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ASA refers Viagogo to Trading Standards for misleading advertising

Published on 09 August 2018

How likely is the ASA to impose further sanctions when an entity fails to act upon the ASA's instructions?

The background

In March 2018 the ASA ruled that Viagogo was misleading consumers and that it breached the CAP code by failing to be transparent on its booking fees and delivery charges which were added at the end of the booking process.  The ASA found that Viagogo were:

  • not making clear the total price at the beginning of the customer journey;
  • not including the booking fee (inclusive of VAT) upfront; and
  • not making clear the applicable delivery fee.

The ASA “made clear to Viagogo that if changes were not made we would consider imposing further sanctions”.  Viagogo guaranteed that they would make all compulsory fees appropriately clear on its website by 26 May 2018.  According to the ASA, Viagogo failed to adequately act upon this. 

The development

In reaction to Viagogo’s apparent disregard for the ASA’s ruling, the ASA referred Viagogo to National Trading Standards.  Guy Parker, Chief Executive of the ASA, stated “Where an advertiser or business is unwilling or unable to follow the advertising rules we will act.  In light of Viagogo’s inability to get its house in order, we’re referring it to National Trading Standards to consider appropriate action”.  Unlike the ASA, Trading Standards can impose far more stringent penalties, including direct compliance orders, fines or up to two years imprisonment under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. 

Why is this important?

The main takeaway from the referral is that the ASA is taking a far tougher stance on this type of misleading advertising, particularly with regards to misleading pricing information.  Guy Parker’s comments also highlight a shift in the approach of the ASA when utilising the sanctions that it possesses. 

Another weapon in the ASA’s armoury is to issue Ad Alerts against non-compliant advertisers.  Essentially, an Ad Alert is a request to media channels not to place adverts for the target advertiser.  This could be a big deal for Viagogo, which relies on linking strategies in particular to send customers to its site. 

Additionally, the amount of attention this referral picked up in the national press cannot be ignored.  Consumers are already wary of secondary ticketing sites and big dollops of negative press might lead to a serious drop off in ticket sales. 

Any practical tips?

The ASA rarely refers matters to Trading Standards, but this referral clearly shows that the ASA is not going to hang about if it perceives that it is not being listened to.  Any advertisers out there with any repeat breaches on their record would do well to sit up and take note.  Trading Standards prosecutions can get very ugly for the companies involved, and possibly also for individual directors who may be (criminally) implicated.  If you are in this position (ie with concerns about a potential referral coming your way), consider sharing the ASA’s Viagogo press announcement and the accompanying news reports with the appropriate management team in your business.