Rick's Rants: Advert disclaimers
Tesco; Talk-Talk; Harvey's. They're all packing their ads with small print and disclaimers and this doesn't impress Watchdog's resident grump Rick Wakeman...
It's bad enough having some television adverts interrupting your favourite programmes, but what makes it worse is seeing the get-out clauses that some of these ads use.
Take Sainsbury's - they have a promise to match the price of branded products that you can find cheaper elsewhere. They've been banging on about it for months, which is about as long as it takes to read the list of disclaimers. These disclaimers include:
- You have to spend at least £20
- It doesn't apply online
- It doesn't apply in Sainsbury's convenience stores
- It doesn't apply in Sainsbury's garages
- You have to price match across your whole basket of brands. Not just the ones that are cheaper elsewhere.
All this, and not to mention the hundreds of products that aren't included. Even after all of that, you can only claim a coupon with a maximum value of... £10.
Adverts in the newspapers use the same trick, and you also have to watch out for the dreaded asterisk. Take an advert for Talk Talk broadband. The 'half price' and the '£3.25' are in massive letters, but when you read the disclaimer you discover that it isn't £3.25, at least when you add on the £30 or £50 connection fee. Plus not to mention the £13.80 a month line rental... that comes with a massive 12 month contract.
Perhaps we have all become so used to seeing all this information that we don't bother to read it. We need to pay attention though, because it could be surprising. Take an advert from Harveys for example: if appears to offer massive discounts on sofas. But when you take a closer look, you discover that the supposedly "bargain" sale price of £699 is actually £100 more than the previous price on the screen (although there were two higher prices listed).
So we've had too much information - and "eyebrow-raising" information. A newer type of disclaimer concerns questionable market research. Want to know more? Ask the man from Del Monte. In one ad, he claimed that the majority of people like to say 'yes' to his orange juice, compared to the leading brand. But when you look at the small print, it reveals that this boast is based on a survey of only 144 respondents - 54% of whom preferred Del Monte. When you think about it, that means 46% didn't prefer it.
Rick suspects that most of these disclaimers are there to stop the companies getting into trouble with the advertising authorities for making misleading claims. It doesn't always work, though. Tesco fell foul of the authority with a press claim that their British iceberg lettuces go from farm to store within 24 hours. When challenged by the ASA that this might not be true, they said that it was "just puffery and doesn't need to be substantiated" and "the average consumer would take it to mean delivered quickly rather than within 24 hours". Well, why not just say that then?
A Sainsbury's spokesperson said:
"Millions of Sainsbury's customers benefit from Brand Match vouchers in our stores every week and they tell us they like the scheme and understand how it works. "The end of shopping around" is a headline in some of our adverts and invites people to find out more, with an immediate and clear explanation that we compare prices so that our customers won't pay more for their basket of comparable brands than at Asda and Tesco, and they will instantly receive a coupon for the difference at the till. To avoid customer disappointment we state where there are exclusions and a small number of stores where we are unable to offer Brand Match are detailed on our website."
A Harveys spokesperson said:
Harveys always endeavours to be both clear and transparent with the promotion of its offers to customers and also to comply with relevant regulations regarding the promotion of offers and price reductions. Harveys has to display price trails in full for a product to ensure that it fully complies with such regulations regardless of whether prices go up or down. This particular product was previously sold at one lower price as well as at two higher prices than the price given at the time of the advert hence the reason why a full price trail for the product meant that all these prices had to be displayed.
A Talk Talk spokesperson said:
A TalkTalk spokesperson said: "BT, BSkyB, Virgin and TalkTalk all advertise the cost of phone and broadband subscriptions separately from monthly line rental and connection charges. We make all of the charges very clear when customers sign up, they are contained within all the promotional material, and we are committed to offering the best value on the market, with no hidden charges."
A Tesco spokesperson said:
"The disclaimer was used to ensure customers understood that in rare and unforeseen circumstances the product may not arrive into our stores as quickly as normal. We know our customers value freshness and our intention was to highlight the fact that our lettuces go from farm to store within 24 hours, and that it is therefore possible for our customers to buy and eat a lettuce within 24 hours of it leaving the farm."