Every batch of Advertising Standards Authority case reports, every fortnight, contains challenged superlative claims. How did ‘First for service’ and ‘The North’s principal auction house’ fare this time around?
Topic: Comparative Advertising
Who: Smiths Group Plc T/A John Crane UK and Motorauctions Leeds Ltd
Where: The Advertising Standards Authority, London
When: October/November 2003
Two advertisers making superlative claims for their businesses fell foul of the CAP Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing.
A competitor of Motorauction Leeds Ltd complained about a regional press advertisement, which stated "The North's Principal Auction House", whilst AES Seal objected to a trade magazine advertisement for John Crane Mechanical Seals, headed "First for service".
In its case, Motorauctions Leeds accepted straight away that it was not the market leading or the busiest auction house in the north. However, it argued that the phrase "The north's principal auction house" did not necessarily convey this message. It also added that the word it had intended to use was in fact "principle", as in "centre of good standards and upholding principles".
The ASA threw out Motorauctions' defences saying that the phrase "The North's Principal Auction House" indicated that the advertisers were market leaders in the north. Since there was no evidence supporting this, the advertising fell foul of the CAP Code and the complaint was upheld.
In its defence to the AES Seal complaint, John Crane put up a host of arguments.
It said that the claim "First for service" was intended to highlight its extensive service network and the opening of several new service centres. It added that once 80 more service centres had been completed by the end of 2003, John Crane would have a more comprehensive network of service centres than any of its competitors. It also argued that it was the recognised global leader in the mechanical seal market and was significantly larger than the complainant, AES Seal. It added that the claim was supported by its reputation as market leader and provided a copy of the Smiths Group's profile and annual review. It added that it had won a grade A excellent supplier award from a Czech Oil Refinery and an award by ABB for its contribution to delivering improved reliability for customers.
The ASA noted all these multifarious submissions, but as none of them supported the contention that John Crane's service standard was higher than that of any its competitors, the claim "First for service" had not been substantiated and the complaint was therefore upheld.
Why this matters:
When advertisers are making any claim to be a superior to their competitors or to be on top of the heap in whatever area of their activities, they should always assume before proceeding to publication that a competitor will query the claim. Then, before publication, they should ensure that they have to hand substantiating evidence for their assertion.
There are some quasi comparative claims which might avoid this problem by being "mere puff" and not being regarded as capable of objective substantiation. The best policy for UK advertisers, however, is to assume as a default that substantiation will be required and if this is not available and there is any doubt, to take advice before publishing.