A UK website offering reviews of accounting software that was operated by TheAccountancyPartnership.com Ltd t/a Pandle (“Pandle”) was recently challenged by Crunch Accounting Ltd (“Crunch”) on purported misleading advertising and unfair comparisons with identifiable competitors. Crunch complained to the UK advertising regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority (the “ASA”) (see: www.asa.org.uk).

Crunch contested that www.accountingreviews.co.uk was misleading as it implied the site was independent, whereas in fact it was operated by Pandle, a company selling accounting software which was ‘top rated’ on the site. Such reviews had been commissioned by Pandle and were under their editorial control. The ASA considered that the site was a marketing communication for Pandle and that the commercial intent of the site was not obvious from the context, breaching rule 2.3 (Recognition of marketing communications), and rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising) of the UK non-broadcast advertising industry code (the “CAP Code”).

Reviews on the site included star ratings for ease of use, speed, features, support, reporting, price and VAT handling. Crunch contested that the review of its software was misleading and in breach of the CAP Code, because it did not believe it accurately compared its product or provided sufficient information for the basis of feature descriptions, such as the speed being ‘slow’, the reporting capabilities as ‘small’ and the price as ‘high’. The ASA found that the subjective nature of the terms and language used meant their meaning was ambiguous and were therefore likely to mislead users about the features and price of the Crunch software, breaching rule 3.1 (Misleading advertising) of the CAP Code.

Lastly, the CAP Code states that comparative ads must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative feature of those products. Comments on the site made use of subjective language such as ‘overpriced’ and ‘the pricing is high’, but lacked context or substantiation. The ASA therefore found that those claims were neither objective nor capable of verification, breaching rules 3.33 and 3.35 of the CAP Code (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).

Pandle was instructed to remove the ads in their current form, to make the commercial intent of the website clear and to ensure that website reviews of competitors’ software did not misleadingly omit the basis for comparative claims. Pandle was also instructed to ensure that it objectively compared one or more product features and did not include claims which were subjective or incapable of verification.