a. A TV ad for the hotel chain Holiday Inn Express. The ad featured scenes of a family having breakfast in different ways. A male voice-over described the different ways in which people go about eating a cooked breakfast. The voice-over stated, "... What they all agree on, however, is they love them when they are free. That's why, after a comfy night's sleep, we give you a free breakfast."
b. An ad on the 'Reservations' page of the website www.ihg.com/holidayinnexpress. The banner next to the hotel booking fields contained text that stated "SMILE. Free breakfast for every guest". Text below the banner stated: "Enjoy Free Breakfast >> When you stay with us".
c. An ad on the 'Offers' page of the same website. Text in the middle of the page, under the section titled 'Why we're Spot On" stated "Free Breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but you shouldn't pay through the nose for it. At Holiday Inn Express, your breakfast is Free, so you can relax and enjoy it".
Three complainants challenged whether the claims "we give you a free breakfast" and "free breakfast" were misleading, because they understood that breakfast was included in the price of an overnight stay at the advertiser's hotels.
InterContinental Hotels Group plc said that they did not have any intention to mislead consumers by using the 'free breakfast' claim in their advertising for Holiday Inn Express hotels. InterContinental Hotels said that Holiday Inn Express hotels did not offer 'packages' involving breakfast. They explained that the breakfast cost had not been incorporated into the hotel room rate and the implementation of the 'free breakfast' offer had not impacted the guest's room rate nor had any cost been recovered by reducing the quality of the hotel room. They said that it was a brand requirement of all operators or franchisees of Holiday Inn Express hotels to provide breakfast at no charge to the guest and it was not possible for a guest to book a room that was exclusive of the breakfast. They stated that if a guest did not take breakfast, they would not obtain a reduction on their bill.
InterContinental Hotels said that the use of 'free breakfast' in their advertising was implemented by the Holiday Inn Express brand in the UK in April 2011. InterContinental Hotels stated that breakfast had always been provided for free to guests since the first Holiday Inn Express hotels were opened in 1996. They said that breakfast at these hotels was described as being 'complimentary' before April 2011.
InterContinental Hotels asserted that the use of the claim 'free breakfast' was used by its competitors in the same manner in their advertising and that the use of 'free' was also frequently used outside the hotel industry, an example being 'free wi-fi' at a number of well-known fast food chain restaurants and coffee shops.
Clearcast stated that prior to approving the TV ad, they worked carefully with the advertising agency to ensure that the ad followed both the spirit and letter of the Code.
Clearcast said that InterContinental Hotels confirmed that the breakfast cost had not been incorporated into the room rate and was therefore 'free' to all guests and that the room rate had not been raised to cover the cost of the 'free breakfast'. Clearcast stated that they were informed that the 'free breakfast' was a new introduction at all Holiday Inn Express hotels. On that basis, Clearcast determined that InterContinental Hotels would be able to state that their breakfast was 'free', for a period of up to six months and that after this period, InterContinental Hotels would need to amend the ad to make clear that the breakfast was no longer 'free' but 'inclusive' for guests, as it would then be seen to be a standard part of the room package.
The ASA noted that guests would not be able to book a hotel room that was exclusive of the breakfast and that the breakfast element did not have a genuine stand-alone price, separate from the price of the hotel stay, that consumers could determine. We also noted that rooms were not available for the same price without the breakfast that InterContinental Hotels described as being "free". On this basis and given that the hotel stay and breakfast element were a pre-arranged combination of features that did not give guests a choice over the number of elements they were paying for, we considered the hotel stay and the breakfast to be a package.
We understood that breakfast had been provided to guests at Holiday Express Inn hotels since its establishment in 1996 and that the hotels were required to provide guests with breakfast without increasing the room rates. Given this, we did not consider the provision of breakfast to be an additional benefit that had recently been added to the hotel stay. We considered that the hotel room rate was inclusive of the breakfast, regardless of whether guests chose to take the breakfast. Therefore, we concluded that the claims 'we give you a free breakfast' and 'free breakfast' were misleading.
The ads were investigated under BCAP Code (Edition 1) rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (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), 3.26 3.26 Advertisements must not describe an element of a package as "free" if that element is included in the package price, unless consumers are likely to regard it as an additional benefit because it has recently been added to the package without increasing its price. ("Free" Claims) and CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements 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) and 3.25 3.25 Marketers must not describe an element of a package as "free" if that element is included in the package price unless consumers are likely to regard it as an additional benefit because it has recently been added to the package without increasing its price. ("Free") and were found to be in breach.
The ads must not appear in their current forms. We told InterContinental Hotels Group plc not to refer to breakfasts as being free if the room rates were inclusive of them.