Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
The website www.taxiorpark.com and a radio ad promoted Heathrow parking:
(a) The website ad was headlined "Taxi or park? See how much you could save when you put yourself in the driving seat". The ad stated "Official Heathrow Parking gives you: A range of parking options to suit every trip. Guaranteed savings when you book online. The comfort of your own car. Wider spaces for families. The peace of mind that you're in control of your journey". The ad featured a form for consumers to input their journey details to and from the airport which stated, "Use our cost comparison tool to see if you could beat taxis on cost and convenience". Text at the bottom of the ad labelled "For more information click here" linked to a terms and conditions page which stated "Quoted cost comparisons are based on Heathrow Car Park Tariffs and a return taxi journey using official Hackney Carriage Tariffs".
(b) The radio ad stated "Hello, I'm a humble Heathrow parking space. But really, I'm four corners of control. I let you take control of your journey by coming in your own car, at your own pace, in your own time. And luggage? The more the better. Book me in advance and I could beat a taxi on cost too. Pop in your postcode at taxiorpark.com and put yourself in the driving seat. Heathrow: making every journey better. For more information, go to taxiorpark.com".
The Licensed Private Hire Car Association challenged whether:
1. the comparison with Hackney Carriage tariffs in ad (a) was misleading, unfair and exaggerated the cost of taking a taxi to the airport because they understood that in many cases the taxi journey would be significantly cheaper; and
2. the claim "Book me in advance and I could beat a taxi on cost too" in ad (b) was misleading and could be substantiated.
Heathrow Airport Ltd (Heathrow Airport) responded that they had conducted research into the comparative costs of a one-week stay in an official Heathrow Long Stay car park and a return taxi journey using Hackney Carriage Tariffs and found that parking at Heathrow would be cheaper in 72% of cases. They explained that that research had been based on over 250 postcodes within a 20- to 60-minute drive from the airport, and that those areas were to be targeted by their ad campaign. They also said nearly 5,000 quotes were returned for searches made on their website during the ad campaign, and that 75% of those quotes had shown Heathrow parking to be cheaper than the taxi fare.
1. Heathrow Airport did not consider that the use of Hackney Carriage tariffs was unfair. They explained that Hackney Carriages operated to a fixed tariff, regulated by licensing authorities, and could be measured by geographical location, and stated that therefore this tariff provided an aggregated and objective source of comparison.
They said they had been transparent in clearly indicating to the consumer the data source used on the website and pointed out that that information was provided both via a click-through link entitled "More information" on the main page of the site and on the quote comparison page when a postcode search was made. They emphasised that that information included a statement that taxi costs might vary for pre-booked journeys, and that petrol and vehicle running costs were excluded from the calculation. They considered that their website was therefore sufficiently clear in showing the basis on which their claims that it could be cheaper to drive to the airport were made. They also noted that the CAP Copy Advice team, which had been consulted regarding the non-broadcast elements of the ad campaign before they had been published, had been satisfied with their use of the comparison between airport parking and the Hackney Carriage tariffs.
2. Heathrow Airport said they had been careful to ensure the claim made in the radio ad was a qualified one, that listeners "could" save money by parking at the airport, depending in part on their postcode. They stated that the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (RACC) had cleared the ad for transmission.
The RACC said they considered that the claim was qualified by the use of the word "could" and the following sentence, which they believed made clear to consumers that their postcode was an important factor in assessing whether car parking at Heathrow would be cheaper than taking a taxi. They stated that they had seen the evidence provided by Heathrow Airport to substantiate the claim and been satisfied that the assumptions they made were reasonable, given that the claim was qualified by the use of the word "could" and the reference to the consumer's postcode.
The ASA understood that Heathrow Airport had compared the cost of parking in an official airport car park for one week with the return fare charged by a taxi operating on the Hackney Carriage tariffs between the airport and over 250 postcodes. We noted that those postcodes were located in the vicinity of Heathrow and were areas to be targeted by the ad campaign. We acknowledged that the website did not make an absolute claim that consumers would save money by using the car parking facilities, and therefore considered that the research data, which had demonstrated a saving against Hackney Carriages in 72% of cases, would be sufficient to substantiate the claims that parking at the airport could be cheaper than taking a taxi if it was based on reasonable assumptions.
