Not worth the paper it’s written on…

March 1, 2010

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently ruled that it may be unsuitable for an online supplier to advertise its products in a hard copy brochure where prices fluctuate frequently. Such a brochure may become misleading where it remains in circulation after prices have changed.

Dabs.com, an online hardware and software supplier, published a brochure advertising a particular laptop at a given price. Text on the opposite page stated that consumers should check the website for the latest prices. Although the incorrect price had been included in the brochure in error, Dabs.com said that its prices could fluctuate on a daily basis, as that was the nature of their industry. The complainant argued that the advertisement was misleading.

The ASA held that consumers would expect an advertised price to be correct at the time they saw an advertisement. It should reflect the price at which the product was sold while the advertisement was in circulation. Therefore, the advertisement breached rules 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 15.1 (Prices) of the CAP Code.

The outcome of this adjudication is important for online retailers who produce printed brochures.
Advertisers must ensure that prices in printed matter will remain valid for the lifetime of the brochure. According to the Pricing Practices Guide, unless the advertisement says otherwise, a price indication should apply for a reasonable period. As a general guide, this will be a period of at least 7 days or until the next issue of the newspaper or magazine in which the advertisement was published, whichever is longer.

In this case, the ASA also held that reference in the brochure to the website was not sufficiently clear to give readers an indication as to current prices. A possible solution may be to tie the stated validity of the brochure to the website reference so that, after a given date, readers must refer to the website. Systems should be in place to ensure that prices never fluctuate above the advertised price during the validity of any printed matters.


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