Last minute offers, tropical adventures, dream tours and August staycations are begging to be booked and competitive promotions are ubiquitous. But if you spend more time emphasising a great price or a fantastic hotel than considering the advertising rules, you could end up with an ASA ruling, which could damage customer loyalty and your company's reputation. Here, we offer an insight into some of the recent issues which have been raised by complainants and which the ASA has upheld.
An exaggeration of a service may not be intentional, so choose your wording carefully – an advertised “24 hour room service” is not the same as “24 hour reception”, as one marketer failed to make clear. How the average consumer might interpret a particular claim should be at the forefront of marketers’ minds.
The ASA also recently considered that consumers would interpret the claims “ideal for families” or “family friendly” to mean that the hotel advertised would offer facilities and activities which were specifically designed for children, and that the hotel would not be situated on a busy street. The ASA upheld the complaint in this case because the ad should have made clear that the hotel was located on a street of bars and night clubs. (Travelworld Vacations Ltd). It’s not just what you say, but accompanying pictures, that can make an ad misleading. Featuring photos of a building in an ad could also provide a misleading impression about the appearance of a hotel, and its location. (Holiday Gems Ltd)
Holiday itineraries can be a challenge for consumers to plan in advance, and holidays which include this are becoming increasingly attractive. Absolute claims promising an event which is subject to change or cancellation by the time of the trip should be avoided, unless the details are clearly stated. A brochure promoting holidays in China stated “To enhance the experience a little further a picnic lunch with a glass of bubbly will be arranged on a watchtower overlooking the mountains to make this day unforgettable!” however this was not offered to the consumer and the complaint was upheld. (The Oriental Travel Company Ltd) Similarly, seasonal supplements that might apply should correspond to the stated price in the ad, as opposed to that price becoming inflated with additional charges at a later date. (BAI (UK) Ltd and Mark Warner Ltd)
In general, a quoted price should relate to all of the information provided in an ad and that price should contain all non-optional taxes, duties, fees and charges that apply to all or most buyers. Rule 3.18 of the CAP Code states “...However, VAT-exclusive prices may be given if all those to whom the price claim is addressed pay no VAT or can recover VAT. Such VAT-exclusive prices must be accompanied by a prominently statement of the amount or rate of VAT payable...”
Consumers could face problems when they neglect to read small print, but so too can marketers if they neglect to include certain terms and conditions in their ads for promotions that the advertising rules stipulate are significant. These include a closing date, any age restrictions, or the exact nature of a prize, and they can be found under Rule 8.17. The significant terms and conditions ought to be included in any ad (usually in the small print) for any promotion that is subject to a limited period of time, ideally on the same page that the consumer is reading. Limited exceptions do apply, but if marketers are unsure they should contact the Copy Advice team for guidance.
Terms and conditions included in small print can, at times, be seen to contradict rather than clarify a claim in the body of an ad. Marketers should therefore express their headline claims in such a way as to avoid contradictions. The ASA recently ruled that the text at the bottom of a website which stated, “excluding school and bank holidays” contradicted the headline claim, “WIN A WEEK’S LUXURY FAMILY HOLIDAY”. (Archant Life Ltd)
A consumer who won a competition for a family holiday after responding to an ad which stated, “Win a seven-night family holiday to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida”, was told that she was not eligible for the prize because she wanted to take her sister's children on holiday. In this case, the ASA considered that consumers were likely to understand that the promotion was for a family holiday which would mean that adults could also take children over whom they may not have parental responsibility. Moreover, the CAP Code states that marketers should avoid causing unnecessary disappointment. (News Group Newspapers Ltd).
On pricing, marketers should be aware that in the absence of the words “from” or “up to”, consumers are likely to understand that all products will be made available at the discounted price. When assessing complaints about the availability of a headline “up to” or “from” price, the ASA would expect a marketer to demonstrate that at least 10% of the advertised product is made available at the stated price. A recent complaint about an ad which claimed “Iceland Whale Watching City Break From £299” was upheld because the ASA had not seen evidence which showed that a minimum of 10% of seats for each tour were made available at the advertised “from” price. (Iceland Tours Ltd)
The availability of a product at the “from” price should be spread evenly across the advertised travel period, and marketers should make clear in the body of their advertising copy the specific travel period to which an offer relates. (British Airways Holidays Ltd, 31 October 2012)
In April 2013 one complainant took issue with the claim “£12 to £94 single” on a website, after they were unable to find a £12 ticket. The ASA considered that most consumers would expect that price claims which appear after search criteria had been selected, would relate specifically to those criteria. In this case, the marketer was told to should ensure that only prices which are available for journeys meeting the specified search criteria are presented to the consumer. (First Greater Western Ltd)
You can read more generally around this area in our Help Note on Travel Marketing and our guidance on Travel promotions, Availability and Pricing and “ free flights”.
If you require bespoke advice on your non-broadcast promotions, contact the CAP Copy Advice team on 0207 492 2100 or submit your enquiry via our website.