We noted that the comparative data submitted by Heathrow Airport excluded petrol and vehicle running costs. We acknowledged that a number of variables would be involved if these factors were included, for example, the make of car and its average fuel consumption, the age of the vehicle and the location in which petrol was purchased. We considered that accounting for such a wide range of variables would render the comparison largely meaningless, and that it was not misleading to discount them as long as the exclusions were clearly detailed in the ads.
We understood that the term "taxi" could encompass a range of vehicles which charged fares to transport passengers, and that some of those vehicles, such as private hire cars, might charge significantly less than one operating on a Hackney Carriage tariff, which would be regulated by a licensing authority. However, we acknowledged the difficulty in maintaining up-to-date pricing information for those types of taxi and considered that it was not unreasonable for Heathrow Airport to base its price comparison statements on Hackney Carriage tariffs provided that that information was clearly communicated to consumers. We understood that Heathrow Airport had received guidance from CAP Copy Advice to that effect.
We noted that details of the data source upon which taxi quotes were based were available on the website in two places: via a click-through link entitled "more information" on the main page; and when a quote was returned. In the latter instance, the taxi fare was displayed with an asterisk which linked to small print stating, "Taxi quotes based on return journeys using Hackney Carriage Tariffs for the postcode provided and on the standard metered rate. Costs may vary for pre-booked journeys, additional baggage, extra passengers, journeys on public holidays and/or evenings. Contact the relevant Hackney Carriage Tariff authority for full details ... Cost comparison excludes petrol or vehicle running costs". A postal address was also provided to which consumers could write to find out more information about Hackney Carriage Tariffs. We considered that this information made sufficiently clear the way in which the taxi price had been calculated, and the fact that petrol and vehicle running costs had been excluded, at the time a quote was returned using the search tool on the website.
However, we noted that the main page of the website stated "Taxi or park? See how much you could save when you put yourself in the driving seat" and "Use our cost comparison tool to see if you could beat taxis on cost and convenience". There was no information on that page to make clear to consumers how Heathrow Airport had defined the term "taxi", or to explain that the claims were based on research which had discounted some costs associated with driving to the airport. Although we acknowledged that this was accessible via a link from that page, we considered that it was material information which needed to be displayed on the page itself in order not to mislead consumers about the comparison being made. Because it was not, we concluded that the comparison with Hackney Carriage tariffs in ad (a) was presented in a misleading manner.
On that point, ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
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), 3.38 3.38 Advertisements that include comparisons with unidentifiable competitors must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, consumers. The elements of the comparison must not be selected to give the advertiser an unrepresentative advantage. (Comparisons) and 3.39 3.39 Advertisements that include a price comparison must make the basis of the comparison clear. (Price comparisons).
We noted that the radio ad stated only that Heathrow parking "could" beat a taxi on cost and that the reference to the consumer's postcode implied that that would be a key factor in determining if that was true for any one individual. For the reasons outlined above, we were satisfied that Heathrow Airport held sufficient evidence to substantiate the qualified claim they made. However, we noted that the radio ad did not explain that the comparison was based only on taxis metered on Hackney Carriage tariffs, when we understood that other types of taxi charged varying, and in some cases lower, fares. It also did not state the factors which had been excluded from the cost comparison. Because we considered that this information was material to the average listener's understanding of the comparison being made, and that therefore it should have been clearly stated in the ad, we concluded that ad (b) was misleading.
On that point, ad (b) 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), 3.38 3.38 Advertisements that include comparisons with unidentifiable competitors must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, consumers. The elements of the comparison must not be selected to give the advertiser an unrepresentative advantage. (Comparisons) 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 or be broadcast again in their current form. We told Heathrow Airport to make the basis of their comparisons, and any exclusions, clearer in order not to mislead consumers.