The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned the supermarket Sainsbury’s television, internet, email and newspaper advertising for its “Brand Match” campaign over its misleading statements and comparisons with rival supermarkets. The Brand Match campaign uses independently verified price data to calculate the cost of a basket of branded goods compared with the cost of the same basket at competitor supermarkets, Asda and Tesco. If the branded goods would have been cheaper at either rival, the shopper would receive a voucher at checkout equal to the value of the difference and redeemable the next time they shop at Sainsbury’s.
Several complainants (including Tesco) challenged whether the claim that shoppers would not pay more for branded goods at Sainsbury’s than at Asda or Tesco was misleading, when the vouchers confirmed that they would, in some instances, have paid less for the same shop elsewhere. Other complaints challenged whether the adverts misleadingly implied that the brand match applied to all branded purchases, when it was only available to shoppers spending a minimum of £20, and that the claim “Save at Sainsbury’s with Brand Match” was misleading as the prices were matched only, not bettered. In response, Sainsbury’s argued that the Brand Match campaign was “genuine, clear and concise” and had been well received with nearly 100 million coupons issued, which they believed indicated that consumers had understood the offer.
The ASA disagreed, noting that the claims that shoppers would not pay more for brands at Sainsbury’s than at Tesco or Asda were likely to be interpreted as suggesting that they would not pay more at the time of their shop, which was not the case as they merely received a voucher indicating the difference in price, and which required them to make another purchase at Sainsbury’s within the next two weeks to make the saving. The ASA also said that the wording “Save at Sainsbury’s with Brand Match” was likely to be interpreted at suggesting that branded goods would be cheaper at Sainsbury’s. As prices were only matched, not bettered, and in some cases shoppers would pay more, the adverts were misleading. Further, the requirement to spend a minimum of £20 was not made clear in all adverts. Banning the adverts, the ASA told Sainsbury’s to “ensure future ads did not imply consumers would not pay more, or would save money, if that was not the case”.
The UK advertising codes require that advertising should be clear, honest and not misleading. Where, as here, the promotion has any significant conditions (e.g. a minimum £20 spend or the saving taking the form of a redeemable voucher on a future purchase) they should be made clear to consumers in the advertising, not buried in terms and conditions. The decision also serves to remind how complaints can be brought directly by disgruntled competitors, not only by members of the public.