A very interesting ASA decision on a solar panels and ‘best’ claims in ads. Omar Bucchioni delivers “renewable” information on the recent ASA adjudication.
Topic: Misleading advertising
When: July 2008
Law stated as at: 20 August 2008
The Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) recently decided on an interesting case concerning “The best solar system on the planet”.
The Advertiser, Valliant Group, (http://www.vaillant.co.uk/about-vaillant/), is an international domestic heating, ventilation and air-conditioning business, headquartered in Rochester, Kent.
Its trade press advertisement for a solar-powered heating system was headlined: “The best solar system on the planet”. Further text gave more information about the advertised system, and stated: “Vaillant solar panels don’t rely on sunshine. They use solar radiation, which penetrates clouds. That’s how they provide 50-60% of all household hot water requirements, helping to keep your customers comfortable all the year round, whatever the weather”.
As published by the ASA in its adjudication reports, the ad was challenged by Worcester Bosch Group (Worcester Bosch) on the basis that it was misleading. Worcester Bosch claimed the phrase ‘The best solar system on the planet’ was a claim of performance and, as a result, it needed to be substantiated.
Fresh Page Ltd, Vaillant Ltd’s agency, responded saying that the phrase was a play on words and that the ad did not attempt to make a comparison with any other products.
In addition, Fresh Page said that the Vaillant Solar Hot Water System had won the H&V News Renewable Product of the Year Award in 2007, that the awards were regarded as the most prestigious in the industry and that they had not yet been superseded by a comparable 2008 award.
They went on saying that the ad had appeared in the trade press and they did not believe the claim would mislead, but would be understood as an expression of competitive spirit rather than an assertion of fact. They also said they believed the joke in the headline made it clear that this was an expression of hyperbole and of opinion.
The ASA decision
The ASA adjudication panel investigated the ad under CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) 7.1 (Truthfulness) 8.1 (Opinion) and 19.1 (Comparisons) but did not find it in breach.
Perhaps surprisingly, the ASA considered the phrase a play on words invoking both the solar powered mechanism and the image of the sun and the planets (the solar system).
Because of that, and because further text in the ad did not make or imply comparisons with other products, the ASA considered that most readers would understand the claim to be an expression of opinion rather than a “best-selling” or comparative performance claim capable of objective substantiation. Therefore the ASA concluded that the claim was unlikely to mislead.
Why this matters:
More than a few people would consider a phrase like “The best solar system on the planet”, used by a solar heating manufacturer, to be essentially factual and capable of objective substantiation. Certainly that was the view the ASA itself took when The Telegraph claimed its website was the ‘number 1′ quality newspaper website. So while the play on words defence apparently worked here, it’s not necessarily one we’d recommend relying on.