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Post date: February 28 2000

Settlement Forces Company To Change Misleading Ad Campaign

Attorney General Spitzer today announced an agreement with a major consumer products company to stop the false marketing of its laundry detergent as an allergy remedy.

"Clear and truthful advertising is essential in maintaining consumer confidence and keeping a level playing field for all competitors," Spitzer said. "This is especially important in the fast growing field of personal care and health-related products."

Unilever, a Dutch conglomerate that produces a wide range of consumer products, was accused of targeting consumers worried about allergy problems and making deceptive claims about a laundry detergent known as "All Free Clear with Allergen Fighters." Unilever marketed this product through its Manhattan-based subsidy, Conopco, Inc.

Although the product had been on the market since 1991, Unilever launched a new advertising campaign in January 1999 that focused specifically on consumers with sensitivities to detergents and allergens. Unilever marketed this detergent with the following slogans: "The First Allergy Medicine You Take With 40 Gallons of Water" and "The Allergy Medicine for Your Laundry."

The company also appealed to mothers of infants with the following claim: "Your 6 lb. Baby Needs Our 7 lb. 4 oz. Allergy Medicine. Babies have very sensitive skin. All Free Clear with Allergen Fighter washes away everyday microscopic allergens like dust mite matter and perfumes that can irritate it."

These claims were made in advertisements in national news magazines, in materials distributed to thousands of doctors' offices and in direct mail appeals to almost three million consumers identified as having allergies and/or sensitive skin.

The company also took the unusual step of listing the laundry detergent in the nonprescription drug section of the Physician's Desk Reference.

In fact, the "All Free Clear" detergent has no proven effect on symptoms associated with allergies. The company acknowledged as much in minute disclaimers printed at the bottom of some of its ads.

Under the settlement, Unilever has agreed to end its advertising campaign and refrain from representing its laundry detergent as an allergy medicine or a drug, or that it is effective in the prevention, mitigation or treatment of allergy symptoms. It will refrain from listing its product in subsequent issues of Physicians' Desk Reference, and will pay $80,000 in penalties and $10,000 in costs to the state.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Joy Feigenbaum of the Consumer Fraud and Protection Bureau.