The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (NAD) has determined that Priceline.com, Inc. (Priceline) did not falsely denigrate competitor Travelocity.com LP (Travelocity) in an advertisement for Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” service for hotel reservations.

Travelocity’s challenge involved a Priceline advertisement where spokesman William Shatner, featured in a spy-thriller spoof, said, “So, you’ve been double-crossed by other travel sites and now you want to try the real deal?” According to Travelocity, although the advertisement never mentioned the company’s name, Shatner’s statement implied that travelers will be deceived, betrayed, and cheated if they use Travelocity to reserve airline tickets or hotel rooms.  

In its defense, Priceline insisted that the commercial did not directly or indirectly defame or disparage Travelocity. In support of its position, Priceline offered into evidence the results of a consumer perception survey that targeted individuals with prior experience using online sites to book hotel rooms. Persons who had not booked travel online were excluded from the survey on the basis that they were presumably less familiar with the online booking process. In the past NAD has raised issues with surveys, such as Priceline’s, that include a very limited and narrow target population.  

Since Priceline and Travelocity are not only utilized by consumers who have experience booking travel online, NAD concluded that Priceline’s survey should have included inexperienced as well as experienced consumers. Without using the correct target population, the survey failed to adequately study the full range of customers for whom Priceline and Travelocity compete, thereby rendering it unreliable for purposes of NAD’s review.  

In cases where it cannot rely on evidence of user perception, NAD must assume the role of the consumer and independently assess the messages conveyed by a specific advertisement. After conducting an independent examination of Priceline’s commercial, NAD found it did not falsely malign Travelocity. In contrast, NAD found that the advertising at issue was nothing but a lighthearted spoof. As such, NAD concluded that consumers were unlikely to come away from the advertising with the message that Travelocity and other travel sites “double-cross” their customers.  

To read NAD’s decision, click here.  

Why it matters: NAD’s review of Travelocity’s claim against Priceline serves as a reminder to advertisers to carefully review implied and express claims in the context of the entire ad. In addition, advertisers need to recognize that the methods used in the collection of data are vital to the validity of use of user-perception surveys. Companies should seek legal advice when designing surveys to ensure that they meet established criteria for well-conducted surveys.