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Compare the Market: qualifying language in ad too material to be communicated by on-screen text

Published on 08 April 2019

How prominently do you need to show qualifying language in an ad which is material to the offer in question?

The background

A TV ad was aired in July 2018 which promoted Compare the Market’s “2 for 1” meals offer.  However, two complaints were received by the ASA that the ad was misleading, as it did not sufficiently communicate the fact that the offer was only redeemable through the Compare the Market app.

The ad itself showed characters sat at a dining table with one of Compare the Market’s meerkats stating, “I’m here to split the bill with you all”.  At this time, small text at the bottom of the screen listed information and conditions, including the condition that the offer was app only.  Later in the ad, the meerkat stated “Introducing Meerkat Meals.  Get 2 for 1 on food when you buy through Compare the Market”.  Concurrently, prominent text at the top of the screen stated “Meerkat meals.  2 for 1 on starters, mains and desserts”.

The response

Compare the Market gave various reasons as to why the ad sufficiently communicated that the offer was app only.  Among these, the company stated that the app only condition was clearly communicated through on-screen superimposed text.  For example, the company stated that, with reference to BCAP guidance, the text was held on screen for a suitable amount of time, the text was simple and the font was the correct size. 

The decision

The ASA ruled that the ad was likely to mislead, breaching BCAP Code rules 3.1, 3.10 and 3.11.  According to the ASA, the fact that the offer was only available through the app was material information which had not been communicated clearly enough.  The ASA cited the fact that the material information was not referred to in the voice-over, referenced by any characters or shown in the large on-screen text.  Moreover, while “app only” did appear in the small on-screen text while the offer was referred to by the characters at the start of the advert, later in the advert, when the offer was mentioned again, there was no such on-screen text mentioning the limitation.

Why is this important?

The ruling against Compare the Market’s ad highlights that it is not always sufficient to mention material information in on-screen text only.  In the ruling, the ASA considered that the on-screen message was insufficient compared to the overriding message of the advert, which was created by (among other things) the voice-overs, the characters’ speech, the large on-screen writing and the lack of small on-screen writing the second time the offer was mentioned.

Any practical tips?

Keep on your toes!  Look out for those conditions which are so material that they need to be included in the main body of the ad, and not just the on-screen text.