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After Dyson complains, Shark modifies iffy vacuum claims

Consumer Reports News: July 11, 2012 03:08 PM

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Claiming that a cordless vacuum with a 24-minute runtime "never loses cleaning power," is pretty bold. Too bold, in fact, for the National Advertising Council, which this week recommended that vacuum maker Euro-Pro modify claims for its Shark Navigator Freestyle stick vacuum. The decision came after a challenge from rival Dyson that cleaning claims for the Shark were beyond the capability of a cordless stick vacuum.

After Dyson complained, NAD, an investigative arm of the advertising industry, reviewed three claims. Euro-Pro said that the phrase "never loses cleaning power" indicates the vacuum maintains its power over the life of the battery. But NAD recommended that Euro-Pro stop making the claim since the company's own testing did not adequately prove that the Shark kept its power consistent over the duration of a battery charge.

The second complaint, that Euro-Pro claims the Freestyle offers "true upright performance," gets down to the very capability of a stick vac. Dyson had argued that no stick vac could do more than pick up surface dirt and litter—and that a cordless unit is further limited by its battery's diminishing power. Moreover, said Dyson, Euro-Pro admitted much the same but in obscure "mouse print" on one panel of the package.

Here again, NAD's investigation concluded that "true upright performance" suggests the product can fully substitute for an upright vac. But while the "very small" disclaimer indeed said the Freestyle does not claim to pick up embedded dirt, it was "not clear and conspicuous" and referred to testing protocols the general public doesn't understand or even know about.

With a third complaint, about the Shark's "best in class runtime," Euro-Pro's claim was based on its comparison of the Freestyle against five cordless stick vacs that a market research firm had listed as the top-selling cordless models. Dyson argued that any such comparison should have been made against all significant competitors, not just a limited group, and that Euro-Pro only provided details of its limited tests in tiny type. NAD mostly backed Euro-Pro on that one, finding the company had made a "reasonable" comparison. Still NAD recommended the company clarify details of its claim.

The three claims aren't listed on Euro-Pro's website although the company does claim that the Shark Navigator Freestyle has "exceptional pet hair pick-up." But at presstime, the same vacuum on the websites for Amazon and Walmart featured claims that the Freestyle "never loses cleaning power" and has "true" (Amazon) or "excellent" (Walmart) upright performance.

Dyson's competing model to the Shark Navigator Freestyle is the DC35. Consumer Reports plans to buy both models for its upcoming tests of cordless, hand, stick and robotic vacuums. In the meantime, check out our current Ratings of upright, canister and small (including hand and stick) vacuums.

Ed Perratore

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