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.
Superlative claims are those which claim that something is superior to all others, whether it is a broad superlative claim, such as “the best” or a specific superlative claim, such as “the most customers” or “the highest rated”. Superlative claims can be either subjective or objective.
If consumers are likely to understand a superlative claim as an objective claim which is capable of objective substantiation, the advertiser must hold evidence to substantiate the claim as consumers are likely to understand it. Because superlative claims are by nature drawing a comparison with competitors, the rules on making comparative claims will apply (Code rules 3.33 – 3.40). see Comparisons: general.
Some superlative claims may be understood as subjective matters of opinion. Claims that the average consumer is likely to understand as an obvious exaggeration or subjective claim, or claims which consumers are unlikely to take literally are allowed provided they do not materially mislead (3.2). Marketing communications must not imply that expressions of opinion are objective claims (3.6). See Matters of opinion and Types of claims: unsubstantiable, subjective or puffery.
As with all comparative claims, superlative claims must be presented in a way which is unlikely to mislead. The CAP Code requires advertisers to hold documentary evidence to substantiate claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. Additionally, any comparisons with identifiable competitors must be verifiable and comply with other relevant comparisons rules (3.33 – 3.40). See also Comparisons: Identifiable competitors and Comparisons: General.
The nature of the evidence required to substantiate superlative claims will depend on the context in which the claim is made and how it is likely to be understood by its audience. Marketers must carefully consider how a claim is likely to be understood by consumers before using it in advertising.
“No. 1”, “best-selling”, “leading” and other similar claims are generally treated as objective best-selling claims that require evidence of highest sales or highest market share. Depending on the context of the claim and on readers’ likely interpretation of the claim, the ASA might be satisfied with a sterling (£) justification or a unit justification for the claim; if the intended basis of the claim is unclear to the addressed audience, marketers should hold evidence of both, or the ad should explain the intended basis. The evidence needs to relate to the subject of the claim, and to a long enough period (usually a year) to constitute a genuine sales advantage and not reflect merely a brief surge in sales.
An ad which made the claims “the leading trademark registration service” and “the leading online trademark registration service” was ruled misleading by the ASA, who considered that consumers would understand the claims to mean that the advertiser had registered more trademarks than any other business and any other online business. Because the advertisers did not have evidence to demonstrate that this was the case, complaints about the ad were upheld (Trademark Eagle Ltd, 21 February 2018). The ASA has also upheld a complaint about the claim “#1 holiday website on the planet”, because the advertiser did not provide evidence to demonstrate that the it had the largest turnover of holiday rentals when compared to their global competitors (Rental Republic Ltd, 19 January 2022). In contrast, the claim “Europe’s number one airline” was not considered misleading, because the advertiser could demonstrate that, over a reasonable period before the ads were produced, it had carried more passengers than any other European airline (Ryanair Ltd, 7 February 2018).
When making “best” claims, advertisers must consider consumers’ likely understanding of the claim. The likely interpretation of an unqualified best claim will depend on the product or service advertised and the context in which the claim appears. If the criterion for the “best” claim is stated, and that criterion is objective, then the ASA will regard the claim as an objective one, which must be supported by evidence which substantiates that claim. In 2018 the ASA upheld a complaint about an ad which stated that the advertiser’s mobile phones were the “best value”. The ASA considered that consumers would interpret the claim “The UK’s best value mobile” to relate to the features integral to the nature of a mobile phone service: minutes, texts and data, and because the advertiser did not offer more data, minutes and texts than all other UK mobile tariffs relative to the costs of the tariffs, found the claim misleading (Utility Warehouse Ltd, 08 August 2018). The ASA has also considered “best price” (The Carphone Warehouse Ltd, 03 August 2016), and “best available tickets” to be objective comparisons (Ticketmaster UK Ltd, 03 January 2018).
When making comparisons with identifiable competitors, as well as holding evidence to substantiate any claims, advertisers must ensure that their meaning is clear, they compare products or services intended for the same purpose, and are verifiable (3.33 – 3.40). See Comparisons: General, Comparisons: Identifiable competitors, Comparisons: Verifiability.
Because objective superlative claims are, by their nature, comparisons with all competitors, they are likely to be considered comparisons with identifiable competitors and must be verifiable.
