In three more cases, the ASA has tackled ads where the headline and the rest of the ad don’t quite stack up. If one contradicts the other, then it’s an automatic “complaint upheld” finding.
Topic: Misleading advertising
Who: Abbey National Plc, Northern Rock Plc and My Travel Group Plc t/a Going Places
Where: The Advertising Standards Authority
When: March 2004
No less than three substantial advertisers were hauled up before the non-broadcast advertising regulatory body, the Advertising Standards Authority, for using headlines which turned out to be contradicted by other material in the advertisement. All consequently suffered the fate which awaits all advertisers who make this mistake, namely a "complaint upheld" finding.
Abbey bad habit?
Abbey National Plc sent out a direct mailing for personal loans headlined "a guaranteed loan of £10,000 is waiting for you." On the back of the leaflet, but not cross-referenced with the headline using an asterisk, were various exceptions which indicated that the loan was offered on the basis of the financial relationship the applicant had with the advertisers when the applicant was first selected for the mailing and subject to that relationship not having changed and no adverse information having been discovered in the advertiser's credit search against the applicant's name.
The ASA held that even if there had been a cross-referencing asterisk, the headline, particularly the words "a guaranteed loan" was misleading because the qualifications on the back of the mailing contradicted it.
Northern does not rock
In the case of Northern Rock Plc, a national and regional press ad used the headline "Northern Rock treats all of its customers like a new customer, all of the time." The rest of the copy, however, only referred to mortgage customers, and sure enough, the equal treatment claim in the headline did not apply to other customers of Northern Rock, such as savers. Again the ASA found the advertisement to be misleading, since contrary to the clear message of the headline, only mortgage customers actually benefited from what was being offered.
Going no places
In the last case, My Travel Group, trading as Going Places, was criticised over a magazine ad headlined "Going Places BOOK FOR NOTHING." The text went on "book an Airtours holiday for this Winter or next Summer and clever bookers get all this: pay no deposit, 200,000 free kids' places, no regional flight supplements and choose an early booker bonus.
Various asterisks appeared and these were linked to small print. These indicated that only customers who booked a holiday with Airtours Holiday Plus were required to pay no deposit and that the absence of regional flight supplements was only available on selected flights from selected UK airports. The ASA considered that these exclusions contradicted the broad headline claims and upheld the complaint.
Why this matters:
Although there is often a fine line to be drawn between legitimate qualifying footnotes and those which actually contradict a headline claim, advertisers must continue to take care when marking broad claims, as these cases show.
One particular aspect highlighted here is that any amount of asterisks is not going to prevent a footnote that contradicts the headline from making an advertisement misleading.
It is also clear from these cases that the more absolute and sweeping the headline, the less likely it is that qualifying footnotes will pass muster. Alarm bells should always be ringing therefore, when qualifying footnotes are appearing under headlines featuring words such as "guaranteed", "all" or "no [hidden extras]."