National Advertising Division Finds "Best-In-Class" Claims for 2021 Ford Bronco Supported and Recommends Ford Discontinue or Modify Other Claims

March 24, 2021 10:00 AM EDT

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NEW YORK, March 24, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs determined that Ford Motor Company provided a reasonable basis for certain "best-in-class" and historical claims, as well as for identifying the 2021 Ford Bronco in its advertising as part of the "medium traditional utilities" class. Though this vehicle was not yet available for purchase at the time of the ads, NAD determined that Ford's claims were properly supported by engineering and design data from the vehicle's pre-production model.

NAD recommended, however, that in the initial press release and media kit, Ford take care to make clear where the "best-in-class" claims do not apply to the Bronco Sport, that it discontinue one best in class claim and that it more clearly communicate the distinction between use of the term "projected" and "available" when both are used in the same claim.

The claims at issue, which appeared in digital advertising, on Ford's website, in press releases and a media kit, and in print advertising, were challenged by FCA US LLC, maker of Jeep brand vehicles.

NAD determined that Ford provided a reasonable basis for identifying the Bronco in its advertising as part of the "medium traditional utilities" class because it defined the "medium traditional utilities class" in a manner consistent with consumers' reasonable understanding of what binds this competitive set together using nomenclature that is not misleading to consumers. The advertising watchdog noted that with the introduction of the Bronco, there are now three body-on-frame utility vehicles in the midsize category. The Bronco, Wrangler, and 4Runner are midsized, utility vehicles (not cars or trucks), built on a traditional/body-on-frame (not crossover/unibody) platform. 

Further, NAD considered whether Ford's claims that the 2021 Ford Bronco is "best-in-class," must wait until the vehicle can be purchased or ordered by consumers. The advertising watchdog concluded that automobile manufacturers routinely make claims – including best-in-class claims – as part of a vehicle's "reveal," and that the ability to make claims about a vehicle is not tied to the vehicle's availability for sale or delivery to a dealership, but rather, whether the claims are properly supported at the time they are made. The watchdog determined that it would be inconsistent with industry practice and the principles of advertising claim substantiation to require that Ford style its claims as "projected" at that stage in the process of bringing a vehicle to market only because the vehicle cannot yet be purchased. 

NAD did not find it misleading for Ford to reference the "preproduction model" in its advertising, which is consistent with industry practice.

NAD determined that at the time of the July 2020 "reveal" of the Bronco, its design and engineering elements were complete. Thus, the data necessary to support the challenged advertising claims had already been generated, was not dependent upon mass production in the plant, and could be relied upon to substantiate Ford's "best-in-class" claims.

NAD determined that Ford provided a reasonable basis for its claims that:

  • 2021 Bronco has the largest available tires in the class;
  • The 35" available tires allow for the largest available pairing with beadlock-capable wheels, a segment-first;
  • 2021 Bronco Stabilizer Bar (Sta-Bar) Disconnect System offers a segment exclusive design;
  • 2021 Bronco has best-in-class water fording capability;
  • Bronco fording depth (max.): 33.5";
  • 2021 Bronco has available best-in-class maximum ground clearance;
  • 2021 Bronco has segment-exclusive and segment-first 7-speed manual transmission;
  • 2021 Bronco with standard 7-speed manual transmission has best-in-class available crawl ratio, up to 94.75:1;
  • 2021 Bronco has available segment-exclusive and segment-first 10-speed automatic transmission;
  • 2021 Bronco has available best-in-class maximum suspension travel;
  • 2021 Bronco has removeable, frameless door construction, a class-exclusive design feature;
  • 2021 Bronco delivers best-in-class 2nd row and overall openness with top removed;
  • 2021 Bronco 4-door has removeable hardtop middle panel, a class-exclusive feature providing 2nd row open air experience without removing rear cap;
  • 2021 Bronco has an available segment-exclusive 12-inch touchscreen;
  • 2021 Bronco offers FordPass Performance App with Off-road Navigation, a class-exclusive feature;
  • The mobile app integrates professionally curated trail content, third party map files, in-vehicle navigation and vehicle telemetry;
  • Bronco's advanced topographic trail maps and more than 1,000 curated trail maps are powered by class-exclusive trail content from NeoTreks' AccuTerra Maps, Trails Offroad trail guides and FunTreks trail guides;
  • Segment-exclusive 12-inch SYNC 4 system with over-the-air updates and seamless integration to the FordPass Performance app feature; and
  • 2021 Bronco has available class-exclusive 360-degree camera providing 360-degree off-road spotter views; and
  • 2021 Bronco 2-door models have available best-in-class maximum departure angle.

