This summary provides a selection of the most interesting ASA adjudications in April and highlights the key issues considered in those adjudications.  Of note this month are a couple of adjudications promoting alcoholic beverages which were held to be irresponsible.  There was also an adjudication on an ad by an alcohol awareness charity which promoted reducing alcohol consumption.  Various alcohol industry bodies objected to the ad, which they considered not to depict a balanced and fair view on alcohol consumption, but ultimately the ASA did not uphold the complaint.

Also of interest is an adjudication against Center Parcs for encouraging parents to take their children out of school during term-time by promoting special offers targeted at families but which were not applicable during school holidays or weekends.
  
It is worth noting that the ASA issued some guidance on tackling unsolicited mailing this month and further, announced that that it is currently reviewing its enforcement of gambling advertising rules due to an increase in the number of gambling ads and subsequently, the number of related complaints. 

ADJUDICATIONS

FINANCIAL

1. WDFC UK Ltd t/a Wonga, 9 April 2014 (an ad for a payday loan was held to be misleading for confusing the interest rate to be applied to the loan referred to and for suggesting that the representative APR was irrelevant)

FOOD AND DRINK

2. Beverage Brands (UK) Ltd, 2 April 2014 (ads on a Facebook page promoting the alcoholic beverage WKD were held to breach various provisions in the CAP Code in relation to responsible advertising and alcohol advertising) 

3. Natvia Pty Ltd, 2 April 2014 (claims that a sweetener was 100% natural were held to be misleading as the commercial production of one of the ingredients involved artificial processes)

4. Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc t/a Morrisons, 16 April 2014 (an alcohol ad was held to have been targeted irresponsibly as it mistakenly appeared during a YouTube video targeted at young children) 

5. County Durham & Darlington NHS Foundation Trust t/a Balance, 23 April 2014 (an ad suggesting that routine and regular drinking could increase the risk of developing cancer was held not to be misleading or irresponsible)
 
6. Marlow Foods Ltd, 23 April 2014 (an ad claiming that Quorn mince contained 80% less saturated fat than minced beef was held to comply with the EU Register of Health and Nutrition Claims for Foods)

7. Halewood International Ltd, 30 April 2014 (an ad promoting Lambrini wine was held to be irresponsible for suggesting that alcohol was a key component to the success of a social situation but was held not to depict alcohol as capable of changing mood and behaviour)

HEALTH AND BEAUTY

8. Omega Pharma Ltd, 9 April 2014 (an ad claiming that a treatment for head lice was 100% effective  and “as easy as washing hair” was held to be misleading) 

HOUSEHOLD

9. Miele Company, 9 April 2014 (a claim that a vacuum cleaner was tested to last for 20 years was held to be unsubstantiated) 

10. Westminster Recliners, 9 April 2014 (claims that furniture for sale was British built and that some ranges benefitted from a “buy one get one free” discount were held not to be misleading as Westminster had provided evidence to substantiate the claims)
  
11. Made.com Design Ltd, 16 April 2014 (comparisons between the advertiser’s prices and typical high street prices for “equivalent” products were held to be misleading)

12. Beko plc, 23 April 2014 (a TV ad claiming that Beko was the UK’s bestselling home appliance brand was held to be misleading as the claim was based on a subgroup of home appliances and the data used to qualify the claim would not be understood by consumers)

LEISURE

13. Hilton International Hotels (UK) Ltd, 2 April 2014 (an ad offering discounts on hotels in the UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa was held to be misleading for using the phrase “ANY WEEKEND ANYWHERE SALE” as the word “anywhere” was considered to be an absolute claim)

14. Martin Grant Homes, 9 April 2014 (claims on a website promoting a housing development situated in the parish of Worth were held to be misleading for not actually being situated in the village of Worth)

15. Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, 16 April 2014 (a website banner advertising a sale on flights was held to be misleading for not stating that the offer only applied to flights out of London Gatwick)

16. Center Parcs, 23 April 2014 (an ad promoting offers for midweek family breaks was held to be irresponsible for encouraging parents to take their children out of school during term-time as the offers were not available at weekends or during the school holidays) 

RETAIL

17. Howies Ltd, 23 April 2014 (an ad promoting clothing as “low impact” was held to be misleading despite the retailer taking measures to lower environmental impact as the ASA considered the claim to be absolute)

18. Richer Sounds plc, 23 April 2014 (an offer to price match competitors selling a Samsung TV was held to be misleading for putting significant information on a separate web page rather than the web page on which the offer was advertised)

19. The Disney Store, 30 April 2014 (an ad for promoting princess-themed experiences was held to be misleading for claiming that the price of the experience started from £50 when this was not the case)

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

20. TalkTalk Telecom Ltd, 23 April 2014 (an ad promoting a catch-up TV service was held to be misleading for implying that all the content on the catch-up services referred to was accessible via a YouView box)

21. Virgin Media Ltd, 30 April 2014 (an ad comparing Virgin’s services with Sky’s was held to be misleading for omitting material information and for not adequately making clear the basis of a savings claim)

FINANCIAL

1. WDFC UK Ltd t/a Wonga, 9 April 2014

A TV ad for a payday loan featured a conversation between two puppet characters who stated, “Right, we’re going to explain the costs of a Wonga short-term loan”, “Some people think they will pay thousands of per cent of interest”, “They won’t of course – that’s just the way annual rates are calculated.  Say you borrowed £150 for 18 days, it would cost you £33.49” and “Total cost; it’s totally clear.”  Large on-screen text displayed throughout the ad read, “AMOUNT OF CREDIT: £150 FOR 18 DAYS.  INTEREST: £27.99.  INTEREST RATE: 365%PA (FIXED). TRANSMISSION FEE: £5.50. ONE TOTAL REPAYMENT OF: £183.49. REPRESENTATIVE 5853% APR”.  When the puppet referred to the cost of the example loan, a third puppet pointed towards text that had appeared towards the top of the screen which stated, “£33.49”. 

Complaints / Decisions

The ASA received 31 complaints.

  1. Most complainants challenged whether the ad was misleading for confusing the interest rate applied to a Wonga loan.
  2. Some challenged whether the ad was misleading for implying that the representative APR (“RAPR”) was irrelevant to a short-term loan.
  3. Some challenged whether the ad was irresponsible for encouraging viewers to disregard RAPR thus trivialising the decision to take out a short-term loan.
  4. A few challenged whether the ad breached the BCAP Code because the RAPR was not sufficiently prominent.

The ASA upheld all four complaints. 

