A TV ad for the electronics retailer included price claims such as “Save £120. £229. £349″ Higher price 6th-9th Oct. Ends 26 Oct.” The ASA received a complaint challenging these claims as misleading because the lower prices had not been offered for long enough. What was the ASA’s view? George Pearse investigates.
Who: Comet Group plc ("Comet") and the Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA")
Where: United Kingdom
When: 8 February 2012
Law stated as at: 6 March 2012
Comet, the electronics retailer, ran a TV ad on 23rd October 2011 that included a series of discounted products.
The first product featured was a washing machine available for £229. Text adjacent to the image of the machine stated "SAVE £120". Smaller on-screen text stated "£229. £349. Higher price "6th – 19th Oct. Ends 26 Oct".
The second item featured in the ad was a Kodak all in one printer, retailing at £64. The on-screen text stated "£64. £129. Higher price 13th – 19th Oct".
Finally, the third featured product was a LG 50" plasma TV, retailing at £449. In this instance, the on-screen text read "£499. £699. Higher price 13th – 19th Oct."
There were complaints to the ASA that the ad was misleading as to the nature of the price reduction. It was alleged that this was because the products had not been retailed at the higher price for a sufficient period of time.
Comet responded to the complaint by indicating that they had ensured their ad complied with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' ("BIS") Pricing Practices Guide, the governmental issued guidance for traders on good practice in giving information about prices.
Comet felt that they had complied with the guidance about price comparisons by clearly providing details of the time periods within which the higher price was available. Comet claimed that by detailing the prices on screen, together with the relevant dates, consumers would be clear as to the costs involved with the products.
ASA acknowledges importance of BIS Guidance
The ASA acknowledged that use of BIS was to be taken into consideration, in accordance with the BCAP Code. The Guide indicates that a price used as a basis for comparison should be the most recent price available, for at least 28 days or more. Whilst this need not always strictly be the case, the Guide also indicates that price comparisons must be reasonable in terms of time, as well as representing genuine retail prices.
A contributing factor in the decision as to what amounts to 'genuine' is the time period for which goods are on sale at a higher price. It needs to be sufficiently long in order to enable consumers to, firstly, become aware of the offer itself and then secondly, make a decision as to whether to go ahead and purchase the goods.
The ASA ultimately upheld the complaint. Whilst the first product contained a higher price available for 14 days, products two and three had higher prices available for just seven days. The ASA drew a clear distinction between the differing time periods, concluding that the shorter period of just seven days was not sufficiently long to be considered as amounting to a genuine retail price. This absence of genuine comparison in turn meant that Comet were guilty of misleading consumers with their price comparisons. The Ad was held to breach the BCAP Code under rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.18 (Prices) and 3.39 (Price comparisons).
Why this matters:
This adjudication has provided clear authority for marketers making price comparisons in the future. Those running ads featuring such comparisons should ensure that the higher prices have been available for a minimum of 14 days in order to afford consumers sufficient time in which to make an informed decision about their purchase of the product or service.