Luxury watch brands Tag-heuer and Breitling both asked the ASA not to take literally their “ultra precise”/”100% precision” watch ad copy. Was the ASA going to be 100% literal in how it interpreted the ads in question?
Topic: Misleading advertising
Who: The Advertising Standards Authority, TWG Distribution Limited T/A Breitling SA and LVMH Watch and Jewellery UK Limited T/A Tag-Heuer Watches
When: October 2002
A brace of magazine advertisements for premium brand watches suffered "complaint upheld" findings before the Advertising Standards Authority. In both cases the advertising claims in question appear to relate to the precision and accuracy of the product being advertised. The Tag-Heuer advertisement featured a photograph of F1 driver David Coulthard and included the words "what are you made of" and "100% precision".
The complainant found that the secondhand of his Tag-Heuer watch did not match exactly with the minute markers as it rotated. He did not regard this as "100% precision" and complained to the ASA. Tag-Heuer insisted in their reply that the "100% precision" claim related to David Coulthard, not to the watch. They also referred to other advertisements in the campaign which were in a similar vein. The ASA took a different view and held that readers would infer that the "100% precision" claim referred to the watch being advertised. As Tag-Heuer had not substantiated that claim by explaining away the alleged imprecision of the secondhand, the advertisement was likely to mislead and the complaint was therefore upheld.
The Breitling advertisement referred to a "single minded commitment to building ultra-precise and ultra-reliable wrist instruments intended for the most demanding professionals". Having been told by the advertisers themselves that the watches did in fact operate to within a 10 second tolerance each day, the complainant challenged the claim.
In its defence Breitling referred to the Mechanical Watch Standards set by the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute, whose 7 precision criteria had all been passed by the watch being advertised, despite the 10 seconds a day tolerance. Breitling also referred to the inevitable gains or losses in time in response to variables, caused for example by arm movements, which occurred with even the highest quality mechanical (as opposed to quartz) watches. The ASA understood and accepted all of this, but it did not dissuade it from its view that in the context, "ultra precise" turned out not to be 100% true. The claim was misleading therefore and should not in future be made in relation to mechanical as opposed to quartz watches.
Why this matters:
These ASA adjudications appear on the face of it to be somewhat harsh. In both cases the alleged imprecision did not even approach a level which most would regard as in any way preventing the instruments from performing their proper purpose. On the other hand, having taken it upon themselves to make pinpoint-precise claims to "100% precision" or being "ultra precise", the advertisers cannot have been too surprised to have had the same 100% literal standard applied to those claims.
In past marketinglaw.co.uk reports, we have noted very different views to those of the ASA which have in recent years been taken by Chancery Judges in litigation over ads. M'Lords have forthrightly and consistently held that UK consumers do not take advertising claims literally and that in consequence advertisers should not be castigated at law for falling marginally short of substantiating any literal interpretation that can be placed on their advertising claims. Here the ASA confirms once again that it is not prepared to take such a flexible view, and advertisers, particularly makers of watches and other precision instruments, should take heed.