1. The ASA acknowledged that the ad was intended to clarify the costs of a Wonga loan and understood that RAPR was not a rate of interest but rather, a rate of charge, designed to incorporate all costs associated with a specific loan.  The ASA considered that the statement that borrowers would not pay “thousands of per cent of interest” together with only the RAPR shown as being in the thousands created confusion for consumers as to the difference between the interest rate and RAPR and which interest rate was being applied.  Further, the ASA were concerned that viewers would be left without a clear understanding of how the information presented in the on-screen text applied to a loan, especially given the ad’s message that the RAPR was not indicative of the cost of the loan.

2. & 3.  The ad included the standard information required by law in the form of a representative example for the loan, which was displayed on-screen throughout the ad.  The ASA considered that the voice-over referring to borrowers not paying “thousands of per cent of interest” was likely to be interpreted by consumers as being associated with the listed RAPR as the RAPR was listed in the thousands and RAPRs are generally in the thousands for short-term credit products.  The ASA concluded that the effect of the voice-over accompanied by the statement “…that’s just the way annual rates are calculated” gave the impression that the RAPR was a measure that need not be considered by consumers when taking out a short-term loan of the type advertised. 

The ASA acknowledged that for short-term loans RAPR was not necessarily the most helpful indication of the actual cost as RAPR is calculated on an annual basis and takes into account the charges for the credit relative to the amount borrowed.  As such, the RAPR was usually high.  Nevertheless, the ASA noted that the RAPR was a standard measure which enabled comparisons to be made between credit products.  The ASA therefore concluded that it was a relevant measure and that discouraging borrowers from taking full account of its significance was irresponsible.

4. Under consumer credit regulations, credit ads which include interest rates or amounts relating to the cost of the credit should also include standard information (such as RAPR) through a representative example, which should be more prominent than the “trigger” (i.e. the interest rate or the cost displayed).  In this ad, the requirement of a representative example of greater prominence was triggered by the inclusion of the total cost of the loan (£33.49).  The ASA noted that although the ad contained a representative example, it did not state that the example was so and this is a breach of consumer credit legislation.

The ASA further noted that the representative example was reasonably prominent due to it being presented by large on-screen text.  It nevertheless concluded that it was not as prominent as the triggering information (£33.49 cost) as this information also featured in the voice-over and was presented in the ad in a more dynamic way including the puppet character gesticulating towards the trigger.  The ASA therefore concluded that the triggering information was more likely to draw the viewer’s attention than the representative example and therefore the representative example was not sufficiently prominent.

This is not the first time that the ASA has found a Wonga ad misleading for not representing the technical elements of a loan correctly; for example see the adjudication fromJuly 2010.  Due to the risky nature of such loans, it is imperative that advertisers provide as much information about them as possible in the most balanced manner.  The ASA published guidance on payday loan ads, which can be found here.

FOOD AND DRINK

2. Beverage Brands (UK) Ltd, 2 April 2014

The Facebook page for the alcoholic beverage WKD showed various ads.  A post (ad (a)) featured an image which stated “WKD 8 BALL Weekend Prediction YOU WILL REFUSE TO DO KARAOKE.  AT FIRST” and showed a bottle of WKD. 

Information in the “About” section (ad (b)) stated “Where there’s good times, there’s WKD.  We’re all about getting together with the best people and enjoying yourself – especially at the weekend.  Like us and get involved!”

Another post (ad (c)) stated, “HAIRCUT? [tick] UGLY MATE TO MAKE YOU LOOK BETTER? [tick] Have you got a WKD side?” and showed a bottle of WKD. 

Three images (ad (d)) showed a cartoon character dressed in a suit and tie and hat above which stated “HEAD OF WKD WEEKENDS” across the top.  The first image was used as the background photo for the Facebook page; the second was placed alongside text which read “DON’T MESS WITH CATHERINE WHEELS.  HER BOYFRIEND’S MASSIVE”.  The third was placed alongside the text “REMEMBER, REMEMBER, THE 5TH OF NOVEMBER.  IS BIN DAY”.

Complaints / Decisions

The Youth Alcohol Advertising Council challenged whether the ads were irresponsible because:

  1. Ad (a) implied that alcohol could enhance confidence;
  2. Ad (a) implied that alcohol was capable of changing mood and behaviour;
  3. Ads (a), (b) and (c) implied that alcohol was a key component of the success of a social event; and
  4. Ads (c) and (d) were likely to appeal to under 18-year-olds and youth culture.

Three of the complaints were upheld whilst one was not upheld.  
1. & 2 Upheld.  Beverage Brands (“BB”) explained that ad (a) implied that many people refuse to do karaoke until others had a go and that no reference was made to alcohol playing a role in encouraging participation or to alcohol being consumed generally.  The ASA noted the image of a bottle of WKD in the ad and considered that British consumers were likely to understand karaoke as being an activity in which most people were reluctant to participate until after drinking alcohol.  This was emphasised by the inclusion of text which stated “YOU WILL REFUSE TO DO KARAOKE.  AT FIRST”.  The ASA therefore held that the ad suggested that alcohol could enhance confidence and was capable of changing mood and behaviour as it encouraged participation in karaoke.

3. Upheld.  The ASA considered that ad (a) was likely to be understood to suggest that people at a social occasion involving karaoke would be willing to participate only after they had consumed alcohol.  Regarding ad (b) BB explained that “good times” and “best people” were references to making friends on Facebook and the virtual online community.  However, the ASA considered the text “Where there’s good times, there’s WKD” accompanied by references to the weekend were likely to suggest that successful weekends involved the alcoholic drink WKD.

The ASA also noted that ad (c) presented a checklist containing elements relating to social occasions next to ticks.  The fact that a tick was placed next to WKD in the list implied that alcohol played an important part of a successful social occasion.  The ASA therefore concluded that the ads implied that alcohol was a key component to the success of each of the social events referred to.

4. Not upheld.  The ASA noted that, as the ads in question appeared on Facebook, they could only be viewed by people over the age of 18.  Although ad (d) showed a cartoon character, the ASA considered that references in ads (c) and (d) were adult in nature and unlikely to appeal to under-18s.  For example ad (c) included the phrase “UGLY MATE TO MAKE YOU LOOK BETTER?”, the cartoon character in ad (d) was wearing a suit and tie, and the reference to “bin day” would only draw interest from adults residing in their own home.  Because of the age restriction on Facebook and because the ads were unlikely to have particular appeal to under-18s, the ASA held that the ads did not breach the CAP Code on this point.

Alcohol ads on social media are particularly likely to attract the ASA’s attention due to the popularity of such media among younger people. 

