Two TV ads and a press ad for Aldi:
a. A TV ad seen on 11 January 2016 featured scenes of a boxer as the voice-over stated, “January. It’s time to lose a few pounds and gain a few. A big weekly shop at your usual supermarket could cost you this much …” An image of a kitchen was shown with food displayed in the fridge, cupboards and on the worktops. A label that said “Big 4 Supermarkets £98” was displayed in the corner. The scene then changed to feature another sportsperson and a label which stated “Aldi £70”. The voice-over continued, “But a big weekly shop at Aldi would only cost you this much. Pound for pound that could add up to a seriously big saving this January.” On-screen text, which was displayed throughout the ad, included “Comparison of Aldi products vs products shown. Other supermarkets may sell ‘own brand’ products at different prices”.
b. A press ad seen on 12 February 2016 consisted of seven pages, the first page of which featured an image of two baskets that contained a range of products and stated “Is a price crunch amazing? …No, this is amazing”. A ‘callout’ icon above the left-hand basket stated “Morrisons Price Crunch £18.19” while the ‘callout’ icon above the right-hand basket stated “Aldi £11.42”. Text underneath included “When it comes to the crunch, Aldi win every time. Other supermarkets go up, down, all over the place. But Aldi have ‘everyday low prices’, so you know where you stand”. The small print at the bottom of the page included text that stated “Comparison of Aldi products vs products shown. Morrisons may sell ‘own brand’ products at different prices”.
c. A TV ad seen on 30 March and 3 April 2016 featured scenes of a father being amazed by his daughter’s skills on a bike in a park saying, “Ready . That was amazing!”. The woman shown then said, “I know, we saved 35 % shopping at Aldi this week. Now that is amazing. Be a sport, take the challenge. See how much you could save.” Two sets of food products were shown side by side on a kitchen table – one with “Big 4 Supermarkets £53.35” and one with “ALDI £33.04” displayed above. On-screen text, which was shown in the first half of the ad, included “Comparison of products shown. Other supermarkets may sell ‘own brand’ products at different prices”.
Morrisons and two members of the public, who did not believe the ads made sufficiently clear that they included comparisons between Aldi’s own-brand products and branded products sold at Morrisons and other supermarkets that sold cheaper own-brand products, challenged whether the price comparisons were misleading.
Aldi Stores Ltd said that consumers who saw the TV ads (a) and (c) were likely to interpret the comparison as intended: the branded and fresh products from the ‘Big 4’ supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons) shown versus the Aldi products shown. They did not believe consumers would assume that the savings shown were representative of anything other than the specific comparison shown. Consumers would also understand that Morrisons and the other competitor supermarkets stocked own-brand products which met the same need and would likely be cheaper. In any case, the on-screen text “Other supermarkets may sell ‘own brand’ products at different prices” discharged any additional burden to make that even clearer.
They believed that the complaints incorrectly assumed that there was a quantifiable difference in quality between the branded goods shown in the ads and Aldi’s own-brand products, and that the Aldi products would be more properly compared with the other supermarkets own-brand goods. However, they believed this was not the case and provided the example of their spreadable butter, which was of an equivalent specification to the leading brand but where the Morrisons own label product had a significantly lower percentage of butter content. They also said the fact that the possibility that cheaper competitor own-brand products were available was irrelevant to the ads in question, because it arose from unproven assumptions that: there was definitively a Morrisons (or other competitor supermarket) own-brand product for each branded product shown; each such own-brand product was as qualitatively equivalent to the branded product as the Aldi own-brand product was; such competitor own-brand products were always cheaper than the branded products; and Aldi was obliged to make such claims about competitors own-brand products and present such information to consumers when comparing their own products to third-party branded products. They said the ads presented two selections of goods and gave a price point for each. The basis for comparison was stated on-screen and in print and was not misleading.
In relation to TV ads (a) and (c) they said that they were a comparison of the products shown, rather than any other products. They said the ‘Big 4’ supermarket goods selection showed a range of well-known and highly recognisable household brand products and unbranded fresh produce. The Aldi goods selection showed a range of comparable products from Aldi’s exclusive brands. They said consumers viewing the ads would therefore understand that the prices stated and savings claim related to the products shown on screen. Before they included products in their comparative advertising they ensured that they met the same need or were intended for the same purpose. With regard to fresh produce they only compared like with like. For example, free-range eggs were compared with other free-range eggs, and likewise with organic milk. In respect of processed foods they ensured the products were comparable in terms of ingredients, typically within a 10 % variance threshold. They were therefore confident that the Aldi products were at least equivalent in terms of quality to the comparator products shown. They provided comparative product characteristic information for their own and the competitor products to demonstrate this. They therefore believed Aldi products were most properly compared with the well-known brands shown in the ads.
