45% of complaints to the ASA, The Advertising Standards Authority, are about misleading claims.  One latest advertiser to fall foul of the rules, is Louis Vuitton. The ASA upheld complaints that two press ads were misleading. One featured a photograph of a woman stitching the handle of a handbag with the words ” A needle, linen thread, beeswax and infinite patience protect each overstitch from humidity and the passage of time. One could say that a Louis Vuitton bag is a collection of details. But with so much attention lavished on every one, should we only call them details?”  

Three complainants complained  the ads misleadingly implied that Louis Vuitton products were made by hand when they are not. The ASA upheld the complaints because there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the implied claims that they were.

Louis Vuitton is one of many advertisers who fail to have prepared  the necessary evidence to prove any implied or explicit claims in advertising.  Why does this matter? Because an adverse ASA adjudication that upholds complaints for misleading can be hugely damaging to brand reputation, and often for fairly small infringements of the advertising codes.

The UK’s advertising codes for broadcast and non broadcast advertising are unambiguous:

“Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove all claims, whether direct or implied, that are capable of objective substantiation. Relevant evidence should be sent without delay if requested by the ASA or CAP.  The adequacy of evidence will be judged on whether it supports both the detailed claims and the overall impression created by the marketing communication. ” (Clause 3.1 CAP Code)

Often marketers simply get carried away with belief in the brilliance of their products and creatively simplified slogans simply sound better. There is however a genuine risk that exaggerated statements can lead to damaging adverse publicity and with the imminent extension of regulation to promotional messages on the Internet advertisers must think carefully about claims in marketing communications of all types. Other marketers do not take an ASA letter demanding substantiation seriously. This is a mistake as many have discovered. A quiet week in the news means the press will focus on any major brand caught out breaching the Codes. John Reynolds in Campaign, publicises one of many such advertisers in his article about British Gas’ efficiency claims. Media Guardian’s Mark Sweney will swoop on any important transgressor. Only recently he reported the ASA’s decision to ban Eurotunnel email promotion which claimed its service took vehicles to France by train in just 35 minutes and ran “whatever the weather”.

Its not just about brand damage either. Having a press ad or TV commercial banned can mean a massive waste of money. So don’t waste a good campaign, an expensive TV commercial or lose pre purchased media space. Know your regulations and have robust evidence to substantiate your claims.