Comparative advertising has come under the microscope lately with a new Code for Comparative Advertising issued by the New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority (NZASA) and department stores being scrutinised for compliance with such codes.

This year the NZASA released a new Code for Comparative Advertising which established two principles and a number of guidelines. Principle 1 states that comparisons in advertisements should not mislead or deceive, or be likely to mislead or deceive consumers. Principle 2 states that advertisements that make comparative claims should fairly and properly identify the competitors and not denigrate them or identifiable products. The new guidelines provide general recommendations for compliance. Guidelines include:

  • Comparative elements should be accurate and informative and should offer a product or service on its positive merits
  • Where an advertisement makes a comparison, whether explicitly or implicitly, it should be clear what comparison is being made
  • Price comparisons should not mislead by falsely claiming a price advantage
  • Where appropriate, comparative advertising claims should be supported by documentary evidence which is easily understood by the target audience at which it is directed
  • Advertisements should not be so similar to a competitor's advertisements as to be likely to mislead or deceive consumers

More recently, the United Kingdom Advertising Standards Authority analysed a Marks and Spencer advertisement after complaints by Tesco's. This analysis is helpful in determining how compliance with the New Zealand code may be assessed. The Marks & Spencer's advertisement claimed that its core school uniform range was 'Proven the best quality school wear on the high street'. Tesco's challenged whether the claim was misleading and could be substantiated, and whether the test results contained all the information necessary for consumers to verify the claim.

The Advertising Authority considered that Marks and Spencer's had in fact substantiated their claim by providing documentary evidence. Prior to making the comparative claim, Marks and Spencer's had selected school wear garments from their product range and ranges of competitors intended for the same purpose, washed the garments according to care instructions and used British Standards Institute or ISO methodologies, where available, to carry out tests. These measures were considered to be a fair and objective way of testing products, and consistent with consumer expectations of how testing garments should be carried out.

The Advertising Authority also considered that because consumers were able to check the information used to make the comparison for themselves, Marks and Spencer's had ensured that the comparison was verifiable. Furthermore, the advertisement was explicit in making the audience aware that the comparison was about quality, and had framed the school wear range on its positive merits.

Next Steps?

If you are thinking about using comparative advertising to promote a product, make sure you follow the Code for Comparative Advertising.