A website for “Moonlight Apartment”, a “luxurious” “alternative to Durham hotels,” had a “Testimonial” page with a link to TripAdvisor reviews. Below this was a review taken from TripAdvisor. “Proof of Quality” service provider KwikChex challenged the genuineness of one of these. Tom Harding reports the ASA verdict.
Topic: Social media
Who: Moonlight apartment Durham and the Advertising Standards Authority
When: April 2012
Law stated as at: 8 May 2012
The ASA recently ruled on a complaint by "Proof of Quality" service provider KwikChex Ltd against Moonlight Apartment Durham ("MAD") regarding their use on their own website of a review taken straight from TripAdvisor.
MAD is (according to its website) 'Durham's most luxurious self-catering apartment', featuring such things as a 'ridiculously well-equipped designer kitchen'. Alongside having a TripAdvisor widget linking to reviews of the apartment, MAD also pulled out a particular review from TripAdvisor and used in on its 'Testimonials' page.
The review in question stated "…This TripAdvisor Member: Liked ? Location, personal attention to details Disliked ? nothing Mazza08 Dubai, September 2008". KwikChex challenged whether MAD could substantiate whether this particular review was genuine.
Mad for it
Rule 3.45 of the CAP Code requires advertisers to hold documentary evidence that testimonials used are genuine and contact details for the people that give them. In response to the complaint, MAD submitted that they were not responsible for the content of TripAdvisor's website, and had made it clear on their site that this is where the review came from.
MAD also said that as many of TripAdvisor's reviewers were anonymous, it was not always possible to identity them
However, MAD had nonetheless only had one visitor from Dubai during the relevant period, so believed they could identify the reviewer. Following the complaint, MAD had in fact contacted 'Mazza08 Dubai' who confirmed they had posted the review on TripAdvisor.
The ASA upheld the complaint. Whilst noting that the review has come from TripAdvisor, when it had been incorporated on MAD's website, the content became 'under their control' at that point and they were responsible for its CAP Code compliance.
The ASA did acknowledge that following the complaint, the testimonial had in fact been verified, but (arguably somewhat harshly) took the view that 'prior to reproducing the review on the website, MAD was not sure of the identity or contact details of the reviewer and did not hold documentary evidence to substantiate that the testimonial was genuine …. MAD should have held the relevant contact details … before they reproduced it [our emphasis added].
The ASA therefore found MAD had breached rule 3.45 of the CAP Code, as well as rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation), and ordered MAD not to incorporate testimonials into their advertising unless they held documentary evidence that they were genuine, and contact details for the people who gave them, before publication.
Why this matters:
Whilst it is hard not to have some sympathy with MAD here as they ultimately substantiated the review, this case serves as a stern reminder of the importance of being able to substantiate reviews and testimonials before publication.
The case also highlights the difficulties of using websites like TripAdvisor to obtain materials for advertising and marketing, where the source of those materials may be uncertain (alongside often actually being prohibited by site rules form doing so in the first place which was also the case here).
As with all marketing materials, the fact that the content is derived from an external source (including user generated content) will not prevent it from being under an advertisers 'control' and therefore within the CAP Code remit.