Ocado claimed to be the only grocery deliverer offering one hour time slots and delivery straight to the kitchen. Food Ferry of central London said they had been doing both for years. Ocado said Food Ferry were too small to be relevant. Did the ASA agree?
Topic: Comparative advertising
Who: Ocado Limited and the Food Ferry Co Limited
Where: The Advertising Standards Authority
When: October 2004
Waitrose's on-line direct to your door grocery service Ocado recently came a cropper over two posters for its shopping delivery service.
One was headed "Well butter my bottom and call me a biscuit" and stated "Only Ocado delivers your groceries in handy one hour time slots." The other was headlined "We boldly go where no delivery man has gone before" and stated "We carry your groceries straight to your kitchen."
The complainants were the Food Ferry Co Limited who said they had been delivering into kitchens since 1999 and also delivered groceries in one hour time slots.
The ASA felt the Food Ferry Co Limited claims had merit and invited Ocado's comments.
Ocado defended "the only company offering one hour time slots" claim on the basis that because the comparative ad rules required comparisons to be "like with like", it was not appropriate to compare their services (which were more aligned with those of national supermarket chains like ASDA, Iceland, Sainsbury's and Tesco) with a Central London-only based operation, which, given its allegedly limited range of products and its specialisation in gourmet and corporate foods, was more of a delicatessen or specialist food shop than an on-line supermarket.
It was because of this, Ocado argued, that although they accepted that Food Ferry delivered in one hour time slots, their own claim could not be regarded as contrary to the code.
The ASA noted Ocado's comments but it did not regard the services offered by the Food Ferry as so different from those available from Ocado. Accordingly, because the Ocado advertising did not make it clear that it was comparing its services only with national supermarkets, the claim was misleading and could no longer be made in that form. Ocado was also advised to seek help from the CAP copy advice team in future.
As regards the "delivery into the kitchen" claim, Ocado defended not only on the basis of the doomed "not like for like" argument already used on the one hour time slot complaint. They also argued that the combination of the picture of a man in a spacesuit and the jokey derivative headline "We boldly go where no delivery man has gone before" was advertising puff. It was therefore an obvious exaggeration, they argued, and was unlikely to be interpreted literally.
The ASA noted the intended humour of the poster but considered that most readers would interpret the claim to imply that Ocado was the only company to deliver groceries into customers' kitchens. Since Food Ferry were doing exactly the same thing and had been for some while, the claim was again misleading and had to be discontinued.
Why this matters:
Making specific claims to be the only business in the sector that offers a particular service, no matter how humorously conveyed, are always going to be a high risk enterprise. It is quite right that both the CAP Code and the legal regulations governing comparative advertising in the UK make it clear that comparative advertising must only be comparisons of services or products meeting the same needs. However this is not going to be construed over restrictively by regulators and advertisers seeking to make this category of claim must either do their homework properly or qualify the claims appropriately.