Vexed by verifiability? How to make sure your ads comply.

What is verifiability, when does it apply, and how can you ensure your ads comply? Below the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) answer these key questions to help you verify your knowledge of verifiability in ads.

What is verifiability?

Both the CAP and UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP) Codes require that comparisons with identifiable competitors are verifiable.  They “must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative feature of those products” (Rule 3.35 in both Codes).

‘Verifiable’ simply means including enough information in the ad to enable consumers to fully understand, and check the accuracy of comparative claims. In order to ensure that this is the case, an ad should include, for example, information about what the comparative claim is based on and (in some cases) a signpost to where consumers can find this information.

When does it apply?

All ads that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor need to make sure that the comparison is verifiable. This applies to both broadcast and non-broadcast ads and isn’t confined to price comparisons.

A competitor doesn’t need to be named to be identifiable, and if it is possible for the consumer to identify at least one specific competitor then the verifiability rules are likely to apply.  Market leading/“No. 1” claims, for example, will usually be subject to this requirement because consumers are likely to be able to identify competing products/companies.

What information is needed, where, and how?

All objective comparative claims need evidence to support them and the amount of information needed in the ad will depend on the nature of the claim and the supporting evidence.

Sometimes comparisons will be easily verifiable from the information within the ad itself.  For example an online price comparison between two identical products on two different retailers’ websites on a particular date, could be easily verified without the need to direct consumers to further information – provided the ad includes enough information about the comparison (i.e. product, prices, competitor, date, where the price was checked, etc.).

If the information needed to verify the comparison comes from a published third party source that can be easily located and accessed by consumers (i.e. information they can reasonably find for themselves, without having to pay to access it), then stating enough about the source to allow people to easily find it for themselves (usually online) and locate the relevant information within it may be sufficient.

More complex comparisons, such as a comparison between the efficiency of products or a market-wide price comparison, are likely to involve a large amount of quite technical evidence.  In those cases, the ad should include enough information about the basis of the comparison to ensure that consumers aren’t misled and direct them to where the full information needed to verify the comparison can be found.

When directing consumers to this information, the direction should be sufficiently explicit.  The easiest way to do this is to include a clearly labelled qualification, linked to the comparative claim, which gives either a website address for where the information can be found, or provides a postal or email address that consumers can contact to obtain the information i.e. “*To verify visit… / Contact XXX for verification”.

When making information available on a website, care needs to be taken to include all of the relevant information about the comparison to ensure consumers (or someone with the requisite degree of knowledge) can verify it.

Comparisons based on commercially sensitive or confidential data should not be made unless the advertiser is prepared, and allowed, to share the relevant information with consumers.

Source: CAP

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