When Tesco claimed to be the “best value” supermarket, did they really have to prove that their prices were the cheapest?
Topic: Comparative advTopic: Comparative advertising
Who: Tesco and the Advertising Standards Authority
When: 31 July 2002
The ASA received a complaint from Norwich in respect of a Tesco brochure entitled "Price News". The headline on the front page was "Find out for yourself why Tesco is Britain's best value supermarket." Other phrases that appeared included "£1 billion off! 1,000's of Products Now Cheaper" "knock years of your shopping bill" "no other supermarket is more committed to cutting prices" "the cheapest don't come any cheaper" and "we won't be beaten by any other supermarket's own label value range". One of the complaints was that the "best value supermarket" headline was simply not true. This was because the complainant did not believe that Tesco were the cheapest for a standard or typical grocery shopping basket.
Tesco defended on the basis that the "best value" claim was not based on specific prices alone, but also referred to their wider range of customer benefits and services generally, which they believed none of their competitors could match. They said they were able to make this assertion on the basis of their own monitoring of 10,000 supermarket prices each week, as well as published competitors' prices on-line.
These factors as well as what they asserted to be "an unsurpassed product range", enabled them, they said, to assert that they were "Britain's best value supermarket" without being misleading. No supporting evidence for any of the above assertions was provided, however, and this proved their undoing. The ASA considered that in the context of a brochure entitled "Price News", focusing on price comparisons and stating that "no other supermarket is more committed to cutting prices," readers could reasonably assume from the "best value" claim that Tesco offered the lowest prices. Without supporting evidence for this, the complaint had to be upheld.
Why this matters:
In the light of this finding by the ASA, all those who thought that "value" claims were in the category of "mere puff" and did not need to have specific substantiation may need to think again. Clearly it depends on the context, and the ASA were clearly heavily swayed here by the strong focus of the marketing piece in question on prices as opposed to the other services and customer benefits which, in their response, Tesco sought to put forward as substantiating the claim in question, albeit without separate corroborating evidence. Also the use of the words "best value " was almost bound to attract a challenge from either a competitor or a consumer.
So in future marketers contemplating the use of "value" claims should think about the context in which the claim is being made before assuming that they cannot be called upon to substantiate their "top value" headlines. It is also worth noting here that the ASA's fairly tough attitude to this complaint might have been inspired by the EU-driven comparative advertising regulations which came into force in the UK nearly 2 years ago now are slowly but surely beginning to bite.