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CAP issues guide on comparative advertising campaigns

Published on 04 July 2019

What must marketers consider when running a comparative advertising campaign?

The background

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) issued new guidance on 28 February 2019 identifying the key points for compliance by marketers in relation to comparative advertising.

Issues to be identified

The new CAP guide identifies four main issues:

  • Type of claim

    Marketers need to think carefully about what claim is being made and how it will be interpreted by consumers. The guide specifically warns against using ambiguous claims as these risk misleading consumers, and reminds marketers to ensure they have evidence to support an objective claim before the ad is run.

  • Is it a comparison with an identifiable competitor?

    If a comparison is made to an identifiable competitor, specific CAP Code rules apply. The guide highlights that the name of a competitor or a competitor’s product does not need to be stated for the ad to include an “identifiable” competitor. Being “identifiable” will vary widely between markets, ads, claims, audience and the context.

  • Are the right things being compared?

    The guide sets out that any comparative ads need to compare products which meet the same need or are intended for the same use – there needs to be a “sufficient degree of interchangeability” for consumers between the products being compared.

  • Is the comparison verifiable?
    The guide highlights that comparisons with identifiable competitors need to objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative features of the products. Such features can include price.

Superiority claims

The guide also sets out information relating to claims of superiority or “top parity” (being claims that a product of an advertiser is one of the best). Unless claims are obviously “puffery”, the ASA is likely to regard any claims of superiority as objective. CAP warns against marketers from using the term “best”, as it could, in context, be considered a subjective claim, but also may well lead a consumer to believe the advertised products or services to have been shown to be better than their competitors.

Leading claims

The guide notes that “leading” claims such as “UK’s cheapest” are likely to be interpreted as a comparison of the advertised product against all its competitors, meaning such competitors are identifiable. The ASA may well consider such a claim to be in comparison to the whole market, and therefore expect to see evidence comparing the advertised product to the whole market, rather than just its leading competitors.

Comparing like for like

The CAP Code states that ads need to compare products or services which meet the same need or which are intended for the same purpose. The new guide states that, in order to comply with this requirement, marketers need to ensure the basis of any claim is clear that the ad is not likely to mislead consumers materially.

Verifiable comparison

Any comparison with identifiable competitors needs to be verifiable. The guide states that, for a comparison to be considered verifiable, enough information must be included in the ad to enable a consumer to fully understand and check the accuracy of the claim. This information can include what the claim is based on and, in some cases, a signpost for consumers to find this information.

Why is this important?

The guide provides helpful information for marketers on comparative advertising campaigns, but also provides warning signs about what to avoid and the possible consequences. It highlights that marketers need to be able to verify any objective claim, and to provide evidence to substantiate any claims made.

Any practical tips?

Watch out for any superlative claims, eg “best”, “leading” “cheapest” etc. Depending on context, you may be making an objective claim against the whole market, and these types of claims can be hard to substantiate.