National press ads proclaimed: “Tesco British Iceberg. Goes from farm to store within 24 hours. So one day it’s in the field. The next day it’s in your salad.” Sainsbury’s crisply challenged the claim in a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, but Tesco defended stoutly. Hannah Willson reports on the verdict.
Who: Tesco and the Advertising Standards Authority
When: December 2011
Law stated as at: 3 January 2012
Tesco promised in advertising that it could get its iceberg lettuce 'from farm to store within 24 hours' but after a complaint from supermarket rival, Sainsbury's, the Advertising Standards Authority had to step in and investigate.
The complaint centred on the claim that the iceberg lettuce would be in-store within 24 hours, but the question was 24 hours from when? Sainsbury's thought the ad misleadingly implied that it was from when the lettuce was picked from the field; after all, the ad did go on to say "So one day it's in the field. The next it's in your salad".
Tesco acknowledged that it was only able to control the time period between the farm and store and therefore the 24 hours ran from when the iceberg lettuce left the farm. They went on to say that the fact that a field of lettuce can take some time to pick meant that Tesco were unable to control if the lettuce had been picked within 24 hours of it appearing in-store. The statement – from field to salad – Tesco considered as mere puffery and therefore did not require objective substantiation. Tesco addressed the issue of delayed delivery due to unforeseen circumstances in the small print at the bottom of the ad but stated in its response to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that it did not consider that the time the lettuce was picked was relevant to the claim made.
The ASA upheld the complaint on the grounds that it breached Cap Code (12th edition) rule 3.1 (misleading advertising) and 3.7 (inadequate substantiation).
Although the ASA acknowledged that the claim 'one day it's in the field. The next it's in your salad' was mere puffery it went on to say that, viewing the ad as a whole, the second statement qualified the 24 hour claim. Therefore the ASA considered that the consumer was likely to consider the 24 hour claim as commencing from when the iceberg lettuce was picked. As this was not the case the complaint was upheld and Tesco was directed that the ad must not appear in the same format again.
Why this matters:
The verdict in this case highlights the importance of ensuring that not only individual statements in ads are substantiated and not misleading but that they must also be considered in light of other statements within the same creative, and in some instances also taking into account images that appear next to text (although this was not an issue with this ad). So although in isolation a statement may be considered to be mere puffery in context it could take on additional meaning needing substantiation.