3. Natvia Pty Ltd, 2 April 2014

An ad in an event booklet for the London Coffee Festival and Caffe Culture Show promoted a sweetener.  The ad stated, “…Give the people what they want and let them enjoy a 100% natural sweetener”, “100% NATURAL…to make The Unique Natvia Blend…We blend the Stevia with a naturally occurring nectar (known as Erythritol)…Absolutely nothing artificial All natural with no bitter aftertaste”.  Text on the product packaging shown in the ad also read “the 100% Natural Sweetener”.  A leaflet and free sample pack made the same claims and also stated “100% natural”.

Complaint / Decision

Merisant UK, a competitor, challenged whether the claims “100% natural sweetener”, “100% NATURAL” and “100% natural” were misleading and could be substantiated, because they understood that the commercial production of erythritol typically involved ion exchange and other processes.

The ASA upheld the complaint.  The ASA noted that the current best practice guidance, “Criteria for the use of the terms fresh, pure, natural etc in food labelling”, states that “Other processes such as…ion exchange purification…are also not in line with current consumer expectations of ‘natural’, and so if used then products should not be referred to as natural foods or ingredients”.  As the production of erythritol could involve ion exchange, the ASA considered that the use of that process did not correspond with consumer expectations of “natural” and should not be used to refer to food or ingredients where erythritol production had been used. 

However, Natvia explained that the method of manufacture of their ingredients had been reviewed by an experienced food law consultant who was of the opinion that the manufacturing process of the erythritol used in Natvia’s sweetener did not involve ion exchange and therefore the “natural” claim should be permitted.  The ASA therefore did not uphold the complaint on this basis.

Nevertheless, the ASA noted that the production of Natvia went through several processes including re-crystallisation, which could be equated to ‘concentration’.  The best practice guidance states that “Processes such as …concentration…whilst clearly playing a significant role in both making food safe and preserving it do not accord with current ‘consumer’ expectations of ‘natural’ foods”.  On that basis, the ASA held that the “100% natural” claims were misleading. 

Although Natvia provided enough information to show that the erythritol in their product was produced natural, the ASA picked up on other elements of the manufacturing process which involved artificial processes.  This reflects the strict guidelines that need to be adhered to when making health and nutrition claims; advertisers must ensure that such ads are reviewed thoroughly to ensure compliance when using language such as “natural”, “fresh” and “pure”. 

4. Wm Morrison Supermarkets t/a Morrisons, 16 April 2014

A video ad featured images of a number of bottles of spirits.  A voice-over stated “These litre bottles of spirits are £15 each…”.  The ad appeared during a series of children’s nursery rhymes on YouTube. 

Complaint / Decision

The complainant challenged whether it was irresponsible to show the ad during a video targeted at young children.

The ASA upheld the complaint.  Both Morrisons and YouTube had processes in place that were intended to ensure that alcohol was not targeted at under 18s.  Morrisons provided restrictions to the organisation responsible for placing their ads online and YouTube said that it had mechanisms in place to prevent alcohol ads from being shown with family-friendly content.  As such, the ASA considered that Morrisons had taken all reasonable steps to ensure that the ad was targeted responsibly.  Nevertheless, it had appeared during content targeted at children and so was held to have been targeted irresponsibly.

It is clear that a technical error was responsible for the alcohol ads being placed in children’s programming.  Advertisers need to ensure that proper processes are in place to avoid such errors, even though this can be more difficult when a third party platform has some control over the placing of the advertising.  

5. County Durham & Darlington NHS Foundation Trust t/a Balance, 23 April 2014

A TV ad promoting an alcohol awareness charity balance showed a man in a kitchen preparing a meal.  As he began, he took a beer out of the fridge, poured it into a glass and took a sip.  At the bottom of the glass was a small tumour which began to grow as the man took more sips of beer; as he took the final sips of beer, the tumour slid down the glass towards his mouth.  A voice-over stated, “The World Health Organisation classifies alcohol as a group one carcinogen.  Like tobacco and asbestos it can cause cancer.  The more you drink and the more often you drink, the more you increase your risk of developing cancer.  Find out how you can reduce your risk.  Go to reducemyrisk.tv.”

Complaint / Decision

The British Beer and Pub Association, the Campaign for Real Ale, the Society of Independent Brewers, J W Lees and Co Brewery and three other complainants challenged whether the ad was misleading and irresponsible as they were of the opinion that it amounted to scaremongering and gave the impression that drinking a small amount or drinking moderately would increase someone’s risk of developing cancer.

The ASA did not uphold the complaint.  The industry bodies who complained about the ad stated that there was evidence to suggest that moderate levels of alcohol intake, as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, could lead to a lower mortality risk and might confer an overall net health benefit; they therefore considered that the ad did not accurately present the risks associated with moderate alcohol consumption. 

Nevertheless, the ASA considered that there was a general consensus in the scientific and medical communities that alcohol consumption could increase a person’s risk of developing certain cancers and that, in particular, there was evidence to suggest that moderate consumption could also increase this risk.  As the ad stated that, “The more you drink and the more often you drink, the more you increase your risk”, the ASA was of the opinion that the overarching message of the ad was the more alcohol an individual consumed, the greater the risk of developing cancer and that viewers should therefore potentially reduce their intake. 

The ASA considered that the ad did not over-emphasise the risk of developing cancer nor did it encourage viewers to significantly reduce or abstain from alcohol consumption altogether. Moreover, the ASA noted that the ad encouraged viewers to visit the reducemyintake.tv website to find out more about the Government recommended guidelines on healthy drinking habits.  The ASA therefore concluded that the ad was not misleading or irresponsible. 

This is an unsurprising decision from the ASA.  The fact that the advertiser provided evidence to support their claims and also redirected viewers to a website with Government recommended guidelines reflected responsible advertising.  Moreover, in light of the Government’s Alcohol Strategy to reduce alcohol consumption generally, it was unlikely that the ASA would uphold the complaint. 

6. Marlow Foods Ltd, 23 April 2014

A TV ad promoting Quorn showed a freshly prepared bowl of spaghetti bolognese and then featured a pack of mince being removed from a kitchen top and being replaced with a similar sized pack of Quorn mince.  On-screen text stated, “80% LESS SATURATED FAT”.

Complaint / Decision

The complainant challenged whether the comparative nutrition claim “80% less saturated fat” complied with the EU Register of Health and Nutrition Claims for Foods.

