In two recent cases, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld complaints in respect of headline price claims that excluded charges buyers would have to pay in order to get the product advertised. We report on the travails of Red Rat Leisure and Fitness First.
Who: Fitness First Plc and Red Rat Leisure
Where: The Advertising Standards Authority
When: May 2004
Two advertisers had complaints against them upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority for failing to mention the full price of the product being offered.
Fitness First Plc published a leaflet for a gym. The leaflet claimed on the front "Joining fee £100 now £20*…" The £100 figure was crossed out. The claim was asterisked to a small footnote on the back of the leaflet that stated "£30 admin fee applies…"
The complainant objected that the leaflet was misleading because the quoted joining fee did not include the £30 administration fee.
In their defence, the advertisers said that they had not tried to conceal the admin fee, which was stated clearly on the back of the leaflet.
They said that the asterisk appearing against the £20 was a clear sign that further conditions applied. The advertisers believed readers were likely to read the whole leaflet, especially when an asterisk followed a claim. Before joining the club, the advertiser went on, all potential members consulted a sales rep, who made clear the requirement to pay an admin fee as a condition of membership. They also maintained that the "joining fee" as mentioned in the ad was quite separate from the admin fee.
The ASA felt that the front of the leaflet implied that readers could join the gym for £20 only, and regardless of asterisks, because they would have to pay an additional compulsory charge of £30, the Authority considered that the leaflet was misleading and upheld the complaint.
In the second execution, the advertiser was Red Rat Leisure of Horbury in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. They published a regional press ad for a computer fair that stated "Red Rat Computer Fair Huddersfield cartridges four for £10 10% off with this ad….HUDDERSFIELD SPORTS CENTRE Sunday February 15 10am-3pm…"
The complainant objected that the advertisement was misleading because it did not state that a £2.50 entrance fee was charged at the door of the event.
Red Rat sought to defend on the basis that all would be aware that with exhibitions of this kind, an entrance fee would be charged. The ASA was unmoved and took the view that because consumers who wanted to buy the listed products at the prices shown in the ads were also required to pay an entrance fee for the event, the advertisement was misleading. Red Rat Leisure were told they must ensure future adverts make clear that an entry fee applies.
In both cases, the advertiser was advised to consult the CAP copy advice team before advertising again.
Why this matters:
It is critical that, particularly where specific savings are being offered in advertising, any additional compulsory charge over and above the basic charge for the product or service is clearly mentioned and not asterisked to a place away from the headline. As the ASA indicated in its decisions in these cases, the "headline price" quoted in any price comparison should include all compulsory charges.