Aldi provided information about how they calculated prices in making the comparison, which included taking into account competitor multi-buy offers and taking into account differing weights on a pro-rata basis. The cheapest available price from each competitor was then used when making the overall comparison. This allowed competitors the advantage of the best possible price for each product shown. Had each basket of goods been purchased at one competitor only, then the overall basket price would have been higher.
Aldi believed UK consumers had a strong understanding of the grocery retail market, with the majority doing their shopping at one of the ‘Big 4’ supermarkets. They therefore understood that those supermarkets sold not only branded products, but own-brand products and that those were often cheaper than the brands. They also understood that Aldi predominantly sold its own exclusive branded products. They therefore believed the comparison in the ad was clear, regardless of any on-screen text. However, the wording “Other supermarkets may sell ‘own brand’ products at different prices” had nonetheless been included as the result of a previous ASA ruling, along with text stating the comparison related to the products shown. The text also referred to further detailed verification information available on their website. They said it would not be reasonable to require them to include a qualification that competitors did sell own-brand products at cheaper prices, because it would imply that such products were comparable with Aldi products which would require additional substantiation and it would also not be reasonable to oblige them to make such a claim on behalf of other supermarkets.
Aldi were aware that Morrisons were of the view that the selection of goods shown in the ads was not representative of typical customer behaviour. In response to that they said they had not seen any evidence to show that consumers typically bought a mix of brand and own-brand products and that the selection of products in the ads were not a representative mix. They referred to CAP’s Advertising Guidance on Retailer’s Price Comparisons, which suggested that weekly shop comparisons (or similar) should include a fair and truly representative selection of goods. They did not believe this was a requirement that multi-product comparisons must include a mixture of branded and own-brand products from competitors. They believed it merely meant that the goods selected must be fair and representative of what shoppers buy in terms of the needs they meet or their intended purposes. They said it was clear that comparing branded and own-brand goods was inherently permissible. To require them to include a selection of branded and own-brand goods when making multi-product comparisons would restrict their freedom to compare Aldi’s products with branded goods which were comparable both in terms of meeting the same needs and being intended for the same purpose, and in terms of a higher quality threshold which they applied when making comparisons. Notwithstanding the above, they pointed out the ads did contain competitors’ own-brand goods in the form of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat products. They also provided a copy of a recent independent basket price survey which they said showed that they were significantly cheaper than their competitors, as well as referring to various quality awards their products had received.
In relation to the press ad (b) they said the ad was intended to be a comparison of products that Morrisons had included in its ‘Price Crunch’ promotion with Aldi’s own comparable products. It was not intended to represent a typical weekly shop, or similar, and they did not believe anyone would view the six items shown in the basket in that way. However, should it be considered that the ad was a comparison of a typical weekly shop they referred to their comments in relation to the TV ads. They provided comparative product characteristic information for their own and the competitor products shown in the ad.
Clearcast responded in relation to ads (a) and (c). They said the “Aldi challenge” had been running for some time and was always presented as a saving against equivalent premium branded goods which were not available at Aldi. They said that the wording in ad (a) was specific in saying that a big weekly shop at a consumer’s usual supermarket “could” cost this much, but that a big weekly shop at Aldi “would” cost this much. Whilst ad (c) did not contain the same wording the premise was the same and the message was not ambiguous. They believed the overall message of the ads was clear, and said their purpose was to show that Aldi’s own brands were generally cheaper than equivalent premium branded goods sold in the ‘Big 4’ supermarkets including Morrisons, by showing those in the product shots. They did not in any way suggest that Aldi’s products were always or generally cheaper than own-brand goods sold by other supermarkets. They also felt the range of products shown in the ads represented a typical weekly shop and had not therefore been unfairly selected to give Aldi a price advantage. They said that if any doubt remained about the comparison being made, the on-screen text “Other supermarkets may sell ‘own brand’ products at different prices” shown in both ads made it completely clear. They provided the price comparison data for both ads.
The ASA noted that the focus of TV ad (a) was around saving money on grocery shopping and that it included a number of specific and more general comparative price claims, such as “It’s time to lose a few pounds and gain a few”; “A big weekly shop at your usual supermarket could cost you this much … [Big 4 Supermarkets £98]” and ““But a big weekly shop at Aldi would only cost you this much [Aldi £70]” and "Pound for pound that could add up to a seriously big saving this January”. In relation to TV ad (c) the focus of the ad was again around saving money on grocery shopping and it contained an example of a family who swapped from other big supermarkets to shopping in Aldi and saved 35% (a reduction from £53.35 to £33.04). We therefore considered that consumers would understand from the ads that by swapping from shopping at their usual big supermarket to shopping at Aldi they could make significant savings, and that the level of savings highlighted in the ads were representative of the level of savings which could be achieved by the average shopper. Consumers would therefore expect the products selected to be a fair and representative selection of products typically purchased.
