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UK: ASA reminds operators to justify comparative claims

An adjudication by the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) illustrates the need for operators to be prudent in their approach to comparative advertising.

Three similar claims made by William Hill Organisation Ltd (two advertisements on its website sports.williamhill.com and a TV ad) regarding the odds available during certain sporting events received one complaint.

The complainant contended whether the following claims were misleading:

  1. one web ad that stated “BEST PRICES ON THE BEST HORSES BET NOW” and “ROYAL ASCOT SATURDAY 23RD JUNE 2012”;
  2. another web ad which stated “EURO 2012 BEST PRICES ON THE BEST TEAMS”; and
  3. a TV advertisement mainly in relation to text betting stated “Best Odds Guaranteed on all UK & Irish Horse racing”.

Similar to the recent Victor Chandler adjudication, comparative claims were made regarding the odds on offer to consumers. However, in relation to the complaint made against the web ads (1 and 2 above), although the assertion that “BEST PRICES” would have been supported by an explanation to clarify, screen shots or any information to reinforce the position were missing. The lack of evidence gave the ASA little option but to uphold the complaint on the basis that consumers were likely to infer that the prices for Royal Ascot and Euro 2012 would not be bettered by competing operators.

The TV ad regarding “Best Odds Guaranteed” was not intended to be a superior best price claim but simply a guarantee to give best odds and prices to customers. “Best Odds Guaranteed” was qualified with the phrase “terms apply” which was intended to direct viewers to the website in order to access further information regarding the offers at that time. It was recognised that viewers may judge the ad to be comparative but “terms apply” was a generally accepted form of wording indicating to consumers that additional terms apply which should be read in conjunction with the claim. Clearcast agreed.

The ASA acknowledged that the phrase “Best Odds Guaranteed” is commonplace in the industry and also considered that the intention was to guarantee the best prices to customers rather than infer any comparison with its competitors. However, the fact that the ad appeared on terrestrial television and not all viewers would have knowledge of the terminology in the industry; combined with the fact that the ad did not actually direct viewers to the website resulted in the ASA upholding the complaint.

This judgment highlights the need to for operators to retain evidence of all advertising and promotional campaigns in order to be prepared for any complaints and to ensure that any claims clearly set out the basis on which they are made.

The full judgment can be found here.