The ASA did not uphold the complaint.  Under the EU Register and BCAP Code, comparative nutrition claims are required to compare the composition of an advertised food against a range of foods of the same category and guidance suggested that the “same category” would have the same meaning as “alternatives for consumption”.  The ASA considered that, as the purpose of Quorn mince was to act as an alternative to meat, a comparison with the nutritional properties in mince beef was a valid comparison to make.

In order to make a “reduced saturated fat” claim, the sum of saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids in the product bearing the claim had to be at least 30% less than the product to which it was being compared.  As the Quorn mince contained 80% less saturated fat than lean beef mince, the ASA considered that the ad complied with the conditions of use in making the comparative nutrition claim.  The fact that the percentage difference would have been higher had the product been compared to standard beef mince further reinforced the ASA’s view.

The European Commission’s guidance on making a comparative nutrition claim between products and their alternatives requires that the comparator product is explicitly mentioned to avoid misleading consumers.  The ad did not explicitly state that the comparison was between Quorn mince and lean beef mince and the ASA would have preferred that it had done so.  Nevertheless, the ASA considered that the bowl of spaghetti bolognese and the packet of mince shown at the beginning of the ad clearly contained red meat and that this visual was sufficient to avoid misleading consumers. 

Although the ad did not make clear that the comparator was lean beef mince as opposed to standard beef mince, the ASA was satisfied that the ad was not misleading as Marlow Foods were able to provide evidence showing that the percentage difference would have been greater if standard beef mince had been used. 

7. Halewood International Ltd, 30 April 2014

A TV ad for Lambrini wine featured three women sitting on a sofa laughing.  The next scene showed a woman dressed up ringing the doorbell to join them with a bottle of Lambrini in her hand.  Various scenes showed the women laughing, talking, putting on makeup and getting ready for the evening during which one scene showed a woman pouring herself a glass of Lambrini in the kitchen.  The next scene showed several women coming towards the apartment, some of which were holding bottles of Lambrini.  Various subsequent scenes portrayed all the women together laughing, taking pictures, dancing and pouring Lambrini.

The end of the ad showed the Lambrini drink range and a voice-over stated, “Make it a Lambrini big Night In”.  Further on-screen text included a link to the website, “LambriniBigNightIn.com”, and the Twitter hashtag “#BigNightIn”.

Complaints / Decisions

  1. Two complainants challenged whether the ad was irresponsible for implying that the success of a social occasion depended on the presence or consumption of alcohol. 
  2. One complainant challenged whether the ad was irresponsible for portraying alcohol as capable of changing mood and behaviour by enhancing enjoyment. 

The first complaint was upheld but the second complaint was not.

1. Upheld.  Halewood stressed that the ad did not show any of the women drinking the Lambrini and that many of the women in the ad were not shown holding a glass of Lambrini at all.  They also added that anyone who was not drinking did not appear to be enjoying the occasion any less than those that were holding glasses.  Nevertheless, the ASA noted that the ad included eight shots of the Lambrini bottle, two of which showed the Lambrini being poured into large glasses.  Further, in the last three shots of the party, four different women were shown holding glasses of Lambrini.  This, the ASA considered, gave the overall impression that a considerable amount of Lambrini was being consumed during the party. 

The accompanying voice-over stating “Make it a Lambrini big Night In” and the on-screen text “LambriniBigNightIn.com…#BigNightIn” further implied that Lambrini was a key component for the success of the evening.  On this basis, the ASA concluded that the ad was irresponsible. 

2. The ASA observed that the women in the ad were shown laughing and joking together and generally enjoying themselves consistently throughout the ad both before and after the first shot of the Lambrini being poured was shown.  The ASA therefore considered that the ad did not show a change in mood or behaviour following the consumption of alcohol and so, on that basis, was held not to be irresponsible. 

Lambrini attempted to show girls having a fun night in, as opposed to going out.  However, the visuals of wine being poured into large glasses and various girls being portrayed with a glass of wine in their hand still implied that alcohol was an important part of their evening.  In the past, the ASA has not upheld complaints in relation to some ads which suggest that alcohol is being consumed on a night out because the ad has not shown the product as prominently on-screen; see for example the Heineken adjudication from August 2013.

HEALTH AND BEAUTY

8. Omega Pharma Ltd, 9 April 2014

A TV ad for Lyclear shampoo lice treatment included a voice-over which stated, “My friend’s recommended an unbeatable treatment for head lice.”  Small print stated, “Two applications needed. Ex vivo study 2010…”.  The voice-over continued, “Double action Lyclear shampoo.  Suffocates.  Dehydrates.  And is guaranteed to remove 100% of head lice.”  On-screen, a woman was shown massaging the product into a child’s hair and then washing it out in the bath.  Accompanying text stated “100% EFFECTIVE”.  The voice-over continued, “And it’s as easy as washing hair.  Lyclear shampoo.  100% effective.”

The website www.lyclear.co.uk included a webpage for Lyclear shampoo which stated “100% effective…Repeat the treatment after 7 days”.  Small print at the bottom of the page read, “Kills 100% of head lice and near to 100% of eggs.  Use sufficient product and comb thoroughly to be certain all eggs are removed from the hair.  Ex vivo study 2010, data on file.”

Complaints / Decisions

  1. Three complainants challenged whether the claims “Suffocates. Dehydrates. And is guaranteed to remove 100% of head lice” and “100% effective” were misleading and could be substantiated;
  2. One of the complainants, Thornton & Ross Ltd, challenged whether the claim “And it’s as easy as washing hair” was misleading for implying that the process was easier and quicker than it was; and
  3. Thornton & Ross Ltd also challenged whether the claim “unbeatable” in the TV ad could be substantiated.

The ASA upheld all three complaints.

  1. The ASA had been provided with an ex vivo study and a clinical study related to Lyclear spray.  The spray contained an active ingredient called dimethicone which was not included in the shampoo. The ASA therefore considered that these tests did not constitute substantiation for the claims and purely provided background information.  In relation to the shampoo, Lyclear provided the ASA with an ex vivo study and clinical study.  The clinical study showed that the shampoo was only 90% effective after two treatments and the ex vivo study concluded that the treatment had 100% effectiveness in killing head lice but only a 96.5% success rate against killing the eggs.  The ASA considered that this evidence was not robust enough to support the “100% effective” claim and therefore concluded that the ad was misleading. 
  2. The ASA considered that the claim suggested that using the product was particularly easy to use and constituted a process which was similar to normal hair washing.  Lyclear sought to rely on the fact that, unlike with other head lice treatments, it was not necessary to apply shampoo separately, as the product would also wash the hair.  However, the ASA noted that instructions for using the product included leaving it on the hair for 10 minutes and to comb out the head lice after washing the product out.  It considered that this went beyond normal hair washing and further, noted that this information was not made clear in the TV ad.
  3. As the ASA considered that it had not been provided with sufficiently robust evidence to support the claim “100% effective”, the ASA also concluded that the claim that the treatment was “unbeatable” was unsubstantiated.

