Qantas’s claim was just asking to be challenged and sure enough it came before the Advertising Standards Authority. But how do you measure experience, and if KLM was founded a year earlier how does that work? Frances Vickery reports.
Topic: Comparative advertising
When: November 2008
Law stated as at: December 2008
Qantas launched a television and poster advertising campaign which was challenged by viewers and readers who felt the adverts were misleading.
The television advert stated that ‘Qantas, the Australian airline is also the world’s most experienced airline having flown continuously for over 87 years. That’s longer than any other airline and it shows our customer service and operational excellence. Qantas, the world’s most experienced airline’.
The poster campaign used the strapline ‘the world’s most experienced airline’.
The basis of the complaints included that there were other airlines founded before Qantas and that it was not the most experienced as experience should be measured on flying hours.
Under the BCAP Code, TV adverts should not be misleading (rule 5.1) and should be supported by adequate evidence (rule 5.2.1). If there is a comparative element to the advert, there must be no realistic likelihood that viewers will be misled as a result of the comparison.
In defending the claims about having flown ‘longer than any other airline’, Qantas (acronym buffs take note: short for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd ) produced research in relation to other long-running airlines, namely KLM and AVIANCA and pointed out that although KLM was established a year before Qantas, there had been periods when it ceased flying in the 1940s. It also said that although AVIANCA had been founded as SCADTA the year before Qantas, it had been the subject of a number of mergers and so had only flown continuously since the 1940s.
To defend its position on being the most experienced airline, Qantas pointed to:
- the diverse network of domestic and international services, being one of the only airlines to operate a domestic service in a non-home market (New Zealand)
- the world firsts it had achieved including, the longest flight over water in 1928, the world’s longest air route in 1947, first around-the-world flight in 1958 and first business-class travel in 1979;
- its commercial and technical innovations relating to aircraft safety;
- the fact that they were the only airline to have built and flown its own aircraft;
- its excellent customer service record as demonstrated by being listed as one of the world’s top five favourite airlines in the Skytrax Work Airline Awards for the previous six years;
- its safety record in having no fatalities for jet operations;
Qantas stated that the elements above, combined with the fact that they had continuous experience of 87 years, meant that the advertising campaign was not misleading.
The CAP Code requires that the advert is capable of substantiation (rule 3.1), that it is truthful (rule 7.1) and that comparisons should be clear and fair (rule 19.1).
The same arguments were made in defence of the poster advert as the TV advert above in defending the position that it was the ‘most experienced airline’.
The ASA did not uphold the complaint that Qantas had been flying ‘longer than any other airline’ was misleading. It noted that there were other airlines that had been established before Qantas but these had not flown continuously which was included in the wording of the advert. It therefore felt that viewers were unlikely to be misled into thinking they were the longest-established airline.
Nor did the ASA uphold the complaint about Qantas’ experience claim. It did not feel that flight hours were a suitable measure, it being a more appropriate measure for pilots than the airline itself. The ASA felt that Qantas provided sufficient evidence to support the breadth of experience of the airline and that it was the longest continuously operating airline.
Why this matters:
The ASA’s decision illustrates the importance of being able to substantiate superlative claims in comparative advertising. In this case Qantas was able to provide a significant number of reasons why it reasonably believed itself to be the ‘most experienced airline’ and with persuasive supporting evidence won the day.