Regarding the claim "engineered . . . for . . . segment-leading . . . long term off-road performance and dependability," NAD determined that that one of the messages that consumers will reasonably take away is not only that the Bronco has a certain engineering design, but that the Bronco will, in fact, deliver segment-leading off-road performance and dependability. The advertising watchdog noted that support for this claim requires either a comparison to published competitor data or comparative performance testing, neither of which Ford provided. Therefore, the watchdog recommended that the claim be discontinued.

NAD further determined that the claim "segment-leading levels of off-road capability are possible thanks to Bronco's available best-in-class 11.6-inch, ground clearance, maximum 29-degree breakover angle and 37.2-degree of departure angle, plus best-in-class water fording capability of up to 33.5 inches" is supported, subject to any revisions to the departure angle claim that may be needed once Ford confirms the challenger's claimed departure angle for its 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, after the vehicle is launched.

NAD reviewed Ford's "reveal" press release and media kit and determined that at least one message reasonably conveyed is that the "best-in-class" claims, as they appear in context, apply equally to all Bronco models, including the Bronco Sport. To avoid confusion, the advertising watchdog recommended that the challenged press release and media kit be modified to clearly indicate that the "best-in-class" claims do not apply to the Bronco Sport.

Further, NAD did not find that Ford's use of the word "projected" is misleading for claims that are pending SAE certification (but have otherwise been fully substantiated) given that the use of this nomenclature is an industry-standard practice. Nor did NAD find that use of the term "available" is misleading as used to denote that a particular configuration is optional when building a vehicle. However, NAD was concerned that use of the two terms together in the same claim may be confusing to consumers and therefore recommended that the advertiser modify its claims to more clearly communicate its intended message that horsepower and torque are "projected" pending SAE certification, and that the cited figures are achieved with the identified "available" configurations.

NAD also considered the messages reasonably conveyed by Ford's claims connecting Ford's history and involvement in designing Army jeeps with the Ford Bronco, including for example, that "Ford designed and built many of the famed quarter-ton 4x4 trucks during World War II" and Ford's "Bronco Family Timeline" which notes that its 1966 Bronco was "born" out of the performance spirit of its 1965 Mustang and modeled after Ford's 1951 M-151 "Mutt." The advertising watchdog, itself founded in 1971, determined that Ford provided a reasonable basis for its history-based claims and that such claims are not misleading to consumers.

Finally, during the proceeding, Ford stated that it will voluntarily modify its horsepower and torque claims to configuration-based claims, limited to the specified engine size (not superiority class-wide, regardless of configuration):

  • "Best 6-Cylinder Horsepower in the Class*" *class is Medium Traditional Utilities.
  • "Best 6-Cylinder Gasoline Engine Torque in the Class*" *class is Medium Traditional Utilities.
  • "Best 4-Cylinder Torque in the Class*" *class is Medium Traditional Utilities.

Ford also voluntarily agreed to discontinue the claims:

  • "Bronco offers a standard 4-cylinder engine [which] delivers best-in-class performance. The 2.3L EcoBoost cranks out an impressive 270 horsepower with best-in-class standard gas torque of 310 lb-ft."
  • "Race-proven, turbo EcoBoost® engines and segment-first transmission technology help give Bronco the best combination of fuel efficiency, output and gearing to take on the wild."

Therefore, NAD did not review these claims on the merits.

In its advertiser statement, Ford stated that it "will comply with the National Advertising Division's decision."

All BBB National Programs case decisions can be found in the case decision library.  

About BBB National Programs: BBB National Programs is where businesses turn to enhance consumer trust and consumers are heard. The non-profit organization creates a fairer playing field for businesses and a better experience for consumers through the development and delivery of effective third-party accountability and dispute resolution programs. Embracing its role as an independent organization since the restructuring of the Council of Better Business Bureaus in June 2019, BBB National Programs today oversees more than a dozen leading national industry self-regulation programs, and continues to evolve its work and grow its impact by providing business guidance and fostering best practices in arenas such as advertising, child-directed marketing, and privacy. To learn more, visit bbbprograms.org.

About the National Advertising Division: The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs provides independent self-regulation and dispute resolution services, guiding the truthfulness of advertising across the U.S. NAD reviews national advertising in all media and its decisions set consistent standards for advertising truth and accuracy, delivering meaningful protection to consumers and leveling the playing field for business.  

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SOURCE BBB National Programs



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