In the battle of the coffee chains, Costa has edged one step ahead of its biggest rival, Starbucks. The ASA has dismissed complaints from Starbucks over a series of press and outdoor ads run by Costa stating that coffee lovers preferred Costa to Starbucks. The ads, featuring body copy such as “Sorry Starbucks: the people have voted” and “Seven out of 10 coffee lovers prefer Costa”, were challenged by Starbucks, who said the ads were misleading and the claims were unsubstantiated. The ads carried small print to the body copy stating that in blind taste tests of 174 self-titled coffee lovers comparing Costa’s cappuccino against those of Starbucks and Caffe Nero, 70% of respondents who identified themselves as ‘Coffee Lovers’ preferred Costa cappuccino. Costa was advised by the CAP Copy Advice Team that, although the taste tests were based solely on cappuccino comparisons, it was fine to make the headline a general claim, provided that this was clarified in the bodycopy text to refer only to cappuccino. Somewhat amazingly, the ASA agreed.

The ASA’s decision highlights the important of using effective small print in press/outdoor and indeed TV ads to qualify any claims made. At the end of 2009, Ofcom banned a radio sponsorship ident which used the same “7 out of 10 coffee lovers” wording as the press ads, but failed to qualify the claim in the voiceover. Under the Advertising Codes, any claim made in an ad must be capable of substantiation, and the advertiser making the claim must hold documentary evidence on file to prove the claim and send this to the ASA on request.

New versions of the Codes are being launched this year and amongst other things, provide further detail on making claims in ads. Please see our ReACTS Guide on the new advertising codes for more detail.