Could describing a Helsinki METRO as “a new urban newspaper” be misleading advertising?
Who: Swedish Modern Times Group and the Finnish Marketing Court
When: February 2001
The Swedish Modern Times Group ("SMTG") were probably the first to market with their METRO free newssheet concept. The global roll-out has not all been plain sailing, however. In the UK, they were pipped at the post by Associated Newspapers’ own "METRO" paper in London, which has got off to a promising start. Associated also got a court order forcing SMTG to change the name of their Newcastle METRO. The replacement name MORNING NEWS was hardly going to win awards for originality, and SMTG finally closed down the Newcastle venture just before Christmas 1999.
Now, the Finnish Market Court has put the boot in. SMTG recently launched the Helsinki METRO using the advertising strapline "New urban newspaper." Hardly controversial you might think, but SMTG’s Finnish subsidiary Modern Times 3 Ab (Helsinki) ("MT3") was hauled before the court. The allegation was that the phrase was misleading advertising. Why? Because, to quote the court’s verdict, "as a free sheet, the METRO lacks the societal significance and journalistic goodwill value generally associated with the expression "newspaper.""
Accordingly MT3 was in breach of good business practice in using the expression "new urban newspaper" in its advertising and had to drop the line and all other use of the term "newspaper."
Why this matters:
The rules for dealing with misleading advertising are supposed to be harmonised throughout the European Union. So SMTG may be tempted to see if they can get one back at Associated by lodging a complaint here with the ASA over any appearance of the word "newspaper" in Associated’s advertising for its UK METROs. It is difficult to see an English tribunal reaching a similar decision, however, though some other UK "newspapers" we won’t mention might fail to meet the high Finnish standard!