Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
The CAP Code refers to rules on comparisons made with identifiable competitors and all other comparisons.
Comparisons with identifiable competitors
When making a comparison with an identifiable competitor, the comparison should be based on products meeting the same need or intended for the same purpose (rule 3.34). This means that marketers should compare their competitor’s most similar product or service, or clearly state the differences between them, so that the basis of the comparison is made clear. See Comparisons: General.
When making a price comparison, the quoted prices should be accurate and up to date. If the comparison becomes inaccurate, because a quoted price has changed, marketers are expected to do everything in their power to remove or amend the communication.
Importantly, data which supports the comparison must be verifiable (rule 3.35). Consumers should have access to the information on which the comparison is made and the ad should signpost where consumers can read that information. It is likely to be acceptable to refer readers to a web address (which could be included in the small print of an ad) where the results of a report can be found. See Comparisons – verifiability.
In 2012 an ad which stated “It’s cheaper by train than by plane this Autumn…we checked and 79% of flights had a cheaper East Coast train alternative” was upheld for misleading consumers about the comparative cost of train and air travel from Edinburgh to London. In this case, the data did not include flights available from one airline that offered regular services from Edinburgh to London, which meant that the small print in the ad "All London airports and applicable airlines are included in the comparison" incorrectly stated the basis of the comparison and that it was not possible to verify whether the comparison was accurate (East Coast Main Line Company Ltd, 9 May 2012)
Marketers should note that even if they do not refer to competitors in their ad, if it is apparent, even by implication, that a comparison is made with a particular competitor, the rules which refer to comparisons with identifiable competitors are likely to be apply (Heathrow Airport Ltd, 4 February 2015). If there are only a small number of competitors in the industry, or a small number of companies offer a specific product or service the rules will apply equally, because consumers are likely to identify who those marketers are. In the 2012 East Coast case mentioned above, given that only a small number of airlines provided services between Edinburgh and London, the ASA considered that the rules on comparisons with identifiable competitors would apply, despite those competitors not being referenced.
When making a comparison with an unidentifiable competitor, marketers should ensure that the elements of the comparison are not selected to give an unrepresentative advantage (rule 3.38). In general, comparing products which differ significantly might be considered misleading unless those differences in the product or service are clearly explained in the ad. In short, ads must not be likely to mislead consumers.
An ad which stated “The new shape of business travel… We charge you less” was upheld by the ASA because it did not make the nature of the comparison clear and consumers would be unable to establish the circumstances in which the marketer was claiming to be cheaper than other flights for business travel. In the absence of explanatory text, consumers would be likely to believe that travel on all other airlines had been included in the price comparison (easyJet Airline Co Ltd, 27 April 2011).
Price promises and “lowest price” claims
For a “lowest price” or “cheapest” claim to be acceptable marketers should ensure that they have an appropriate price monitoring and adjustment policy in place to ensure that they are always cheaper than their competitors. A promise to reimburse consumers the difference in price, if they find a product or service cheaper elsewhere, does not justify a “lowest price” claim. Rather, it is a “price promise”, the conditions of which should be made clear in the ad. See Lowest price claims and promises.
In 2013 the ASA did not uphold a complaint about an ad which stated, “If you find the same flight (operated by British Airways) cheaper elsewhere online, once you have made your booking on ba.com, we will refund you the difference." The complainant was unable to take advantage of the price promise which prompted the complaint, however, the “Price Promise” page explained that one might be required to show proof of the lower fare, including the date of travel, which the complainant did not provide (British Airways plc, 20 February 2013).