Tempur-Pedic wins dispute over Serta ad claims

ssloan@herald-leader.comJanuary 23, 2013 

Lexington-based mattress maker Tempur-Pedic International has prevailed in a dispute with rival Serta over advertising claims.

Serta had claimed in advertising that its iComfort Sleep System offered, among other features, a cooler sleep than mattresses by competitors including Tempur-Pedic.

"Serta was making what we thought were questionable claims about our mattresses," said Rick Anderson, executive vice president and North American president for Tempur-Pedic. "They were masking them as claims against ordinary memory foam, but we were the leader and are the leader in memory foam so when you make a claim about memory foam, you're making a claim about us."

Tempur-Pedic turned to the National Advertising Division's self-regulation council, which is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The group investigates advertising claims between companies and rules on disputes. If its recommendation is not followed, the case is forwarded to the Federal Trade Commission for investigation.

At issue in this case was testing that Serta performed to compare the materials in its mattresses to those of rivals.

The NAD found Serta's advertising could be interpreted by consumers as conveying that its entire mattress, not just the individual materials, were superior to its competitors' offerings. As a result, it recommended Serta modify or discontinue some of the claims at issue.

The NAD noted in a statement that Serta's studies were "problematic, relying in part on tests of mattress samples, rather than complete mattresses, and failing to take into account the effect of bedding and nightclothes."

"A consumer uses an entire product," Tempur-Pedic's Anderson said. "It's like saying you have the best-tasting cake because your flour tastes better."

Serta issued a statement in response to the NAD's findings noting, "Out of respect for the self-regulatory process, we have agreed to take NAD's recommendations into consideration in future advertising and will discontinue our comparative advertising claims."

But the statement noted that it will "continue to communicate to consumers" about certain benefits "substantiated by our extensive testing."

The case began about the time Tempur-Pedic's rivals launched a large number of competitive products in the memory foam mattress segment. It was a rocky 2012 for the company as it saw lower sales and profit than expected as the year went on.

Tempur-Pedic announces fourth-quarter and annual earnings on Thursday afternoon.

Anderson said Tempur-Pedic does not plan to rebut Serta's claims in its own advertising.

"Specifically responding to competitive claims isn't what we're all about," he said. "We've stuck with our marketing strategy, ... rising above it, if you will."

Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz

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