Was ASDA really ‘Officially Britain’s lowest priced supermarket’? It looked like it by the award it had received from The Grocer. But Tesco complained to the Advertising Standards Authority when ASDA made the claim in advertising and the ASA’s findings underline the dangers of supermarket price claims.
Who: ASDA Group plc
Where: The Advertising Standards Authority
When: August 2005
Tesco Stores Limited objected to three national press ads and a TV commercial for the ASDA supermarket chain. All of the ads in question included a prominent claim to the effect of "Officially Britain's lowest price supermarket for the 7th year running."
Tesco complained to the Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") that the claim was misleading. It said it was based on a limited and unrepresentative survey analysing only 33 items and another survey had actually suggested that Tesco was cheaper. The second complaint was that "officially Britain's lowest price supermarket", especially in conjunction with the phrase "you win every day" in one of the press ads, misleading implied that ASDA was cheaper than all its main competitors for all items at all times. The third complaint was that the use of the term "officially" misleadingly implied that the survey referred to was carried out by a government department.
All complaints upheld
The ASA upheld all three complaints.
On the first complaint, relating to the allegedly limited survey on which the claim was based, ASDA defended on the basis that the survey was in fact very wide-ranging. It covered the price of 33 items at 8 stores per week 48 times a year. This meant that ASDA had in effect won the "Grocer 33" annual award for the cheapest retailer in the UK in June 2004 on the basis of over 12,000 price checks.
The ASA recognised that the Grocer 33 Survey was an independent survey and was respected in the supermarket industry. However it considered that 33 items were not enough to substantiate a general supermarket pricing claim. It was also concerned because the list of items in the basket of goods was known and was therefore vulnerable to price chasing by retailers. There was also a concern over the omission of low cost supermarkets from the survey altogether.
All products cheaper?
On the second complaint the ASA agreed with Tesco that the claim "Officially Britain's lowest priced supermarket" together with "you win every day" implied that a consumer would find all products cheaper at all the advertiser's stores everyday. Since this was clearly not the case, the complaint was again upheld. ~
On the third complaint ASDA defended on the basis that the word "officially" was warranted because the Grocer was considered by the retailing industry to be the "official" authority on all retail matters.
In the context of the TV advertisement, the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre chimed in, the word "official" implied only that there was an authoritative source that backed up the claim, and did not necessarily indicate Government or similar involvement.
The ASA considered all these arguments, but nevertheless took the view that "officially" implied that the survey had been carried out by a government department, public authority, industry body or commercial body whose data commanded near universal acceptance within the industry. Because this was not the case the use of the term "officially" was misleading and again the complaint was upheld.
Why this matters:
Although the ASA's decision on the third complaint in relation to the use of the term "officially" appears a tad harsh, the overall verdict seems sound and justified in the light of the arguments put forward on behalf of ASDA. It also underlines the danger of making broad "lowest price" claims in this sector.