Digital Gabe
Cutting Edge Commentary On All Things Media

Could This Hundred Year Old Ad Cost Sherwin-Williams Hundreds Of Millions Today?

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Think about what your great grandparents knew (or more accurately didn’t know) back in 1904.  Now imagine being held responsible for how they used that knowledge 114 years later.  A media equivalent of that situation is happening with Sherwin-Williams today.  SW finds itself on the wrong side of a California Court judgement which ruled the paint company is liable for lead paint ads which ran as early as 1904 – over 70 years before the US outlawed the product in 1978.

The heart of the ruling is that Sherwin-Williams had enough scientific data to know lead paint was deadly well before the government made the ingredient illegal.  This argument would be akin to tobacco companies paying for damages on a product that’s still sold today.  In Sherwin-Williams’s defense, being held accountable for advertising a product all the way back in 1904 seems like a stretch.  To give you a reference point, Coca-Cola still had cocaine in it up until 1903, so we’re talking about a completely different era of consumer safety.

Not surprisingly, Sherwin-Williams and the ANA are putting up a vigorous defense against the California ruling, and have filed a petition with the US Supreme Court to hear an appeal.  Besides the monetary damages at stake for SW, consider the ripple effect into other product categories if the ruling stands.  Imagine someone like Heinz being sued 100 years from now when it’s finally proven that the ketchup they’re making today has enough sodium in it to kill someone.  It could happen . . . just give it a century or so.

 

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