The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a poster advert for eBay which claimed that the online retailer was "25% cheaper than the high street on brand new items." The regulator criticised eBay for making such a wide-ranging statement without sufficient evidence to back it up. The adjudication highlights the risks in making generally worded comparisons to retailers and other businesses alike.

The claim was based on a study carried out for eBay by a third party, which compared eBay prices with six high street stores, across 12 product sectors. Among other issues, the ASA found fault with the use of such an absolute claim, as an average of prices had been used and therefore individual stores could have been cheaper than eBay or closer in price. It further criticised the advert's small print for failing to make the limited scope of the product comparison clear and for not being prominent enough on the poster itself.

In the current marketplace, comparative claims, particularly those showing a price benefit, are particularly attractive to business. Advertisers may wish to showcase a benefit compared to the market in general. Alternatively, they may shy away from making specific comparisons with identified competitors due to the specific regulation of such claims and the knowledge that their competitors will be quick to take action in the event of any non-compliance.

The ASA's warning to eBay serves as a reminder to any business considering using even generally worded comparative claims, that they must have robust supporting evidence in place and make the basis for the comparison clear. Generally worded comparisons raise particular difficulties - in making sure that broad wording is not misleading in any of the circumstances in which it might apply, marketers must fear seeing a simple message obscured by acres of small print. But if a claim is not appropriately qualified and perhaps more specifically worded, then saying you are cheap could turn out to be a costly mistake.