The Committee of Advertising Practice, the ad industry body that writes the CAP Code, has issued new guidance on ad claims based on surveys. It covers five categories of these (including “extrapolated conclusions” and “preference claims”) and Hannah Willson reports its advice.
Topic: Misleading advertising
Who: Committee of Advertising Practice
When: June 2010
Law stated as at: August 2010
The Cap Copy Advice Team has produced a note of guidance regarding marketing claims that are based on data from customer surveys. Recent claims that have given rise to complaints are:
"Glamour readers recommend Fairy"
"98% of members that have used us would recommend us to a friend"
"50% less accidents with ROADANGEL"
These types of claims are perfectly acceptable, so long as they do not fall foul of the CAP and BCAP Code requirements. Common provisions that are the basis of a complaint are:
CAP Code 3.1 – substantiation
CAP Code 7.1 and 7.2 – truthfulness
BCAP Code 5.1.1 and 5.2.1 – misleading advertising
Types of claims
The CAP Copy Advice Team have divided these claims into 5 different categories and summarised the pitfalls of and recent examples of each type. The 5 different categories are:
1. Universal Claims; "People prefer product A"
2. Sample Claims; "77% of women use product B"
3. Preference Claims; "8 out of 10 cats prefer product C"
4. Extrapolated Conclusions; "X% of people use product D"
5. Inaccurate reporting of data; "the UK's No.1 beer"
What to look out for with each type of claim
Universal Claims – It is important to have data that is "statistically significant" that is heavily in favour of the claim being made. The claim "Glamour readers recommend Fairy" implied that 100% of Glamour readers recommend Fairy when the reality was that 83% of the panel would. Despite a footnote accompanying the claim stating that this was 'tested in a panel of 256 Glamour readers' the ASA upheld the complaint that this was misleading.
Sample Claims – The key issue with this type of claim is the impartiality of responses. The award of a prize for completing the survey may potentially affect the respondent's responses in order to stand a better chance of winning. When conducting this type of claim it is important to have a clear and defined survey methodology as the ASA will take this into account – the survey results on their own may not be enough to substantiate a claim.
Furthermore, related to this type of claim, is the issue regarding whether or not information relating to the sample size should be included with the claim. The CAP Copy Advice Team advise that "the 'small print' or sample clarifier should be sufficient to support the statement without adding complexity, additional interpretive information or rendering the headline claim misleading. So it is not normally acceptable to make a claim and then attempt to qualify or clarify it via super or small print; these must support the statement or claim in full and not contradict it."
There is no hard and fast rule in the CAP or BCAP Codes relating to stating the sample size in the advertisement but the "general rule of thumb [is] that if the sample size is not likely to be big enough to be robustly statistically significant to substantiate the headline claim, then qualifying text that gives the details, such as the sample size, should be oncluded in the advertisement."
A recent case regarding this type of claim can be read here.
Preference Claims – The design of the survey is an important consideration with this type of claim, the wrong design could undermine the claim. An important consideration in designing a survey to elicit this type of claim is to ensure that there cannot be multiple responses (where a preference is shown for competing brands as well) or where other brands or 'no preference' choices receive a higher number of preferential responses than the claim – making the claim misleading.
Extrapolated Conclusions – This type of claim requires robust interpretation of data with extrapolation methods used that are in line with industry best practice guidelines rather than an estimate based on the data.
Inaccurate reporting of data – It is important to reference data in a way that is common for trade or consumers of this type of product and not to interpret the results in a way that best suits the claim. It is also worth noting that claims published in the trade press are likely to come under additional scrutiny due to the industry experience of the readers.
Why this matters:
Advertising claims such as these are very effective and persuasive marketing tools; however they can also be a minefield for complaints. It is therefore important to understand the pitfalls of each type and ensure that any survey conducted has been clearly defined and considered before it is put in place. Any suggestion of impartiality or interpreting the results in a 'creative' way may give rise to an ASA ruling that the claim can does not comply with the CAP Code. Advertisers who are in any doubt as to whether a proposed survey or claim would withstand ASA scrutiny should seek expert advice.
The note of guidance can be read here. http://copyadvice.co.uk/News/2010/Sampling-references-Consumer-Goods.aspx