Two leading national homeware retailers have been at each others’ throats for years over comparative advertising focusing on pricing. Here, it was Homebase complaining about B&Q and a price pledge.
Who: B&Q plc
Where: The Advertising Standards Authority
When: March 2004
Yet again, two of the country's leading homewares retailers were at loggerheads in front of the ASA. This time it was Homebase complaining about national press advertising for B&Q headlined "B&Q savings on Homebase prices. Judge these."
The ad showed 6 products with the B&Q prices, the Homebase prices and the difference. At the bottom of the ad it stated "We won't be beaten on price. See in store for details" and "ALWAYS THE LOWEST PRICE. If you find any product even 1p cheaper anywhere else, we will refund the difference and give you an extra 10% off the lower price."
The first Homebase complaint was that the headline "B&Q savings on Homebase prices. Judge these" misleadingly implied that the advertiser's prices were generally cheaper. This complaint was rejected because the headline was specifically limited by use of the words "judge these," with the 6 deals which were then detailed.
B&Q did not do so well on the second complaint. This was that the claim "Always the lowest price" was misleading because for many products outside the 6 listed, it was the Homebase price that was lower than that of B&Q and not the other way around.
B&Q effectively admitted this, but said that the price promise made the headline sustainable.
The ASA disagreed. They felt that the claim "Always the lowest price" was equivalent to a lowest price guaranteed claim, meaning that all of the advertiser's prices were always lower than their competitors, regardless of the price promise. Such a claim, the ASA went on, could only be sustained if it was backed up by a price monitoring and adjustment policy on all of the advertiser's products, to ensure that they always offered the lowest price. Because B&Q did not have such a monitoring and adjustment policy that covered all of their products, the ASA had to conclude that the claim was misleading and uphold the complaint.
Why this matters:
Judging how to pitch a price promise in a retail ad headline without overstepping the mark is a continuing challenge for advertisers. The benchmark for such claims continues to be the masterful John Lewis phrase "Never knowingly undersold." This is a supremely neat combination of an apparently wide-ranging and attractive price commitment, which is presumably not over-burdensome for the retailer.
One of the tricks that the John Lewis phrase deploys is the use of the word "sold" as opposed to "price." By emphasising the level at which the article in question is actually sold to the consumer, it neatly positions the pledge as applying at the point of the sale of the product, after the possible application of the price promise, instead of at the "front end," namely the price at which the product is available on the shelf in the shop.
The use of the word "knowingly" also concisely introduces another qualifier which doesn't actually seem like one.
If all retailers wanting to make low price claims took a leaf out of John Lewis's book, the ASA's annual caseload for retail advertising would probably be significantly reduced.