AOL was not impressed with press ads featuring “easy”‘s Stelios tearing up the AOL brand and promoting easyEverything cafes.
Who: easyEverything and AOL
When: When: December 2001
In a regional press ad for easyEverything internet cafes, easy group founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou was shown in the act of tearing up a sheet of paper carrying the AOL brand and the words “AOL Subscription.” The headline read “Stelios says: Tear up your AOL account” The copy suggested visiting easyEverything cafes, which avoided the cost of owning a PC and paying BT £40 a month for broadband access, with unlimited internet access at the cafes just £15 a month.
AOL objected under the comparative advertising section of the British Code of Advertising. They said the ad was unfairly denigratory of their logo in the tearing-up shot and exploited the goodwill attached to the AOL service. They also argued that the comparison was misleading in that whilst £15 bought a limited pass to easy cafes, AOL’s service was home or office-based and provided proprietary content not available to easy café visitors. The ASA considered that the location of Internet access and how it was provided were fundamental to the type of service. This meant that, in context, easy was comparing apples with pears and giving the easy product an artificial advantage.
On the “tearing-up” visual, the ASA felt that the unfairness of the comparison rendered the ad denigratory and the tearing up was unfair denigration and exploitation of the AOL brand. So the complaint was upheld on both counts.
Why this matters:
Increasingly in its findings in respect of knocking copy, the ASA has been taking on board the concepts of the Comparative Advertising Directive, brought into force in the UK getting on for two years ago now. The Directive provides that only products meeting the same needs can be compared and here we see an application of that approach. Stelios has, following the decision, suggested the ASA is incapable of standing up to big media interests and should be scrapped. The ASA’s director general Chris Graham has politely pointed out to Stelios that his attitude to the ASA was rather different earlier in 2001 when the boot was on the other foot and he was seeking the ASA’s help in adjudicating an easyJet complaint in respect of advertising for the “Go” low budget airline.