To make a claim verifiable, the advertiser should set out the relevant information in the ad or signpost how the information used to make that comparison can be checked by the audience. The information required to make a claim verifiable will depend entirely on the specific comparison and the evidence used to support it. Generally speaking, marketers should include as much information as possible in the ad to ensure that consumers are able to check it for themselves and include a signpost in the ad to information on the basis of the comparison. Marketers could, for example, direct consumers to a website that contains information about the basis of the comparison and make clear that this is how to verify the claim. For example, by stating “comparison can be verified at www…” or “visit www… to verify the comparison”.
If verifying a comparison requires specialist knowledge, consumers should be able to get a knowledgeable and independent person or organisation to verify the comparison for them.
The information needed to verify a comparison must be clearly signposted, and readily accessible. Providing incomplete information, or information behind a paywall, for example, is unlikely to be considered sufficient. In 2020 the ASA considered the claim “BEST DISHWASHER TABLET ON TEST” to mean that Fairy Dishwasher Platinum Plus tablets had received the highest score of all the dishwasher tablet products tested by Which? including best-selling branded and supermarket own brand products. Whilst it was clear from the ad that the claim related to a score awarded by Which? for the dishwasher tablet product category, the ad did not include any further information about the basis of the comparison or direct consumers to where they could find out such information. Although information about the methodology used to test the products, and a list of the products tested was available on the Which? website the results could only be accessed by consumers who paid for a Which? subscription. Therefore, the ASA concluded that information that was needed to verify the comparison was not signposted sufficiently clearly in the ad, and that the details of the comparison in the ad were not readily accessible (Procter & Gamble UK, 27 May 2020). See also (RB UK Commercial Ltd, 05 June 2019).
Sometimes superlative claims are clearly subjective claims which are likely to be understood as matters of opinion. Code rule 3.2 states that obvious exaggerations ("puffery") and claims that the average consumer who sees the marketing communication is unlikely to take literally are allowed provided they do not materially mislead. In 2013, the ASA ruled that the claims "to achieve the unachievable" and "Comfort redefined" in trade magazine ads for a contact lens brand would be understood as puffery, rather than objective claims based on evidence (Alcon Eye Care UK Ltd, 4 September 2013).
If the basis of a superlative claim is unstated, and is unlikely, in the context in which it appears, to have an objective meaning to consumers, the ASA may regard the claim as subjective. In 2020 The ASA considered that the claim “THE ORIGINAL AND THE BEST SINCE 2004”, in an ad for a pillowcase would be understood as a subjective expression of Slipsilk’s opinion about their product and was therefore not capable of objective substantiation (Slip Enterprises Pty Ltd t/a Slipsilk 11 March 2020).
Marketers should be cautious when using subjective claims or stating matters of opinion and should ensure that these will not mislead; marketing communications must not imply that expressions of opinion are objective claims (Code rule 3.6). Even if a claim is subjective, the claim must not mislead. In 2005 the ASA upheld a complaint about the claim “the ultimate broadband experience”. Although it accepted the claim was the advertiser’s opinion, the ASA considered the incidence of severe customer dissatisfaction with the service was enough to make the claim misleading (Bulldog Communications Ltd, 2 March 2005).
Marketers should note that superlative claims which are based on the outcome of a consumer survey, for example 99% of customers said X product was the best”, are likely to be considered objective claims about the results of the survey, even if the survey result relates to respondents’ subjective opinion. The claim “"Best Pizzeria Taste at home. 9 out of 10 agree" was considered misleading, because the ASA considered that the claim suggested that 90% of a group that was representative of the general public and who were in a position to compare Ristorante pizza with its competitor products agreed that Ristorante had the best taste, when that was not the case (Dr Oetker (UK) Ltd, 10 August 2018).
Similarly, if claims are based on awards, advertisers must make this clear in the ad, and hold evidence to support the claim. The ASA considered that the claim “BEST DISHWASHER TABLET ON TEST”, which appeared alongside a Which? ‘Best Buy’ logo, the text “Which? Best Buy Dishwasher Tablets February 2019”, and a cartoon of the ‘Fairy baby’ holding a gold trophy above its head, would be understood to mean that Which? had tested the performance of a range of dishwasher tablets, including the best-selling products in the UK, using its own testing criteria, and that the advertised product had received the highest score. Because the advertiser had evidence to demonstrate that this was the case, the ASA concluded that the claim “BEST DISHWASHER TABLET ON TEST”, as consumers would understand it, had been substantiated and was not misleading (Procter & Gamble UK, 27 May 2020).