A banner ad for ferry tickets, seen on 2 August 2017, stated "From Dover to Dunkerque from £7 … From Dover to Calais from £7 … From Dover to Calais from £8".
The complainant, who found that the advertised prices were unavailable when they attempted to purchase tickets, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
AFerry Ltd responded that their business was based on working with third parties and their ads linked through to third-party reservation systems in real time. They therefore did not have evidence of what quantities of the fares were available at any one time. However, they stated that they did monitor the offers they advertised to be certain customers were able to receive the advertised prices. To support this, AFerry provided a spreadsheet which showed that on the day the ad was seen, some customers were able to book ferries for prices “per person” that were lower than the “from” prices quoted in the ad.
AFerry stated that in future they would ensure that ads made clear that prices were subject to limited availability, were liable to change and were updated frequently.
The ASA considered consumers would expect that the advertised prices were genuine and that they would have a reasonable chance of obtaining tickets at the advertised “from” prices.
The document AFerry provided stated customers had achieved a “per person” price that was lower than the advertised “from” prices on the date the ad was seen by the complainant. However, the document did not make clear whether that was the full price the customer had to pay or whether it was a calculation of how much they would have paid per person after buying a discounted group ticket. We therefore did not consider the evidence supplied to have demonstrated that the stated prices were genuine. We were also unable to determine from the evidence provided whether there was a significant proportion of tickets available at the stated “from” prices.
We further considered that if AFerry was unable to retain evidence of quantities of tickets available at the “from” price, it should have taken reasonable steps to reduce the likelihood of consumers being misled by making them aware that the advertised price might have changed and what steps they needed to take to find the most up-to-date price. We acknowledged that in a live environment where prices were subject to change, advertisers would not always know when a ticket price became unavailable, but we did expect that they would regularly update their prices, that they should be able to demonstrate the prices advertised were genuine when they were last updated, and that they prominently state when they were last updated. However, we were not provided with any explanation or documentary evidence to show if and how often AFerry updated the ticket prices on their website, and the ads did not state when the prices had last been updated or that the prices were genuine at the last update. We would further expect that the ad would state that the prices were subject to availability.
Because AFerry had not been able to demonstrate that the prices in the ads were based on a genuine price available when the prices were last updated or when and how frequently they were updated, and because we considered that the ad did not clearly present when the price was last updated, or make clear how consumers would be able to find the most up-to-date prices, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation), 3.17 3.17 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product featured in the marketing communication. (Prices), 3.28 3.28 Marketing communications that quote a price for a featured product must state any reasonable grounds the marketer has for believing that it might not be able to supply the advertised (or an equivalent) product at the advertised price within a reasonable period and in reasonable quantities. In particular: and 3.29 3.29 Marketers must monitor stocks. If a product becomes unavailable, marketers must, whenever possible, withdraw or amend marketing communications that feature that product. (Availability).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told AFerry Ltd to ensure that they held adequate substantiation to show that their quoted prices were based on genuine prices. We told them to state prominently when prices were subject to limited availability if that was the case, to state when prices were last updated, when those prices were subject to change, and to have processes in place to make sure prices were updated frequently. We told them to withdraw promptly or amend their advertising when prices were no longer available.