This decision is unsurprising; a “100%” claim and an “unbeatable” claim are strong claims to make, so it is imperative that such claims are supported by robust evidence.  
  
HOUSEHOLD

9. Miele Company Ltd, 9 April 2014

An ad in a catalogue featuring a range of Miele vacuum cleaners included text which stated, “All Miele cylinder vacuums are tested to last for 20 years*”.  The asterisk linked to text which stated, “*based on average usage of 45 minutes per week at maximum output”.

Complaint / Decision

Dyson challenged whether the claim “All Miele cylinder vacuums are tested to last for 20 years” was misleading and could be substantiated.

The ASA upheld the complaint.  Miele explained that the claim was based on internal testing and provided the ASA with some, but not all, documentation in relation to the testing procedure.  The ASA considered that, in the absence of full documentation, insufficient evidence was provided to substantiate the claim.  The ASA noted that the claim was based on accelerated laboratory tests and considered that this should have been made clear in the ad.  The ASA concluded that, although the testing may have been able to demonstrate that the vacuum could last a long time, it was not clear whether it would last for 20 years or close enough to that figure.  The ASA therefore held that the claim was misleading and unsubstantiated.

The ASA upheld a similar adjudication against Miele on 23 April 2014 in relation to a claim that their dishwashers were tested to last 20 years.  When referring to testing, advertisers should make clear the nature of the tests used to substantiate any claims. 

10. Westminster Recliners, 9 April 2014

A magazine ad for recliner chairs and beds included text which stated “Quality Riser Recliners & Adjustable Beds.  BUY ONE GET ONE FREE!*…”.  A brochure ad for recliner chairs and beds included a logo with text which stated “BRITISH BUILT QUALITY ASSURED.  Family run with over 30 years experience”.

Complaints / Decisions

The complainant challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated;

  1. British Built”, and
  2. BUY ONE GET ONE FREE”

Neither of the complaints was upheld. 

  1. Westminster provided brochures and statements from their suppliers to demonstrate that all of their products were manufactured, assembled and supplied by British companies in Britain.  The ASA considered this to be consistent with consumers’ understanding of the phrase “British built”.  The ASA noted that some individual parts of the products were manufactured outside the UK but considered that this did not contradict the fact that the products themselves were manufactured in the UK. 
  2. Westminster had provided the ASA with example invoices; one showed the sale of a bespoke chair for £5,000 and several others showed the sale of sets of two very similar chairs under the BOGOF offer for around £5,000.  The ASA was satisfied that this evidence demonstrated that Westminster routinely sold two chairs at the same price as one chair under the advertised offer and therefore concluded that the ad was not misleading.

This decision is unsurprising as Westminster was able to provide enough evidence to substantiate their “British built” and BOGOF claims.  Advertisers should note that, even where some of the components of the products are made abroad, the product itself can be classed as made in the UK as long as the actual manufacturing takes place in the UK. 

11. Made.com Design Ltd, 16 April 2014

An ad on the London Underground promoting Made.com included text stating, “FURNITURE DIRECT FROM THE MAKERS By the time the average sofa hits the high street it’s been marked up by 500%...Our unique and award-winning concept cuts out the middle steps and passes the savings on to you”.  The ad listed three products and compared the advertiser’s price against a “Typical high street” price.  Small print at the bottom of the ad read, “High street price is based on closest equivalent products in design and functionality”.

Claim / Decision

Two complainants challenged whether the comparisons between the advertiser’s and “typical high street” prices were misleading and could be substantiated, because they understood that the advertiser was the only advertiser who sold the products listed and considered that the products they were being compared to were not equivalent in quality.

The ASA upheld the complaint.  The ASA noted that the products featured in the ad were unique and could only be purchased from the advertiser directly.  They therefore understood that consumers would consider that the “typical high street” prices listed were for equivalent rather than identical products that were available on the high street. 

When making their comparisons, the advertiser attempted to locate three similar products available at high street retailers, taking the median price as their point of comparison.  The ASA noted that the comparisons were based on the products serving the same function and looking similar aesthetically and that this was qualified by the statement “High street price is based on closest equivalent products in design and functionality”.  However, the ASA considered that consumers would also expect the “equivalent” high street products to be of similar quality in terms of finish, materials and fabrics used and the inclusion of free delivery and warranties with the product.

The ASA noted that, for one of the “high street” products used in the ad, there were significant differences in the fabrics and wood used.  Further, for the other two “high street” products, the ASA noted that they were sold exclusively online and so it was not possible to assess whether they were equivalent in quality despite looking similar aesthetically.  Despite similarities in design and function, the ASA concluded that, as it was not possible to assess whether the products used for the comparisons were of similar quality, the ad was misleading. 

When making a comparison with an equivalent product, advertisers must ensure that quality of both products is similar.  The ASA has issued a help note on retailer price comparisons which can be found here.

12. Beko plc, 23 April 2014

A TV ad for Beko, a home appliance brand, showed a woman in a kitchen opening a fridge whilst a child sat at a table, followed by various images of a fridge, dishwasher and washing machine.  A voice-over began promoting the brand’s fridges, dishwashers and washing machines and stated, “…we’re happy to let our customers do the talking and explain why Beko is the UK’s best selling home appliance brand.”  At the same time, on-screen text stated, “GfK, Total MDA6, volume sales, Aug12-Jul13”.  At the end of the ad, the Beko logo appeared on screen above the text, “The UK’s Bestselling Home Appliance Brand”.

Complaints / Decisions

Indesit challenged whether the claim “The UK’s bestselling home appliance brand” was misleading and could be substantiated because:

  1. they understood that the claim was based on a subset of the home appliance product group and not on the entire range of home appliance products; and
  2. they considered that most viewers would not understand what the qualifying text “GfK, Total MDA6, volume sales, Aug12-Jul13” referred to.

The ASA upheld both complaints.

1. The ASA acknowledged that there was no strict or widely-understood definition of what products constituted “home appliances” but considered that the scope of the category was very broad.  Beko based the claim on sales on one of three product groups in the “Major Domestic Appliances” category as defined by industry standards.  This group included washing machines, tumble dryers, dishwashers, fridges, freezers and cookers.  The ASA were of the opinion that consumers would understand any claim relating to home appliances to refer to a wider range of products than just those within that particular product group. 

