An e-mail and LivingSocial's website, viewed on 10 June 2011, offered a discount at the Barcelo Troon Marine Hotel. Text stated, "Overnight Getaway for Two Including Breakfast, Dinner, Champagne, and Chocolates". The ad stated that the cost of the offer was £139, which equalled a 63% saving. Further text stated, "Despite living in an age of technological advancements, the dream of housekeeping robots that do all of our chores seems as far away as ever. Enjoy the hospitality of the human race and a relaxing break instead, courtesy of today's deal at the Barcelo Troon Marine Hotel, which offers beautiful views of the Isle of Arran and overlooks the Royal Troon Golf Course. For just £139 (regularly £380) you will receive a luxurious one-night getaway for two with breakfast at the elegant hotel, staying in an executive room and enjoying dinner in the Fairways restaurant -- awarded two AA rosettes. Champagne and chocolates will be waiting in your room to welcome you. Choose to explore Ayrshire, Burns Country, or the west coast during your indulgent stay, or visit the hotel's extensive leisure facilities and spa, including the beauty room which offers various treatments. While robot maids may still be decades away, today's deal will be gone in no time: seize it now".
The complainant challenged whether the ad was misleading, because they believed it exaggerated the saving.
LivingSocial said the offer was based on information it received from the General Manager of the hotel, who confirmed that the package was comprised of a standard double room at £171, two breakfasts totalling £29.90, two dinners totalling £69, an executive room upgrade at £40, champagne at £36, chocolates at £5 and a late checkout fee of £30.They provided screenshots of the hotel’s booking system and copies of menus to substantiate the prices of the components of the package, with the exception of the chocolates. They said the total value of the offer at £380.90 was therefore substantially reflected in the wording of the ad, which stated “...you will receive a luxurious one-night getaway for two with breakfast at the elegant hotel, staying in an executive room and enjoying dinner in the Fairways restaurant ... Champagne and chocolates will be waiting in your room to welcome you.”
LivingSocial said they did not believe that the fact that the complainant could not find any room at the price of £380 on the hotel website meant that the ad was misleading, as the price related solely to their offer which incorporated significant additional elements which were not generally available to consumers booking directly with the hotel. They said it was part of their customer offering to promote packages which they negotiated with the merchant and which were not always available to the general public.
The ASA acknowledged that the complainant had been unable to find the usual cost of the package on the hotel’s website because the offer represented a package which was not normally offered by them. However, we noted the ad stated that the package was “regularly £380”. We considered that, because the ad referred to the package as “regularly £380”, it implied that the package was a regular offering by the hotel which could normally be booked at the price of £380. We also noted that, although the hotel had informed LivingSocial that the value of the package included a fee for late checkout, the ad did not specify that the package included a late checkout. We concluded the ad was therefore misleading in those regards.
Furthermore, we noted that although the hotel’s website did not offer the full package offered through LivingSocial, it did give consumers the option of booking their standard and ‘deluxe’ double rooms with inclusive breakfast and dinner. We therefore noted that the only elements of the package which were not generally available to consumers booking directly with the hotel were the champagne and chocolates in the room on arrival. We noted that a deluxe double room with inclusive breakfast and dinner was generally available at £215 per night rather than £309.90, which was the total of the costs quoted by the hotel for a standard double room, an executive upgrade, breakfast and dinner. We noted that by adding the cost of the late checkout fee and the extra elements of the package offered by LivingSocial - the champagne and chocolates - to the cost of a deluxe double room with inclusive breakfast and dinner, the total cost of the package would come to £286, which was £94 less than the value quoted in the ad.
Because the cost of the package was less than that claimed in the ad, we concluded the ad exaggerated the saving available to consumers and was therefore misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code rules
Marketing communications 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), 3.7 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), 3.11 3.11 Marketing communications must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product. (Exaggeration) and 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).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told LivingSocial to make sure that the claimed value of their offers reflected the total cost at which the components of the offer would be generally available to consumers.