Once again environmental claims encounter heavy weather in front of the Advertising Standards Authority, and careful wording didn’t pass muster for the advertiser.
Topic: Misleading advertising
Who: Sainsbury's and the ASA
When: March 2001
National press and magazine advertising for Sainsbury's carried a picture of two apples, one with a ladybird sitting on it headed "countryside" and the other without the cuddly insect headed "pesticide". The body copy said that "at Sainsbury's, British fruit and vegetables are grown with a commitment to using more natural farming methods".
A complaint was made to the ASA on the basis that so far as the complainant was aware, Sainsbury's still allowed their UK fruit suppliers to use pesticides and artificial fertilizers. In their reply Sainsbury's admitted this, but said that saying they were "committed to using more natural methods" was not the same as saying that they only dealt with suppliers who used those methods. They provided evidence of how they were encouraging more environmentally responsible farming amongst their suppliers. The ASA was not persuaded, however. They felt that the combination of the imagery and the copy were at least ambiguous as to whether all methods used by Sainsbury's fruit and vegetable suppliers were truly "natural". The complaint was upheld.
Why this matters:
Environmental claims in advertising have long stood a much higher chance of being noticed by interest groups and challenged. Advertisers should not, moreover, assume that the ASA will be a push-over when it comes to convincing them that the advertiser should get the benefit of the doubt in the interpretation of carefully chosen weasel words.