A viewer challenged this big claim in a TV ad for a Metrocentre shopping centre. Metrocentre had substantiation of a sort, but did it satisfy the Advertising Standards Authority? Their view was that “the survey did support the claim”. So how come the complaint was still upheld? Mark Smith goes shopping.
Who: Capital Shopping Centres plc t/a Metrocentre
When: January 2011
Where: Advertising Standards Authority
Law stated as at: 2 February 2011
Capital Shopping Centres plc, which trades as the well known Metrocentre shopping centre in Gateshead, has been found by the ASA to be in breach of the BCAP Code following its use of the claim "Britain's Best Shopping Centre" in a local TV ad.
The TV ad
The Metrocentre advert appeared on regional ITV and showed a montage of clips of shoppers and the facilities on offer. A voice-over stated "Officially Britain's best shopping centre… Metrocentre" and on-screen text stated "Metrocentre Britain's Best Shopping Centre".
One viewer complained to the ASA challenging whether the claim "Britain's Best Shopping Centre" was misleading and could be substantiated.
In their responses to the ASA's investigation both Metrocentre and ITV pointed to "Going Shopping 2008 – The Definitive Guide to Shopping Centres" a survey carried out by Trevor Woods Associates, which has awarded Metrocentre the accolade of "Britain's Best Shopping Centre". Trevor Woods Associates, which ITV explained is the leading information provider to the UK retail and property industries, carries out the survey every two years or so, with the most recent survey being that from 2008 at the time the advert was shown. Both Metrocentre and ITV were happy that the evidence from the survey supported the claim.
The ASA considered that the claim "Officially Britain's best shopping centre" was an objective claim capable of substantiation and, alongside the imagery in the advert showing customers enjoying various retail, catering and leisure facilities, would be understood by consumers to mean that Metrocentre had been assessed alongside other British shopping centres and rated the best in terms of facilities on offer and customers' overall experience.
The Going Shopping survey assessed a number of factors considered to be attractive to shoppers, investors and retailers, awarding points for all of the factors it took into consideration and then ranking the centres by overall attractiveness. In the survey in 2008, Metrocentre was awarded the most points and duly finished top of the pile. While the ASA considered that some features on which the shopping centres were rated would be more relevant to investors (e.g. store turnover) those features were still important for consumers and their overall experience in the shopping centre. On that basis, the ASA came to the conclusion that the survey was sufficient to support the "Britain's Best Shopping Centre" claim.
However, the ASA noted that the survey on which the claim was based was published in 2008. Although it was the most recent edition, the ASA felt that this information, along with information about who had carried out the survey, was important information likely to affect consumers' understanding of the claim and should have been made clear in the ad. It therefore breached BCAP Code rules 5.1.1 and 5.1.2 (Misleading advertising) and 5.4.6 (Comparative advertising).
Why this matters:
This case provides a reminder of the importance of providing relevant information about survey evidence referred to in advertisements, even where that evidence itself is found to be robust.
A simple on-screen message "Survey carried out by Trevor Woods Associates in 2008" would have likely allowed Metrocentre to escape the wrath of the ASA on this occasion.