Further, the ASA noted that the claim referred to Beko being the bestselling home appliance “brand” and was therefore made in the context of comparing Beko to other home appliance brands.  The ASA reasoned that some of those home appliance brands would sell home appliance products which were not included within the group on which Beko based their claim.  The ASA concluded that this reinforced the impression that the claim referred to a broader group of products than those used as a basis for Beko’s claim. 

2. The ASA considered that the majority of consumers would not be aware of the labelling of product groups used by GfK (a large market research company) and so reference to “MDA6” would not have been an appropriate qualification to clarify the basis of the claim.  The ASA held further that, even if consumers did understand the terminology, they were likely to understand the claim to refer to a wider group of products than just those included within MDA6 and so it was likely to contradict rather than qualify the claim. 

The ASA took a practical approach in this adjudication; terminology which may be well understood in specific industry sectors may not be familiar to the average consumer.  If used to qualify a claim, they could be deemed as irrelevant. 

LEISURE

13. Hilton International Hotels (UK) Ltd, 2 April 2014

Claims on the website www.hilton.com, stated “ANY WEEKEND ANYWHERE SALE, SAVE UP TO 33%”. Below, there were some suggested destinations including Rome, Barcelona and Dubai and a “What To Do” search filter that allowed users to filter destinations according to type such as “City breaks” and “Golf”.  Small print at the bottom of the page stated, “Offer is subject to availability at participating hotels within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio of brands in the UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa…Stay on weekends between December 12, 2012 and December 28, 2014 except as otherwise indicated” 

Complaint / Decision

The complainant challenged whether the claim “ANY WEEKEND ANYWHERE” was misleading, because the promotion only applied to UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa. 

The ASA upheld the complaint.  Hilton sought to rely on the word “weekend” to qualify the word “anywhere”.  They considered that consumers would interpret this as meaning that the scope of the promotion extended to any hotel to which he or she was reasonably likely to travel for a weekend break. They considered that the “What To Do” filter emphasised this as it included categories such as “golf”, “city breaks” and “spa” which consumers are more likely to consider for short-haul as opposed to long-haul travel.  However, the ASA regarded the statement “ANY WEEKEND ANYWHERE SALE” to be an absolute claim and considered that consumers were likely to interpret the promotion as applying to any hotel within the Hilton Group, regardless of location. 

The ASA acknowledged that Hilton had included small print at the bottom of the webpage to clarify that the promotion only applied to hotels in the UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa but it concluded that this contradicted rather than clarified the claim. 

The decision may seem somewhat surprising as it is unlikely that a consumer would expect to travel on a long-haul flight just for a weekend and Hilton did include a footnote explaining that the offer online applied to certain regions.  Nevertheless, it demonstrates the ASA’s strict approach towards advertisers making absolute claims.  Further guidance on qualifying claims can be found here.

14. Martin Grant Homes, 9 April 2014

Claims on www.martingranthomes.co.uk, which promoted a housing development, stated, “Milton Place, Worth, West Sussex, RH10 7RU…The appeal of living within a thriving community, with a rich heritage and just a stone’s throw from beautiful countryside is hard to resist.  It is the perfect setting for enjoying life at a relaxed place and for bringing up a family…also within easy commuting distance of London …this attractive new development in Worth, West Sussex, provides the perfect answer”.  
 
Another page featured a map indicating the location of the development between two areas labelled as “POUND HILL” and “WORTH”.  Text below stated, “Worth boasts a number of notable places to explore.  These include Worth Church, Worth Abbey and Worth Park Gardens…”

Complaint / Decision

Two complainants challenged whether the claims that the development was in Worth were misleading because they understood that the development was in the Pound Hill neighbourhood in the less affluent town of Crawley rather than in Worth.

The ASA upheld the complaint.  Martin Grant Homes (“MGH”) said that the property was situated in the parish of Worth and provided a land registry title plan demonstrating this.  They also provided the ASA with a number of documents that referred to the address being listed as Worth, including the Water Agreement with Southern Water, extracts from the valuation from their surveyors, insurance quotes and correspondence from their bank. 

However, the ASA considered that in the context of an ad promoting the sale of a property, consumers would interpret the claims to mean that the development was officially situation within the village of Worth.  Despite MGH providing supporting documentation, the ASA noted that the postcode of the development was currently listed as being within Crawley and that the original planning application for it on the Crawley Borough Council website showed the address of the development to be in Pound Hill.  Crawley Borough Council also confirmed that Worth civil parish no longer existed within Crawley borough and, although the site was in the “Pound Hill South & Worth” electoral ward within Crawley borough, a letter from an MP within Crawley confirmed that the development was officially within Poundhill.  The ASA therefore held that the ad was misleading as the site was officially located in the Poundhill neighbourhood of Crawley borough.  

The ASA ruled on a similar adjudication in November 2012which it did not uphold.  In that case there was no definitive boundary or ward name for the area referred to and so the fact that the development was within the parish boundary was sufficient to ensure that the claim was not misleading

15. Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, 16 April 2014

A banner ad on Norwegian Air Shuttle’s website www.norwegian.com/uk stated “THREE DAY SALE Algarve-Faro, Nice & Palma-Mallorca from/one way £10* incl taxes.  Booking period: 12-14 November.  Travel period: 12 November – 28 February 2014.

Complaints / Decisions

EasyJet challenged:

  1. the availability of flights at the advertised price; and
  2. whether the promotion was misleading for not highlighting that the offer only applied to flights out of London Gatwick and that the offer only applied to the outbound leg of the return journey.

The ASA did not uphold the first complaint but upheld the second complaint. 

  1. Not upheld.  Norwegian Air Shuttle (“NAS”) provided evidence to demonstrate that the number of available seats at the promotional rate during the offer travel period exceeded 10% of the total number of seats available.  For two of the routes, the number was 15% and for the remaining route it was 28%.  Although the number of seats available at the promotional rate was greater during November and the beginning of December, the ASA noted that seats at the promotional rate were available for some flights in each month of the offer period and therefore concluded that they were spread reasonably evenly across the offer period. 
  2. Upheld.  The ASA considered that the ad made clear that the price only applied to one-way bookings but that it did not make clear that the journey had to originate from Gatwick.  NAS sought to rely on the fact that, when a user clicked the banner ad, they would be redirected to a customised booking page that was automatically set to select London Gatwick as the originating airport.  However, the ASA was of the view that the requirement to fly out from Gatwick was a significant condition of the promotion on which consumers would base their decision.  The ASA therefore held that this material information should have been prominently stated either in the ad or on another web page that users could be directed to from the ad. 

