Quoting prices for laptops in ads with long copy dates was asking for trouble, but could small print disclaiming responsibility for errors in typography get the advertiser off the hook?
Where: The Advertising Standards Authority
When: July 2004
The Advertising Standards Authority considered a complaint in respect of a specialist magazine ad for a PC and laptop headlined "Alienware – the ultimate gaming machine". Below a reference to a particular product was the statement "Extreme option at £1899 incl. VAT". The small print immediately below that claim stated "Area 51M Systems starting at: £1499 incl. VAT". The complainant, who was unable to obtain the advertised laptop, challenged whether the product was available at the stated price and specification.
The advertisers admitted that the quoted price was an error and it should have been £2499. They believed that a disclaimer in the ad in small print helped them. This stated "Prices, configurations and availability might change without notice … Alienware cannot be held responsible for errors in photography and typography". They believed this covered them against mistakes of this kind.
The ASA disagreed. It believed the disclaimer did not relieve the advertisers of their responsibility to ensure that claims in advertisements were true. The ASA also asked Alienware to avoid advertising prices that changed from month to month in media with long copy deadlines and to ensure that they had documentary evidence for price claims in future ads.
Why this matters:
The underlying messages of this case are clear: advertisers must avoid quoting in media with long copy dates prices for products which might fluctuate in the short term. Also they cannot expect broadly worded disclaimers to get them out of jail when price claims quickly go out of date.