An online display ad for Sixt, a vehicle rental company, seen on 29 May 2017, featured images which transitioned between images of various vehicles and displayed text which stated “from” and then “£X / per day”.
The complainant, who was unable to achieve the stated “from” prices, challenged whether the ad was misleading and the pricing claims could be substantiated.
Sixt Rent a Car Ltd t/a Sixt said that the issue was related to their retargeting advertising. The prices displayed came dynamically from a feed based on a long-term prepaid rental from a predefined station. They said the conditions changed based on an automatic algorithm and information was always clearly displayed on the bottom of the landing page that a user was sent to after clicking on a car. Sixt provided the landing page that showed an example quote for a Mercedes-Benz C-Class car with a rental price per day of £39.54*. The asterisk referred to a qualification at the bottom of the page stating, “Price value for a Prepaid-rental from London Caledonian Road Station from 01.02.2018 until 12.02.2018. Last checked: 31.07.2017 05:51 Incl VAT”.
They said the ads showed “from” prices, but because the animation of the ad continuously moved between “from” to “£X/Per day”, the “from” could be missed by a consumer if they only saw the second part of the animation. They said for some of their ads they had used this style whereas for other ads they had showed all the information at once.
Sixt said the “from” prices displayed on the banner came from the overall fleet prices, which were determined by the automatic algorithm. They said that there were numerous factors that played a role in affecting the end price, including information regarding, but not limited to, pickup location, current demand at pickup location, current fleet size at pickup location, prepaid versus payment on arrival, length of rental, time booked in advance, day of the week, i.e. weekend versus midweek, and one-way versus round trip; all factors would all be taken into consideration for each booking. They said that those factors were subject to continuous change and their pricing department would check everything at least once a week in regards to utilisation and competitor prices, which meant that prices were also subject to change during a booking or promotional period.
Sixt conducted an analysis of their retail reservations for two common car categories against the then “from” prices because they were the most commonly booked groups by their customers. They said the results of the analysis showed that in the last four weeks prior to 11 August 2017, 10% of the reservations were equal to or below the stated “from” prices per day. These being 135 of 1344 reservations had the “from” price or lower for one car, and 122 of 1212 reservations for the other car had equal or lower value. They said that the last four weeks were during their peak season and so the share would normally be even higher than that during off-peak periods when their fleet had a higher availability. The prices on the website were also automatically updated once a day by the algorithm. The reference branch or station they used was a 'good value' branch but it was not their cheapest, and accordingly they would have branches where the price was actually lower than the stated “from” price. However, the “from” prices were not technically the very cheapest price they offered – being the literal definition of “from £X/day” – but rather a realistic overview of a cheap and achievable price. Sixt said the specific terms and conditions for each “from” price could be found on the immediate landing page that the user would be taken to. They said the price per day of a seven-day rental was a realistic scenario and similar to, if not cheaper than, prices that would actually be achieved with a shorter term rental, depending on the number of days required. Sixt also said that the majority of their reservations were for over three days and that one day rentals were not very common. They said the average user in need of car hire would understand the logic that the price per day fell with the length of rental and the “from” prices could be more expensive when only renting for one day. They said this was standard across the industry and the price per day was usually taken from an average.
The ASA considered that consumers were likely to interpret the claim “from £X / per day” to mean that it was a price that they could achieve for a one-day rental. We noted that, along with the prices, the ad contained only the images of various vehicles, which suggested that the type of vehicle would be the main factor to impact on price.
We acknowledged that after accessing the landing page for the example Mercedes Benz quotation, there was an asterisk after the quoted “from” price indicating that there were qualifications to the price. However, we considered that a consumer seeing the ad would expect the price stated would represent the price across a significant range of locations, dates, and durations. The example quotation provided was for one location, on a pre-paid rental, booked six months in advance, and for a 12-day period, which we did not consider to reflect the full range that a consumer would expect.
We accepted that a daily rate based on an average over a seven-day period could be used for ease of calculation but we considered that consumers who wished to book for a shorter period would invariably end up paying more than the “per day” price quoted. We considered that it was not made clear in the ad that it was an average price per day or the number of days to which it applied, and those who were interested in a one-day rental were likely to be misled.
We noted that Sixt had provided an analysis of their most commonly booked cars, but because no evidence was provided to substantiate the analysis results, we were not able to assess it. We also noted that the analysis provided did not relate to any of the vehicles shown in the ad and it was therefore not relevant to the specific price claims in the ad.
Because the price stated in the ad was not for one day and because we had not seen sufficient evidence to demonstrate that a significant proportion of possible reservations were available at the “from” price, we concluded that the ad was likely to mislead.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications 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. /p>
(Substantiation) 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. and 3.22 3.22 Price claims such as "up to" and "from" must not exaggerate the availability or amount of benefits likely to be obtained by the consumer. (Prices)
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Sixt that when making “from” price claims they should ensure that the stated price reflected a significant proportion of the rental options available and that as such the claim represented the true overall picture of the prices available. We also told them not to state that a price was available “per day” without making clear that it was the average over a specific number of days.