NEW YORK-In Solomon-like fashion, the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc. has stepped in to settle a squabble between Michelin North America and Goodyear over the former's claim that its Michelin X-One tire performs better in wet weather than Goodyear's Aquatred II. Goodyear challenged the truthfulness and accuracy of TV advertising featuring Michelin's claim that the X-One is ``the one tire that gives you better wet traction than any rain tire plus control in any driving condition.''
Goodyear sought the mediation of the NAD, created in 1971 by four national advertising trade associations to settle disputes over advertising claims.
While the NAD cannot impose penalties, fines or sanctions, and its decisions are non-binding, ``in the spirit of voluntary self-regulation, 95-percent of the time advertisers will modify their advertising'' based on the division's ruling, according to the NAD's Lynne Collins.
After studying independent test results, the NAD issued a ruling Sept. 19 stating that Michelin has ``provided a reasonable basis to support its claim of `better wet traction' and its underlying claim of `control' in dry and snow conditions.''
However, the NAD did have some problems with Michelin's advertising claims, and persuaded the company to clarify its X-One ads in the following ways:
To modify its statements to more clearly communicate the scope of its testing; and
To disclose the pro rata nature of the tire's warranty.
It's a partial victory for each tire maker, though Michelin appears to have come out on top in this latest skirmish in the industry's ongoing battle over wet-weather handling, spurred five years ago when Goodyear introduced its much-heralded Aquatred.
Michelin debuted the X-One last April with a 30-second TV commercial featuring a baby floating in a tire during a rain storm.
The X-One, with a 620 UTQG rating, is covered by a six-year warranty on treadlife, workmanship and materials, with free replacement during the first three years, and thereafter for a prorated charge based on months of service.
When Goodyear filed its complaint with the NAD, it made a number of assertions:
That by claiming the X-One is the ``one tire'' that provides better wet traction and control in any driving condition, Michelin is really saying that no other tire can do what the X-One does.
That Michelin's own testing of its tire's performance on dry roads and snowy roads does not substantiate that claim.
That Michelin's advertisement does not disclose that the tire's warranty requires a pro rata payment towards the cost of a replacement tire, instead containing a brief statement: ``See dealer for details.'' That does not satisfy Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines on warranty disclosures, Goodyear said.
After reviewing wet traction testing, the NAD concluded the X-One performed better, with statistical significance, than the other tested ``rain'' tires in all but one driving situation: wet braking of new tires on asphalt, ``in which the X-One had a directional advantage, but not a statistically significant advantage.''
In its defense, Michelin said it contracted with Vehicular Testing Service (VST) to test the X-One against the Aquatred II and Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp.'s Aquamile tire, and based its claims on VST's results.
As to the claim, ``...plus control in any driving condition,'' the NAD report said Michelin explained that the claim informs consumers that not only does its tire ``provide better wet traction than a rain tire, but its performance has not been compromised in other weather conditions typically encountered, such as dry and snow.''
While Michelin contended that its ad complies with FTC guidelines for advertising of warranties and guarantees, it nonetheless agreed to adhere to the NAD's recommendation to follow more specific procedures found in the FTC's Tire Advertising and Labeling Guides.
The NAD also concluded that Michelin's advertising claim, as a whole, ``does not create an implication'' that the X-One is the one tire that gives control in any driving condition.
Because of strategic pauses in the commercial ``voice-over''-regarding a ``six-year (PAUSE) unlimited mileage (PAUSE) treadlife warranty''-the NAD said it concluded that the use of the word ``unlimited'' was not misleading, and that the six-year duration is clearly disclosed and separated by the pauses.
Goodyear had until Sept. 29 to appeal the ruling to an NAD panel.
John Hargrave, Michelin North America's director of marketing communications, distributed a press release stating the company had agreed to clarify the concerns broached by the NAD, and was ``very pleased'' with the organization's findings, including ``confirmation'' of Michelin's ``claim of the superior wet weather traction of its new standard-setting tire.''
That, according to the NAD's Ms. Collins, was a no-no. The division's rulings ``are not to be used for promotional purposes, including a press release, even if it's accurate. We really frown upon that, though we can't do anything about it.''