Travel marketers may wish to use a comparison to highlight a particular, or overall benefit of using their products or services over competitors.
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code requires advertisers to hold documentary evidence to substantiate claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. Additionally, any comparisons with identifiable competitors must be verifiable and comply with other relevant comparisons rules.
This guidance focuses on comparisons made in ads for the travel sector. For general guidance on comparisons see Comparisons: General, Comparisons: Identifiable competitors and Comparisons: Verifiability.
- Comparisons with identifiable competitors
Advertising rules 3.33 – 3.40 set out the requirements advertisers must follow when making comparisons with identifiable competitors. Whether a competitor or its products are identifiable will depend on the ad, claims, audience, context, and nature of the market in which the advertiser operates. If a consumer can identify at least one competitor or competing product, then the claim will be considered a comparison with an identifiable competitor or competitors. For detailed guidance on these rules see Comparisons: identifiable comparisons.
Even if an ad does not explicitly refer to competitors, if it is possible to identify at least one competitor or competing product with which the comparison is made, the rules will apply (Heathrow Airport Ltd, 4 February 2015). If there are a small number of competitors or competing products available, consumers are likely to be able to identify what those are even if they are not stated in the ad. In 2012 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that it was clear which competitors the claim “It’s cheaper by train than by plane this Autumn” referred to, because only a small number of airlines provided services between Edinburgh and London (East Coast Main Line Company Ltd, 9 May 2012).
Unqualified superlative claims such as “the UK’s cheapest” are likely to be understood as a comparison with all competitors. This type of claim should be substantiated with evidence which relates to the entire market. In most cases, best-selling claims, and other claims which are likely to be understood in the same way, such as “no.1” or “leading”, should be supported by evidence which demonstrates that the advertiser has the largest market share. The ASA upheld a complaint about the claim “#1 holiday website on the planet”, because the advertiser did not provide evidence to demonstrate that the advertiser had the largest turnover of holiday rentals when compared to their global competitors (Rental Republic Ltd, 19 January 2022). The claim “Europe’s number one airline” was not considered misleading, because the advertiser could demonstrate that over a reasonable period the advertiser had carried more passengers than any other European airline (Ryanair Ltd, 7 February 2018). See Types of claims: No. 1.
The CAP Code requires that comparisons with identifiable competitor products “must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative feature of those products” (rule 3.35). To make a comparison verifiable, ads must include or direct a consumer to sufficient information to allow them to understand and verify the comparison or ask someone suitably qualified to do so. A complaint about an ad which stated “The world’s largest management company for Airbnb and more” was upheld by the ASA because the ad did not provide any information to ensure consumers were able to check the comparative claim, nor did it include a signpost to information on the basis of that comparison (Airsorted Ltd, 08 August 2018).
The claim “It’s cheaper by train than by plane this Autumn…we checked and 79% of flights had a cheaper East Coast train alternative” was upheld for misleading consumers about the comparative cost of train and air travel from Edinburgh to London. The data used to support the claim did not include the price of regular Edinburgh to London flights offered by one airline, which meant that the small print which stated “All London airports and applicable airlines are included in the comparison” incorrectly stated the basis of the comparison. Because the comparison did not include all relevant data, it was not possible to verify whether the comparison was accurate (East Coast Main Line Company Ltd, 9 May 2012).
CAP’s Advertising Guidance on the marketing of flights, accommodation and other travel products states that comparisons of journey times should be fair, conducted on a like-for-like basis e.g. peak times against peak times, and should not mislead. When times for the same journey by rail and air are compared, the air calculation should include the transfer times between the centre of town and the airport (if the airport is not centrally located) and the cost of transfer between the centre of town and the airport (if the airport is not centrally located).
- Other comparisons
When making a comparison with an unidentifiable competitor, marketers should ensure that the elements of the comparison are not selected to give an unrepresentative advantage. In general, comparing products which differ significantly might be considered misleading unless those differences in the product or service are clearly explained in the ad. Ads must not be likely to mislead consumers and objective claims must be supported by evidence.
- Price comparisons
When making a price comparison, the quoted prices should be accurate and up to date. If the comparison becomes inaccurate, because a quoted price has changed, marketers are expected to do everything in their power to remove or amend the communication (RSD Travel Ltd, 11 March 2020).
Marketing communications that include a price comparison must make the basis of the comparison clear (3.39). The ASA upheld complaints about the claim “lowest price guaranteed” in an ad promoting holiday deals. In order to substantiate the claim, the advertiser should have held comparative evidence that Cruise Nation’s trips were available at a lower price than other travel providers but did not provide the ASA with any evidence to demonstrate that this was the case. In addition, neither ad featured any information which made the basis of the comparison clear, for example, information about when the comparison was made or which competitors they had compared their prices against (Really Great Cruises Ltd, 24 April 2019).
- Price promises and “lowest price” claims
For a “lowest price” or “cheapest” claim to be acceptable marketers should ensure that they have an appropriate price monitoring and adjustment policy in place to ensure that they are always cheaper than their competitors. A promise to reimburse consumers the difference in price, if they find a product or service cheaper elsewhere, does not justify a “lowest price” claim. Rather, it is a “price promise”, the conditions of which should be made clear in the ad.
The ASA investigated claims which appeared on a “Price Promise” page for Avanti West Coast. The ASA considered that consumers would interpret the claims “You can search high and low, but you’ll never find a cheaper Avanti West Coast ticket anywhere else” and “No need for shopping around or price comparisons” to mean that it would never be possible to find a cheaper fare for their journey. However, consumers had found cheaper tickets for what they considered to be the same journey (x to z) with third-party split-ticketing providers. Because the ad implied cheaper Avanti West Coast tickets could never be found when that was not the case, the ad was likely to mislead (Avanti West Coast, 15 June 2022).
In 2013 the ASA did not uphold a complaint about an ad which stated, “If you find the same flight (operated by British Airways) cheaper elsewhere online, once you have made your booking on ba.com, we will refund you the difference.” The complainant was unable to take advantage of the price promise which prompted the complaint, however, the “Price Promise” page explained that one might be required to show proof of the lower fare, including the date of travel, which the complainant did not provide (British Airways plc, 20 February 2013).
For general advice on prices in travel marketing see Travel marketing: Pricing, Travel marketing: Working with third parties and Advertising Guidance on the marketing of flights, accommodation and other travel products.
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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