itself.

The pollution elimination claims included: “Finally, an air purifier that actually works … Until now, air purifiers have attempted to collect pollutants on filters where they can multiply and be released back into the air. Molekule’s revolutionary nanotechnology destroys pollutants at the molecular level.”

The NAD found the test results provided by the advertiser could not substantiate the claims.

Some of the studies evaluated a prototype and not the product itself, the self-regulatory body said, while others featured testing in a space too small to have any real-world relevance.

“[W]hile it is important that advertisers be able to distinguish their products from their competitors’ by touting any distinctive technological advances and/or product innovations, which provide benefits to consumers, such claims must be truthful, accurate and narrowly drawn,” the NAD wrote. “The evidence provided by Molekule failed to provide a reasonable basis for claims that the MH1 product or the PECO technology, as deployed in the MH1 product, completely ‘eliminates,’ ‘destroys’ or ‘permanently removes’ all indoor air pollution.”

As for the superiority claims made in reference to competing products with HEPA filters, the NAD determined that the advertiser lacked competent and reliable methodology to support its claims. None of Molekule’s testing provided reliable data comparing its product against all or a significant portion of competitive products on the market, according to the decision, while literature that generally questioned the effectiveness of HEPA air purifiers could not support the broad superiority claims in Molekule’s advertising.

Molekule also made allergy and symptom relief claims, such as: “Real people. Real proof. Our beta trial was conducted on 28 participants including asthma and allergy sufferers. After using Molekule, there was no difference in total symptom scope between allergy and non-allergy sufferers. Results point to the potential for Molekule to immediately improve allergy sufferers’ quality of life.”

The NAD found that these claims similarly lacked the necessary support. From a failure to provide important information on the testing (including how the study population was recruited) to the small number of individuals in the study, the testing was insufficient to provide reliable support for the broad claims made for allergy and symptom relief, the NAD said.

The self-regulatory body also expressed concern about Molekule’s use of testimonials by doctors, which “carry a great deal of weight with consumers” and require “highly reliable supporting evidence as substantiation.”

As the NAD had already found that the evidence in the record did not support the health-related claims made in the doctor testimonials, it recommended that they be discontinued, along with the pollution elimination and superiority claims.

In its advertiser’s statement, Molekule indicated that it will comply with certain recommendations, but it plans to appeal the NAD’s decision concerning the pollution elimination claims and the superiority claims with respect to competing products with HEPA filters.

To read the NAD’s press release about the decision, click here.

Why it matters: “Advertising should not suggest greater scientific certainty than exists, particularly with respect to competitors’ products and the negative impact that they may confer on consumers—especially on consumers’ health,” the NAD said about the case.