A TV ad for Selectspecs, seen on 2 January 2018, stated "Selectspecs £6 a pair brand new prescription glasses are up to 20 times cheaper than a lot of high street specs ... that's 20 pairs of glasses from Selectspecs for the price of one on the high street ... to get your prescription glasses for just £6 a pair with scratch-resistant and anti-reflective coating as standard, simply select your frames, send us your prescription and let us do the rest". Large text across the screen stated "prescription glasses for just £6 a pair". Smaller text at the bottom of the screen stated "Delivery within 7 days. P+P £5.95".
The complainant, who believed the price comparison had not taken the £5.95 delivery charge into account, challenged whether the "up to 20 times cheaper than a lot of high street specs" claim was misleading and could be substantiated.
HK Optics Ltd t/a Selectspecs acknowledged that there were glasses for sale for under £120 (which was 20 times the £6 price of Selectspecs' glasses), but that they had found that £120 was the average price for high street glasses with comparable single vision lenses. They believed delivery charges need not be taken into account in the price comparison because it was not a cost that related to the purchase of the glasses, but one that the consumer paid for the convenience of having them delivered to their home, a principle which they believed was widely understood by consumers. Selectspecs said delivery charges were not mandatory because consumers could avoid them by collecting their glasses in person from their high street store and were charged on a sliding scale according to the number of pairs of glasses the customer was purchasing.
Clearcast said they had seen satisfactory substantiation that compared Selectspecs' prices with those of several major high street retailers. They believed the claim was not referring to all high street retailers or all their price ranges, but was saying that there were high street retailers who offered a range of glasses priced 20 times higher than Selectspecs' product. They believed that the claim was accurate whether postage was included in the calculations but also that, in any case, because Selectspecs had a retail presence, customers could collect their glasses from the store without paying postage. They agreed that the cost of postage should be stated in the ad because it was significant in comparison with the cost of the product and was material information which could influence the decision to purchase, but did not believe it should be included in the cost comparison.
The ASA noted that the ad emphasised the £6 per pair price of prescription glasses sold by Selectspecs. Although the claim was worded as an "up to" claim – "Selectspecs £6 a pair brand new prescription glasses are up to 20 times cheaper than a lot of high street specs" – the ad then went on to state "that's 20 pairs of glasses from Selectspecs for the price of one on the high street". We considered consumers were likely to hear the claim as more than a cautious "up to" claim and would interpret it to mean that there was a strong likelihood that the £6 per pair prescription glasses sold by Selectspecs would be 20 times cheaper than the ones they would buy on the high street.
We noted that Selectspecs had looked at the cost of prescription glasses in four well-known retailers with physical branches. Although they had found numerous examples of glasses for sale at £120 and more, they had not provided a detailed analysis that showed £120 was an average or typical price and whether that varied across the UK.
Selectspecs had not included the £5.95 cost for delivery when comparing their prices with those on the high street. We acknowledged that Selectspecs had a high street branch in Westgate on Sea, Kent but we considered most respondents to a nationally-broadcast TV ad would not live locally and would need to pay the delivery charge, which increased the cost of a £6 pair of glasses to £11.95. For most respondents, therefore, Selectspecs' glasses would be 20 times cheaper only in relation to prescription glasses costing £239 or more on the high street. Although Selectspecs had found examples of glasses at that price, they were not typical according to the evidence they provided. Because we had not seen substantiation that showed the claim was true in most cases for most consumers, we concluded that it was likely to mislead.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules
The standards objectives, insofar as they relate to advertising, include:
a) that persons under the age of 18 are protected;
b) that material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or lead to disorder is not included in television and radio services;
c) that the proper degree of responsibility is exercised with respect to the content of programmes which are religious programmes;
d) that generally accepted standards are applied to the contents of television and radio services so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from inclusion in such services of offensive and harmful material;
e) that the inclusion of advertising which may be misleading, harmful or offensive in television and radio services is prevented;
f) that the international obligations of the United Kingdom with respect to advertising included in television and radio services are complied with [in particular in respect of television those obligations set out in Articles 3b, 3e,10, 14, 15, 19, 20 and 22 of Directive 89/552/EEC (the Audi Visual Media Services Directive)];
g) that there is no use of techniques which exploit the possibility of conveying a message to viewers or listeners, or of otherwise influencing their minds, without their being aware, or fully aware, of what has occurred"
Section 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is 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. 2). (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is 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), 3.18 3.18 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product or service depicted in the advertisement. (Prices) and 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).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Selectspecs to ensure that they held adequate substantiation for price comparison claims in future and to ensure the claims did not mislead by, for example, suggesting that savings were likely to be more significant or apply more widely than was actually the case.