A TV ad for Vistaprint, seen on 17 November 2016, featured a photographer ordering customised business cards. The voice-over stated, "You have a vision. It's why you can see what others can't. You know what you want and we can help you get it ... Because you have vision and we have your business card. 500 standard cards from £12.99 when you enter TV500 at vistaprint.co.uk." On-screen text stated "500 Standard Cards From £12.99 Enter TV500 at vistaprint.co.uk". Small text below stated "Excluding 20% VAT, special finishes & paper stock. Delivery from £2.99".
The complainant challenged whether the ad was misleading because the price and delivery cost quoted were exclusive of VAT.
Vistaprint BV stated that the visual presentation and the voice-over in the ad made clear that it was directed at business owners, who would either pay no VAT or be able to recover VAT. They said that such targeting was made clear by the nature of the product, because it related to standard business cards, which were products directed at business owners. In addition, the voice-over made the reference to business clear: “Because you have a vision and we have your business card”. They also pointed out that the ad featured a photographer working in a professional studio with photography equipment and professional models. They said it also showed how the photographer designed his business cards to promote his photography business.
Vistaprint also stated that legible on-screen text indicating the rate of VAT payable and the cost of delivery appeared on screen at the same time as the offer and price claims were shown. That text remained on screen for the same duration as the price claim, and they believed it made clear that the quoted price was exclusive of 20% VAT. They also stated that this text was shown in the same font and height as the line of text above that stated the promotion code. The density of the text indicating the rate of VAT payable was different in order to make a clear distinction for viewers from the line of text above which stated the promotion code. They stated that it was in compliance with the requirements of legibility and size of on-screen qualifying text applied by Clearcast.
Clearcast stated that the ad portrayed the story of a photographer who needed to spread the word for his business – ‘Daniel Ellis Photography’ – which could be seen printed on the business cards that he had purchased from Vistaprint. They said the voice-over “You have a vision and we have your business card” reiterated that the product was targeted at business customers. Because they believed that the ad was aimed at business customers who would not pay VAT, they took the view that it would be acceptable that the delivery cost quoted was exclusive of VAT as those business customers would not be paying it. They also believed that the accompanying on-screen text clearly stated the amount of VAT excluded and that it remained on screen for longer than its required duration. They believed that it was unlikely that viewers would be misled because the on-screen text was given significant prominence and was present at the same time as the headline price.
The BCAP Code stated that quoted prices must include non-optional taxes, duties, fees and charges that applied to all or most buyers. However, VAT-exclusive prices could be given if all those to whom the price claim was clearly addressed paid no VAT or could recover VAT. Such VAT-exclusive prices must be accompanied by a prominent statement of the amount or rate of VAT payable.
The ASA noted that the ad featured a photographer ordering customised business cards for his photography business, and considered that consumers were likely to understand that the ad focused on an example of a business customer purchasing business cards.
Because the example was of a business customer, we considered that business consumers would understand they could purchase the product for the stated price. However, we also considered that business cards were a product that some non-business consumers might also wish to purchase. We noted that the price claim itself was not clearly addressed to those who paid no VAT or could recover VAT as required by the BCAP Code, for example, by stating “business price” or “trade price”. We therefore considered that such non-business consumers would not be aware that the headline price claim did not apply to them and they were likely to expect that they could also obtain the business cards for the stated “from” price.
In addition, we noted that the font used in the text indicating the rate of VAT payable, “Excluding 20% VAT…”, at the bottom of the screen appeared smaller and narrower. That text was separated by another line of text that stated “Enter TV500 at Vistaprint.co.uk”, which was positioned below the headline price claim. Because the rate of VAT payable was shown in a small font text, and at the bottom of the screen rather than immediately alongside the headline price claim, we considered that the claim was not accompanied by a prominent statement of the amount or rate of VAT payable, as required by the Code.
We further understood that the delivery cost quoted in small on-screen text at the bottom of the ad “Delivery from £2.99”, was exclusive of VAT. While the ad stated in small print “Exclusive 20% VAT, special finishes & paper stock. Delivery from £2.99”, we considered the reference to the rate of VAT payable was likely to be understood by those viewers who did see the statement of VAT rate payable as relating to the headline price claim, rather than also to the delivery costs quoted. We therefore considered that those viewers were likely to expect the delivery costs quoted to be inclusive of VAT. Further, because business cards were likely to appeal to both consumers and business customers, we considered the ad should have made clear that the delivery charges quoted were VAT-exclusive and that the quoted charges were clearly addressed to those who paid no VAT or could recover VAT.
Because neither the VAT-exclusive headline price claim “From £12.99”, nor the delivery charges, had been clearly addressed to all those who paid no VAT or could recover VAT or accompanied by a prominent statement of the amount or rate of VAT payable, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad 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), 3.18 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. and 3.19 3.19 Quoted prices must include non-optional taxes, duties, fees and charges that apply to all or most buyers. However, VAT-exclusive prices may be given if all those to whom the price claim is clearly addressed pay no VAT or can recover VAT. Such VAT-exclusive prices must be accompanied by a prominent statement of the amount or rate of VAT payable. (Prices).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Vistaprint BV to ensure that VAT-exclusive prices, including delivery charges, should only be quoted if all those to whom those price claims were clearly addressed paid no VAT or could recover VAT, and to ensure that such VAT-exclusive prices were accompanied by a prominent statement of the amount or rate of VAT payable.