Tampon Wars: US Court Awards Playtex $3m Damages Against P&G

27 May 2003

The notion that ‘all’s fair in love and advertising’ was rudely dispelled on Friday by the US District Court in Manhattan, a jury deciding that Procter & Gamble had falsely advertised its new tampon brand Tampax Pearl to the detriment of rival Playtex Products.

As a result of the verdict – which perversely concluded the false ad claims were not wilful – P&G is now $2.96 million (€2.49m; £1.80m) the poorer, albeit this is mere petty cash to the planet’s largest advertiser.

In a two-weeks hearing Playtex accused the Cincinnati colossus of falsely claiming that its brand provided superior comfort, protection and absorbency over the Playtex Gentle Glide tampon.

On hearing the verdict, Playtex’s attorney requested a court order barring P&G from continuing the make such claims in its advertising – but Judge William Pauley was in no hurry, saying he would mull the request this week. “I would suggest there’s some urgency in this matter,” responded the lawyer tartly.

Playtex’s successful courtroom strategy was to portray itself as plucky little David versus P&G’s Goliath – not a million miles from the truth since in terms of absolute sales the latter is fifty times larger than the former. “Truth and fairness” had been the mainstay of Playtex’s case, said the company’s ceo Michael Gallagher.

Jurors were told that P&G made the false claims because [research had shown that] tampon customers rarely change products unless they believe another brand provides superior protection.

“It is regrettable that Procter & Gamble had to resort to false advertising,” said Gallagher. “Now that the jury has spoken, we expect that P&G will compete fairly and truthfully in the marketplace. We look forward to that challenge and are confident we will succeed.”

P&G’s defense rested on the argument that its product is in fact superior and that its advertising claims are not false. Its attorney accused Playtex of trying to win in the court what it was failing to win in the marketplace.

Playtex has annual all-product sales of $800 million and claims around 30% of the US tampon market, while P&G’s aggregated sales top $60 billion and it controls some 40% of that market.

P&G is studying its appeal options. In the interim, it relied on rhetoric: “The most meaningful verdict is the one women make after they have tried Tampax Pearl, realize it is superior to the leading plastic, and then purchase more,” said a spokeswoman. “That decision is handed down every day by thousands of women at the store shelf.”

Data sourced from: USA Today; additional content by WARC staff