In what circumstances will a multi-production comparison be considered fair?

The key takeaway

Multi-product comparisons must not be unfairly skewed in your favour. An ad cannot imply that consumers can make more general savings by switching allegiance where the claim is based upon a specific selection of comparable goods. In any event, where own-brand and household brands are selected as comparator products, the comparison must be appropriate.

The background

On 8 December 2018, a press ad for Aldi headed “Swap to Aldi and save” was published showing a comparison between two Christmas-themed baskets of goods from Tesco and Aldi. While the Tesco basket, which contained “household” brands and fresh products, was shown to cost £61.56, Aldi’s basket, full of “exclusive” own-brand products, cost £32.53. For one of the comparator products, champagne, a bottle of Moët et Chandon Brut Imperial Non-Vintage was included in Tesco’s basket, whereas Aldi’s included its own brand Veuve Monsigne Champagne. The ad went on to state that consumers could “Save 45%”. In addition, the ad was emblazoned with Aldi’s slogan “Everyday Amazing”, while a disclaimer in small text at the bottom of the page stated that “Tesco may sell ‘own brand’ products at different prices”.

Tesco challenged whether the price comparison was misleading. They alleged that the selection was unfairly skewed in Aldi’s favour and that it was not sufficiently clear from the ad that Tesco also sold alternative own brand products at a cheaper price.

The response

In response, Aldi contended that the selection was not unfairly skewed. Champagne was a justifiable comparator product in the lead up to Christmas, and the brands selected did not fall foul of the CAP Advertising Guidance on Retailers’ price comparisons. They said that the Moët and Aldi champagnes were the first and second best-selling champagnes on the market, while the price saving percentage on the Aldi champagne (57%) was not extraordinary in the context of a multi-product comparison ad of this nature. Aldi noted that the price differential between Tesco’s Lindt reindeer and Aldi’s own brand product was in fact higher, at 70%.

Further, Aldi disagreed with any assertion that own-brand products and household brand products were not properly comparable, and noted that, in any event, the aforementioned disclaimer was usual practice to address any potential concerns.

The decision

The complaint was upheld. The ASA found that the ad was likely to mislead Tesco’s consumers into believing that they could make significant savings by shopping at Aldi instead. The claim “Save 45%” was written in similar font and colouring to Aldi’s slogan, “Everyday Amazing”, and it was not sufficiently clear that the advertised savings related only to the specific selections featured, not the average price differential between the two supermarkets. The level of savings promoted was therefore likely to be understood as representative of those which a savvy shopper could achieve.

The ASA also considered the actual price comparison to be misleading. Although it acknowledged that it was permissible for own-branded and branded products to be compared, this was subject to the caveat that such a comparison was not unfair. The emphasis of the ad was on price not quality. However, the chosen champagnes were not comparable. Of the 24 different champagnes Tesco sold, the Moët product sat in the higher end of the range and is associated with both luxury and status. In comparison, the Aldi product was the second cheapest of the range sold at Aldi, and was unlikely to have the same level of recognition and associations for consumers. As a result, the ASA held that the price comparison was unfairly skewed by the inclusion of the Moët Champagne.

Why is this important?

This ruling illustrates that it is all too easy for price comparison ads to breach the CAP Code. It highlights the need for marketers to be careful when formatting the text to be included in an ad, as well as the importance of selecting appropriate comparator products.

Any practical tips?

Retailers must take care when selecting own-brand and branded products for use in a price comparison ad. Products must be truly comparable in terms of both brand reputation and cost. The old adage of comparing “apples with apples” remains as true in advertising as it has ever done – noting of course that this role is also enshrined in UK legislation in the form of the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008.