Ryanair and Best Western recently came croppers before the Advertising Standards Authority over seasonal price promotions. So what’s wrong with ‘Summer prices’ available until May?
Who: The Advertising Standards Authority, Ryanair and Best Western Northwick Hotel
When: April/May 2005
Just how careful do advertisers have to be when promoting seasonal offers? The point recently arose in two cases handled in quick succession by the Advertising Standards Authority.
One case involved a Teletext "Winter special" deal offering three nights' accommodation for £35 per person and 2 nights from £45. In the other promotion a Ryanair advertisement in the Observer stated "Summer 2005 flights now on sale!". The text at the bottom of the advertisement stated "Travel from 07.03.05 until 26.05.05."
The complaint to the ASA over the Best Western ad arose when a viewer rang to book 3 nights for early March and was told that that the price had increased from 1 March, the Teletext ad having appeared during February.
The complaint here was that there was no mention in the ad that the offer was for a limited period and it was therefore misleading.
In the Ryanair case the allegation again was that the ad was misleading, but this time because the period when the flights were available was not "Summer 2005" at all but Spring, given that the offer closed on 26 May.
Best Western defended on the basis that although the ad didn't say the rates were only valid until the end of February, it did make viewers aware that the rates applied to its "Winter Special" offer. The advertiser said that its "Spring Specials" normally began at the start of March and they felt it safe to assume the punter would realise this.
Ryanair defended on the basis that the footnote made it quite clear when the flights were available, so the ad could not possibly be misleading.
In the Best Western case, the ASA took the view that it was unreasonable to expect viewers to know when the Winter Special was due to end. The ad should have made it clear, it said, when the offer finished and it was therefore misleading.
In the Ryanair case, the ASA considered that because the advertised flights were available in the Spring and not Summer, the claim "Summer 2005 flights now on sale" was misleading, regardless of any footnote.
Why this matters:
These cases highlight that to avoid being misleading, seasonal offers need to be handled with considerable care. For instance, there will be dangers in assuming that the punter knows when a particular season starts or ends, whilst the Ryanair verdict underlines again the difficulty with footnotes if they essentially contradict a headline.