The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regularly upholds complaints about marketing communications that feature a product that costs more than the stated price. Price statements must relate to the product featured in the ad and should not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion.
Ensure prices match the product shown
Marketers should not feature a picture of a top-of-the-range or enhanced product and quote in the headline a price for a lower specification model. For example, in 2014 the ASA upheld a complaint that a car ad was misleading because the models featured were shown with metallic paint and alloy wheels, which were not included in the price shown (BMW UK Ltd, 5 March 2014). If the price of the model shown is stated with less prominence than the headline price claim the ad still has the potential to mislead. Similarly, even if that price is prefaced by ‘from’, consumers are still likely to infer that it relates to the model shown and not to a lower spec. product not featured in the ad.
Clearly state any commitment the consumer must make to obtain the price
If the price of one product depends on another, marketing communications must make clear the extent of the commitment the consumer must make to obtain the advertised price (Rule 3.21). For example, a promoter offering a tie for £1 when customers buy a shirt for £20 cannot have an unqualified claim of “buy a tie for £1”. Such a promotion would need to be clarified immediately and prominently to explain customers’ financial obligation; for example, the promoter could claim “Get a tie for £1 when you spend £20 on selected shirts” or “Shirt and Tie offer – £21”.
Do not use “from” and “up to” to exaggerate the availability of a product at a given price
In the past the ASA has applied a rule of thumb that 10% of the products or services advertised should usually be available at the “from” or “up to” price based on the 2010 BIS Pricing Practices Guide. In 2016 the CTSI published new Guidance For Traders on Pricing Practices. This new guidance states that, when using “from” or “up to” to advertise a saving, advertisers must ensure that a significant proportion of sale items are discounted at the maximum saving, and that these claims represent the true overall picture of the price promotion.
Whilst the current guidance no longer uses the 10% rule, and instead states that a significant proportion should be available, it offers no further guidance on what is considered a significant proportion, and the ASA will investigate this on a case by case basis. An ad for a January sale which stated “up to 70% off plus a further 10% off” was upheld by the ASA because the number of sale items which were discounted by 70% before the additional 10% discount was 8.63%, which was not considered a significant proportion (Better Bathrooms UK Ltd, 4 October 2017).
When assessing whether an “up to” or “from” claim represents the true overall picture of a sale, the ASA is likely to consider the distribution of sale items across different price ranges. Even if a significant proportion of sales items have the maximum saving, if these sale items are disproportionately in the lower price ranges, an “up to” or “from” claim is still likely to mislead, and there should be a roughly even distribution of discounted products across all price ranges. The same ad for Better Bathrooms, which stated “up to 70% off”, was upheld by the ASA on this point, because the products in the sale were disproportionately from lower price ranges of products sold by the advertiser (Better Bathrooms UK Ltd, 4 October 2017).
Be aware of sector guidance
The Prices: Overview article outlines the advice available on specific sectors such as telecoms, ticket pricing and letting agents.
Marketers might also want to refer to the CTSI Guidance For Traders on Pricing Practices.
Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s AdviceOnline entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
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