In relation to press ad (b), the ad made reference to Morrisons ‘Price Crunch’, which we understood involved an ad campaign highlighting price reductions across a range of branded and own-brand products. Whilst we acknowledged that the comparisons related to a smaller number of products than the comparisons in ads (a) and (c) and it would therefore be easier for consumers to identify the products compared, particularly because it was a press ad, we considered that the overall message of the ad was nonetheless that by swapping from shopping at Morrisons to shopping at Aldi they could make significant savings, and that the level of savings highlighted in the ads were representative of the level of savings which could be achieved by the average shopper.
The ads displayed the products compared, and on-screen text stated “Comparison of Aldi products vs products shown” in ad (a), with the same text appearing in small print in ad (b), and “Comparison of products shown” in ad (c). We considered that while consumers would understand that to mean that the specific savings claim related to the product selection shown in the ad, it did not take away from the overall message that the level of savings highlighted in the ads were representative of the level of savings which could be achieved by the average shopper. Similarly, although the ads contained the on-screen text “Other supermarkets may sell ‘own brand’ products at different prices” (and the small print “Morrisons may sell ‘own brand’ products at different prices in ad (b)) we considered that this was not sufficient to override the overall message that the savings highlighted were representative and consumers would therefore expect that a fair and representative selection of products had been compared.
We acknowledged that Aldi stated they had not intended the comparisons to represent a ‘typical’ weekly shop but to be a comparison between the pictured products only. Nonetheless we considered that was how consumers would interpret the ads rather than as a representation of the savings which could be made by switching from a largely branded shop to shopping in Aldi, and therefore assessed them on that basis. We acknowledged that the ads made comparisons between products meeting the same need or intended for the same purpose, and that it was acceptable to make comparisons between branded and own-brand products provided the comparisons were not misleading and in other respects complied with the Codes.
Because we considered that the ads would be interpreted as comparisons between typical weekly shops we considered that we would need to see evidence that the selection of goods from the comparator supermarkets were a fair and truly representative selection, including whether branded or own-brand goods were selected. In each of the three comparator shops in general the processed and non-fresh products were branded products, and only the fresh fruit, vegetables and meat products were own-brand, along with a small number of other products such as milk and coleslaw where branded items were less typically available. We had not been provided with any evidence from Aldi that the comparator shops (including the mix of branded and own-brand) were a fair and truly representative selection of goods typically purchased, and considered that it was unlikely that price conscious consumers to whom the ads were targeted would purchase such a large proportion of branded goods when own-brand goods were typically available and would generally be cheaper. Aldi believed their own-brand goods (sold under exclusive brand names) were more properly compared with branded goods in terms of quality, but we noted that the focus of the ads was on price and no reference was made to quality. In that context we considered consumers would generally see own-brand competitor products as the most obvious comparator to Aldi products.
Because the ads implied that by swapping from their usual big supermarket to shopping at Aldi, consumers could make savings of the levels highlighted in the ads (rather than presenting the comparison as a representation of the savings which could be made by switching from a largely branded shop to shopping in Aldi), and we had not seen evidence to demonstrate that was the case we concluded that the ads were misleading.
Ads (a) and (c) breached BCAP Code rules
Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Advertisements must not mislead consumers by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that consumers need in context to make informed decisions about whether or how to buy a product or service. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead consumers depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the advertisement is constrained by time or space, the measures that the advertiser takes to make that information available to consumers by other means. (Misleading advertising), 3.33 3.33 Advertisements that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, consumers about either the advertised product or service or the competing product or service. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors) and 3.39 3.39 Advertisements that include a price comparison must make the basis of the comparison clear. (Price comparisons) and ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. and 3.3 3.3 Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising), 3.33 3.33 Advertisements that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, consumers about either the advertised product or service or the competing product or service. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors) and 3.39 3.39 Advertisements that include a price comparison must make the basis of the comparison clear. (Price comparisons).
The ads must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Aldi Stores Ltd to ensure that when making multi-product comparisons in future they did not imply that they were comparing typical weekly shops unless they held evidence that the comparator products (including the mix of branded and own-brand) were a fair and truly representative selection.