This decision is in line with the ASA’s usual approach to dealing with claims on flight offers.  In October 2013, the ASA held that a Lufthansa promotion was misleading for not indicating that it only applied to flights from certain airports in Germany. 

16. Center Parcs Ltd, 23 April 2014

A TV ad for Center Parcs resorts showed families, including school-aged children, taking part in various leisure activities.  On-screen text stated, “Selected 4 night midweek breaks from £279 for 4 people”.  Small print stated, “Excludes school holidays…”

Complaint / Decision

Two complainants challenged whether the ad was irresponsible because it encouraged parents to take their children out of school during term-time.

The ASA upheld the complaint.  Center Parcs argued that it was the responsibility of parents to decide whether to take their children out of school during term-time and that the offer was not limited to families.  The ASA acknowledged that the text “for 4 people” did not suggest that the breaks were indeed limited to families.  However, the ASA considered that the ad emphasised a family break to promote the offer as many of the scenes featured families with school-aged children enjoying various activities and the ad included final on-screen text which read “Your family. Your time”.  The ASA considered that this would encourage parents to take up the offer, which was only available midweek during term-time. 

Center Parcs sought to rely on the argument that parents are responsible for making their own decisions.  However, given that families could only take up the offer by causing their children to miss school, the ASA appears to have taken the correct approach by concluding that the ad encouraged parents to take their children out of school.  The ASA ruled against Center Parcs on a similar adjudication in May 2012.

RETAIL

17. Howies Ltd, 23 April 2014

A website for an online clothing retailer, www.howies.co.uk, included several claims about the fabrics used in its clothing.

The home page included the statement “We make high quality, low impact clothing, for everyday life and everyday sport”.

Another web page on the site, headed COMMON SENSE COTTON, included text stating, “…Cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops grown by man, with a myriad of insecticides used on it during the growing process…Common sense says that can’t be doing you any good.  That’s why, wherever possible, we use organic cotton – cotton grown without any of the nasty stuff…”

On another web page, which offered a T-shirt for sale, text stated, “Plant This Thought…Hemp is renowned for being one of the most environmentally friendly and versatile crops grown by man…And that’s great for you, the farmer and the field.  It also makes an amazingly comfortable fabric of course…Now that makes it one clever little plant.”

Complaints / Decisions

The complainant challenged whether:

  1. the claim that the products advertised were “low impact” was misleading and could be substantiated;
  2. the web page headed “COMMON SENSE COTTON” was misleading for implying that Howies used organic cotton in their products to a greater extent than they did; and
  3. the claims under the heading “Plant This Thought” was misleading for implying that the product contained a higher percentage of hemp than it actually did. 

Only the first complaint was upheld. 

1. Upheld.  The ASA considered that the claim that Howies’ products were “low impact” was absolute in that the lifecycle of all their products, from manufacture to disposal, had only a small impact on the environment.  Howies had provided information about some aspects of the product lifecycle and about the measures taken to reduce the environmental impact made by their products.  For example, they added polyester to some garments to reduce their carbon footprint, removed hazardous substances to make clothing which repelled water and moved a significant proportion of their garment production and fabric sourcing from the Far East to Europe to reduce their transport footprint. 

The ASA acknowledged that, although these measures were intended to lower Howies’ environmental impact, no evidence was provided to suggest that they produced the absolute claim of a “low” impact.  The ASA further noted that Howies did not provide evidence to demonstrate that all aspects of the products’ lifecycle resulted in a low environmental impact.

2. Not upheld.  As Howies had used the wording “wherever possible” in their claim regarding the use of organic cotton, the ASA held that no claim was made suggesting that all or a particular percentage of Howies’ products were made from organic cotton or that products which included organic cotton were 100% organic cotton. 

The web page concerned featured images of eight products and the ASA noted that all of these products contained organic cotton.  Moreover, in order to purchase those products, website users had to first visit the relevant product pages which gave information about the exact percentage of organic cotton used in them.  The ASA therefore concluded that the claim was not misleading.

3. Not upheld.  The ASA noted that information under the “Plant This Thought” heading appeared only on web pages for products which contained hemp and that these product pages included details of the percentage of hemp in the fabric.  The ASA further observed that the “Plant This Thought” section made no statements as to the amount of hemp used in their products and merely gave information on the environmental benefits of using hemp in their clothing.  The ASA therefore held that there was no suggestion that the products concerned contained a higher percentage of hemp than they actually did.

The ASA took a practical approach in relation to the latter two claims and found in favour of the advertiser.  At the same time, it reinforced its strict stance on dealing with absolute claims by upholding the first complaint in the adjudication.

18. Richer Sounds plc, 30 April 2014

A web page on www.richersounds.com advertised a Samsung TV claiming, “Lowest Price Guaranteed We’ll beat ANY price…even from the web, & give you up to £100!” and “FREE 5 Year Guarantee!”.  The text “Lowest Price Guaranteed” contained a hyperlink which led to another web page.  This web page provided further information about the terms of the offer including the condition that the offer applied to the competitor’s total price after adding their equivalent 5-year warranty to the price of their product. 

Complaint / Decision

A complainant, who saw the product advertised for a lower price by a competitor, challenged whether the ad was misleading because, it was not clear enough that the price match only applied if the total price of the competitor’s product and 5-year warranty together was lower than the price of Richer Sounds’ product, which came with a free 5-year warranty. 

The ASA upheld the complaint.  The ASA acknowledged that Richer Sounds would only apply their offer where a competitor offered a comparable warranty on the same TV model and the total price of the product with that warranty was lower than the price of Richer Sounds’ product with its free 5-year warranty.  The ASA considered that this was significant information, which formed the basis of the price comparison and so should be made more prominent to consumers. The ASA therefore held that setting out the information on a separate web page with a link was not sufficient to alert consumers. 

Richer Sounds sought to rely on the argument that there was not enough space on the web page to include this information but the ASA considered that the space was not so limited and therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.

The ASA’s decision highlights the importance of thoroughly explaining the basis of a comparison.  Including a five year warranty in the price beat offer is clearly significant information. An ASA help note on lowest price claims and price promises can be found here

19. The Disney Store Ltd, 30 April 2014

A TV ad for Disney Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique featured a young girl sitting at a dressing table smiling into a mirror.  She was then shown with face paint on placing a tiara on her head and after, standing in an elaborately decorated hall twirling around in a princess costume.  On-screen text stated “ONCE UPON A TIME A FAIRY GODMOTHER WAVED HER WAND AND MADE A DREAM COME TRUE.  NOW, A MAGICAL JOURNEY AWAITS YOU.  INTRODUCING BIBBIDI BOBBIDI BOUTIQUE AT HARRODS”.  At the end of the ad, small print was shown at the bottom of the screen, stating “Prices from £50.  Ages 3-12”. 

