Topic: Misleading advertising
Who: Contemporary Oak Furniture Ltd, ASA
When: 23 January 2013
Law stated as at: 27th February
A countdown suggests an offer’s rarity and urgency, stimulating the desire and inducing fear to miss a good buy. With this simple technique, the consumer is seduced into making a purchase in a hurry. Marketers all over the virtual world use this effect by installing good visible countdown timers on the company’s website.
This happened on the Contemporary Oak Furniture’s site. Its online ad stated as follows:
“HUGE SUMMER SALE NOW ON. EVERYTHING 50% OFF OR MORE! EXTRA 10% OFF SELECTED ITEMS”
The ad also contained a box with a countdown timer alongside the words “Sale ends soon!”
In this case, the Advertising Standards Authority investigated a challenge to this advertising as it was suggested that it was misleading because the complainant suspected that as soon as the countdown timer got down to zero, it reset and started counting down again.
The advertiser stated that the timer did not reset when it reached zero, but they normally started a new promotion the day after a
Contemporary Oak Furniture (COF)pointed out that they always provided more information by a link within the countdown timer image so that consumers could see the details of the current promotion.
The “10% off” promotion was on for three days, starting on 11 September and finished on 13 September. Similar to this, “10% off” promotions had been shown before but with one crucial difference: Those had involved different products, based on the respective stock that COF had at the time. Therefore, the promotions would change over time, Contemporary Oak Furniture stated.
The ASA upheld the complaint.
They noted that on one day, the complainant had seen an ad with less than 24 hours left on the timer and then again on the following day the same promotion with more time added. The ASA explained that they have also observed such an increase to the countdown timer’s time as it approached zero.
Importantly on both occasions, the promotion referred to there being 50% or more off “everything”.
In contrast to COF’s assertion, the 10% discount on selected items would relate to different product sets, the ASA focused on the impression that the main promotional claim, offering a discount of at least 50% off “everything”, related to the entire product base.
The ASA requested therefore further sales information to show that the products in question had been sold at the higher price, but what
they got was just the provision of a spreadsheet which showed stock levels in the days leading up to 13 September. It did not show any pricing or sales information.
Therefore, in the absence of suitable documentary evidence, the ASA concluded that COF had failed to demonstrate that the ad had not
misleadingly exaggerated the time-limited nature of the promotion.
As a result they considered a break of CAP CODE (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.31 (Availability).
Why this matters:
COF was told to remove the promotion. Advertisers should be wary of misleadingly suggesting, in any way, that an offer will only be available for a short time.
They should also bear in mind that “falsely stating that a product will only be available for a very limited time or that it will only be available on particular times for a very limited time” is a criminal offence under Para.7 of Schedule 1 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading regulations 2008.