The ASA is still wearily policing unsubstantiated “No 1″ claims in advertising.
Topic: Comparative advertising
Who: The Advertising Standards Authority and Brodex Limited/Thomson Holidays trading as Portland Direct/Argos trading as jungle.com
Where: The UK
When: July 2001
The Advertising Standards Authority has recently upheld complaints in respect of "Number 1" or "first" claims by three advertisers, all of whom had different interpretations of the meaning of such claims. In the Argos/jungle.com case a magazine advertisement for computer products claimed "first for service". A complainant who had experienced difficulties with jungle's service challenged the claim. Argos/jungle asserted that the complainant had only experienced problems because of the introduction of new improved systems for handling orders and only 1.44% of orders had been adversely affected by this process. The ASA, however, said that this was not enough and that a claim to be "first for service" had to be capable of objective substantiation. The evidence needed should indicate that jungle's standards of service were higher than those of their competitors, and in the absence of any such evidence the complaint had to be upheld.
Brodex claimed, in the context of window-cleaning machines, to be "the UK's Number 1". Defending the claim following a complaint being received by the Advertising Standards Authority, Brodex asserted that "the UK's Number 1" claim was "subjective" and could refer either to a company which might happen to sell more machines than its competitors or to a company whose product was of better quality than those of its competitors. The ASA disagreed, holding that a claim to be "the UK's Number 1" carried with it a clear implication of market leadership. Without evidence of this, therefore, the complaint in respect of the claim had to be upheld.
Brodex's defence was echoed by that of Thomson/Portland. The ASA invited them to comment on a complaint over their claim in a holiday brochure to be "the UK's Number 1 direct holiday company". Just like Brodex, Thomson/Portland claimed that the words were not "capable of objective substantiation and meant different things to different people". They believed the "Number 1" claim was a "consensual" claim intended to indicate that a product was generally the leading one in its field and that many factors contributed to that, of which they sent a list. Again the ASA disagreed, holding that to be able to make a claim such as "the UK's Number 1 direct holiday company" the advertiser needed to provide evidence that it sold more holidays direct than any of its competitors. In the absence of this, the complaint was upheld.
Why this matters:
Comparative claims still form a significant proportion of the “complaint upheld” findings reported by the ASA each fortnight when its new complaint reports go on-line. It is particularly striking that significant companies with substantial marketing budgets and access to top quality marketing expertise should continue to make elementary errors of the kind exemplified in these reports. Claims to be "top", "Number 1" or "first" in one's field, clearly stand a high risk of being scrutinised by competitors and referred to the Advertising Standards Authority whenever there is the slightest doubt about their accuracy. Those wishing to make such claims need to have evidence showing market leadership in their possession before any advertising which contains the claim is published.