Complaint / Decision

Two complainants challenged whether the claim “Prices from £50” was misleading.  They considered that the ad implied that the experience advertised was available at this price but understood that it actually cost £200. 

The ASA upheld the complaint.  The ASA understood that the ad promoted Disney’s Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Harrods which offered Disney themed experiences for young children.  Children could choose between five different experiences, named “Royal”, “Castle”, “Crown”, “Courtyard” and “Knight”.  Although the “Knight” experience cost £50, the ASA noted that princess-themed experiences were priced at between £100 and £1000.  As the ad featured a young girl wearing a princess costume in palatial surroundings, the ASA considered that the ad would be interpreted as promoting the princess-themed experiences only and that the text suggested that these started “from £50”.  As this was not the case, the ASA concluded that the ad was misleading.

Although £50 was the price for one of the experiences, this was not the one illustrated in the ad and therefore it is not surprising that as a whole, the ad was found to be misleading.    

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

20. TalkTalk Telecom, 23 April 2014

A TV ad featured a voice-over that stated, “Your free YouView box comes with Freeview channels and Catch-Up TV…YouView gives you over 70 freeview channels, and you can watch Catch-Up TV on your TV.  YouView also lets you scroll back to see shows you’ve missed from the last seven days…”.  The ad showed content from a BBC programme and the logos of BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5 as well as on-screen text which read, “…Catch up available for certain channels only”.  The ad also featured a TV screen showing a list of channels with a pop-up calendar. 

Complaint / Decision

Two complainants challenged whether the ad was misleading for implying that all of the content on the catch up services referred to were accessible, which they understood was not the case. 

The ASA upheld the complaint.  TalkTalk highlighted that they had featured the logos of the channels for which the catch-up services were available and had also included an on-screen qualification, which stated “catch up available for certain channels only”.  TalkTalk considered that they had not implied in any way that consumers could watch any programme on the catch up services referred to and explained that they had avoided making claims about the content available on each channel’s catch-up services due to their lack of control over content availability in general.

The ASA considered the phrases “you can watch Catch-Up TV” and “YouView also lets you scroll back to see shows you’ve missed from the last seven days” along with, images of channel logos in the ad and a list of channels on the service’s electronic programme guide.  It concluded that, together, this gave the impression that the catch-up service offered by TalkTalk included all of the catch up content available on each channel’s catch-up service even though some of this content was excluded from TalkTalk’s catch-up service.

The ASA has been monitoring ads promoting catch up content closely as consumers are often not aware that, due to a lack of rights, a considerable amount of TV content might not be available on catch up services.  The ASA ruled on a similar adjudication against Sky in October 2013 where it held that clear qualification was needed that selected catch up content was not available.

21. Virgin Media Ltd, 30 April 2014

A direct mailing from Virgin stated, “Hi, you’ve been specially selected to get this offer…If you’ve been thinking we don’t compare to Sky, perhaps it’s time to discover the truth.  Plus we’ve even got an exclusive offer just for you”.  The exclusive offer was set out below and read, “This offer is not available to the general public Pick any package and get: ● TiVo box like Sky+HD box, but you can record three programmes at the same time ● Free extra recordable HD box Watch and record different channels in another room.  (Sky charges up to an extra £11.25 a month for Multiroom) ● HD channels included ● BT Sport and ESPN channels included Sky TV and broadband customers are charged £15 a month and a one-off £15 activation fee…Plus red hot savings for 6 months in our red hot sale…Total first year saving worth: £214.95”.  Further text stated “To clear up any confusion over what you get with us versus Sky, we’ve put together all of the information you need in the handy brochure enclosed”.

A table entitled “Truthful comparison” appeared on the second page of the mailing which compared some aspects of both Virgin and Sky’s services.  At the bottom of the page, small print read “Some offers attract an 18-month minimum term contract…£214.95 first year saving…18-MONTH MINIMUM TERM CONTRACT APPLIES…Sky Sports 3 HD, Sky Sports 4 HD, Sky Sports News HD and Sky Sports F1 HD not included”.

Complaints / Decisions

Sky challenged whether:

  1. the ad was misleading for not clearly outlining the basis of the £214.95 savings claim;
  2. the claim “HD channels included” misleadingly implied that Sky customers did not get HD channels in their TV package; and
  3. the ad omitted material information regarding the differences between the services offered by Sky and Virgin which were likely to affect a reader’s evaluation of the comparison. 

The ASA upheld two of the complaints and did not uphold the other. 

1. & 3 Upheld.  Virgin explained that the £214.95 savings claim was a comparison against a normal Virgin deal; they were of the impression that this was made clear in the ad and that the ad did not suggest that the saving was against Sky.  They considered that the phrases “Plus we’ve got an exclusive offer just for you”  and “red hot savings for 6 months in our red hot sale” reinforced the impression that the offer was relative to Virgin’s non-promotional prices. Nevertheless the ASA considered that the basis of the savings claim was ambiguous.

Although footnote text explained that the saving was based on taking out a particular Virgin Media package, this text was not linked to the text introducing the offer.  As such, the ASA considered that readers were likely to interpret the text introducing the offer to mean that a £214.95 saving could be achieved regardless of which Virgin Media package they chose. 

The ASA also noted that further footnote text stated that some offers attracted an 18-month minimum term contract and considered that it was not clear what contract length would apply when taking up the offer which would achieve a £214.95 saving.  Moreover, the ASA understood that Virgin intended to promote its offer independent of Sky.  Nevertheless, the ASA concluded that the continuous comparisons with Sky throughout the mailing, as well as the fact that the introductory paragraph stated, “If you’ve been thinking we don’t compare to Sky, perhaps it’s time to discover the truth” meant that some readers were likely to the assume that the savings claim was in relation to a similar package offered by Sky. 

2. Not upheld.  When highlighting the features of its packages, Virgin often included a specific comparison with Sky.  However, for the phrase “HD channels included”, no reference to or qualification regarding Sky was included.  Nevertheless, the ASA considered that the absence of such reference or qualification was unlikely to be interpreted by consumers as meaning that an equivalent package offered by Sky did not include HD channels.
 
It is common to make comparative claims in the telecommunications industry due to the competitive nature of the sector and claims are very frequently challenged.  Advertisers in the telecoms industry should ensure that such claims are clear and supported by strong evidence.