Companies quickly call foul when they feel wronged in ads

Marketers are increasingly defending their brands by filing complaints or going to court against rivals in these tough economic times.

Complaints to the ad industry's self-regulatory agency are on the upswing this year as marketers show less tolerance for direct or implied jabs by rivals in advertising — and rivals are more tempted to take such jabs.

"Advertisers get more aggressive when it's harder to get people to buy your products," says ad law expert Douglas Wood of Reed Smith and general counsel for the Association of National Advertisers.

So far this year, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has logged 37 claims from marketers vs. 84 for all of 2008.

"With the slightest hint of denigration people are challenging each other," says Andrea Levine, the director of NAD.

NAD reviews complaints and can make recommendations to modify or discontinue certain claims or discontinue the ad altogether. Marketers have a 95% compliance rate with those recommendations, but if they disagree the case can be taken to the Federal Trade Commission.

That happened recently when NAD referred the complaint by Pepsi's pep Gatorade against Coke's ko Powerade to the FTC because Coke disagreed with NAD's recommendation to change its claims.

The two beverage giants are also battling in federal court over other Gatorade and Powerade ads. Gatorade recently sued Coke for "overstating the product benefits" of Powerade Ion4, including that Ion4 additives are more "complete."

More ad challenges:

•Cadbury challenged Wrigley's ads for Eclipse gum, including one that says Eclipse kills bad breath germs while "most other gums just mask bad breath." NAD said the claims had "methodological flaws" and recommended that the claim be discontinued or modified.

•Whirlpool whr challenged an Electrolux claim that its cooking range "boils water in 90 seconds." NAD recommended that the Electrolux modify its claim about being able to boil water in 90 seconds by providing a disclaimer to indicate the circumstances in which water would boil at that rate.

•General Mills gis, which makes Progresso soups, recently challenged Campbell's cpb Select Harvest ad claims including "taste better and more natural than Progresso soups." NAD recommended that Campbell drop the claim.