B&Q’s recent snipe at Homebase price reductions would put Anne Robinson to shame, but backfired with a “complaint upheld” ASA finding.
Topic: Comparative Advertising
Who: B&Q plc and Homebase Limited
When: The Advertising Standards Authority, London
Where: January 2003
Homebase Limited objected to a national press ad for a B&Q store. The ad was headlined "Homebase lowered their higher prices on these products to compare them to ours. The next thing they did was to put them up again". Also in the ad were parts of an earlier Homebase advertisement showing the two paint products in question and the "before and after" prices for the products charged by Homebase and B&Q.
Homebase complained about the ad to the Advertising Standards Authority on three counts. First of all, they complained that it misleadingly implied they had increased prices immediately after they published the ad mentioned by B&Q. Secondly, they complained that the B&Q ad denigrated them because it implied that they had used "unfair trading practices". Thirdly, they complained that the B&Q ad misleadingly implied that Homebase had reduced the price of Crown Breatheasy paint only to compare it with the advertised price and not, which in fact was the case, part of a general "one third off" sales promotion.
Homebase's complaints were upheld on all three counts. B&Q produced evidence to the Advertising Standards Authority that Homebase's price for Crown Breatheasy paints had fluctuated over a period of months, but Homebase's own evidence clearly showed that the one third off price (which B&Q suggested Homebase had immediately put back up again to the full price after the relevant ad appeared) had in fact continued to apply for some 5 weeks after publication of the advertisement.
On the third complaint (that the B&Q ad misleadingly implied that the only reason Homebase had reduced its Crown Breatheasy paint price by one third was to compare it with B&Q's higher price) Homebase produced evidence that the one-third off reduction was in fact part of a wider "one third off" sales promotion covering a number of products. B&Q not surprisingly said that they were unaware of this and quite reasonably came to the conclusion that they did as to the reason for the "one third off" reduction. The Advertising Standards Authority upheld the complaint and told B&Q to refrain from assertions like this unless they were sure of their facts.
Why this matters:
The B&Q ad complained of here was pretty strong stuff. In the light of this, it is perhaps surprising that pre-publication, the factual basis was not apparently researched as well as it might have been. Particularly since the advent of statutory controls on comparative advertising by way of the 2000 changes to the 1988 Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations, advertisers indulging in careless knocking copy can expect little indulgence from the regulators and commensurate care with clearance procedures therefore has to be the best policy.
The wider point coming out of this is that it is much less surprising than it would have been five years ago that Homebase went to the Advertising Standards Authority over this as opposed to a court of law.
Over the 3½ years of marketinglaw's life, we have repeatedly reported on failed attempts to sue comparative advertisers in the courts, whilst the self-regulatory Advertising Standards Authority continually takes a much more restrictive view of what should and should not be permissible by way of knocking copy.
In order to bring this complaint before the Advertising Standards Authority, Homebase will have had to give an undertaking not to issue legal proceedings against B&Q over the ad during the period in which the Advertising Standards Authority processed the complaint. As a result of opting to use the self-regulatory process, however, Homebase has clearly won out in terms of getting a relatively quick and (for it) satisfactory result, which has received a far amount of national press publicity.