Bisto complained to the ASA about two ads for competitor Knorr claiming “unbeatable scores for taste, appearance, consistency and aroma.” Did the claims stand up and did the ads disclose enough about their basis? Hannah Willson boards the gravy train and assesses the ASA verdict and the lessons for comparative advertisers.
When: June 2011
Law stated as at: July 2011
Unilever placed two adverts for its Knorr gravy granules in catering magazines which have come under fire from the Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") in a recent adjudication after a complaint from its competitor, Premier Food Groups Limited aka Bisto.
The ads compared Knorr gravy granules to its competitors, only naming Bisto, and stating that when tested it had 'unbeatable scores for taste, appearance, consistency and aroma'.
Bisto complained to the ASA as follows:
1. the comparative claims were misleading and they questioned the substantiation behind them;
2. the ads should have made clear how consumers could verify the featured comparisons; and
3. the comparison of the advertised product to 'Bisto' was misleading because Bisto is a brand name and the ads did not make it clear to which product the specified Bisto comparison was made.
Relevant CAP Code provisions
A summary of the key parts of the Cap Code that are relevant to the complaints are:
– 3.1 – Marketing communications must not mislead or be likely to do so.
– 3.3 – Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information; material information being information that the consumer needs to make an informed decision in relation to a product.
– 3.7 – Marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation, before distribution or submitting a marketing communication. Failure could be considered misleading.
– 3.33 – Marketing communications that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product.
– 3.34 – A comparison must be of products that meet the same need or intended for the same purpose.
– 3.35 – Comparisons must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative features of those products.
Unilever provided a full response to the ASA setting out its arguments why it believed there was no breach of the Cap Code. It included the results of the survey behind the "unbeatable" claims. It had been conducted on a confidential basis by an independent research company, Partner Research, amongst 62 chefs who purchased gravy granules and represented, Unilever claimed, the wider market.
What the ASA said
The ASA upheld the first two complaints, with Unilever's arguments only working for the third complaint relating to the misleading Bisto product.
1. The ASA concluded that the comparison included other products too, some of which ranked above Knorr. Therefore it was misleading to refer to Knorr as being unbeatable. This could not be substantiated by the results provided as it was not possible to ascertain whether Knorr was unbeatable in the individual categories and therefore the complaint was upheld.
2. Despite an asterisk next to the claim directing the reader to small print saying 'Partner Research Jan-April 2010' the ASA upheld the complaint on the second ground as they considered that the small print alone was not sufficient for the reader to be able to verify the results. Therefore the ASA concluded this to be misleading. However the ASA did suggest that the inclusion of a signpost to the means by which the reader could verify the claim, such as a website, would have been sufficient.
3. The ASA considered the market share of Bisto (over 50% of the trade market) and the audience of the ad (trade) and therefore the complaint was not upheld as it was likely to be understood by a trade audience that it was Bisto's gravy granules that were being referred to, being the most equivalent product to Knorr's standard gravy product.
Why this matters:
It may not have been the intention of Unilever to disclose the results of the research behind the claims, and although unnamed, the adjudication indicates that there is a direct competitor to Knorr that did perform better than its own product.
The adjudication also underlines that when referring to research or surveys that allegedly substantiate comparative claims, the name of the research company and a date are unlikely to be sufficient. More acceptable will be the provision of a link to a website, where can be found survey results which clearly substantiate the claim being made. In this case silence as to part of the survey results was considered misleading.
The full ASA adjudication is here.