Home > Uncategorized > Being Conned By Adverts

Being Conned By Adverts

Dear Advertising Standards Authority,

I refer to the current East Coast adverts for “bargain” fares between cities on their route, e.g. London to Newcastle from £15.  You’ve already explained that, as far as you are concerned, the “from” allows the seller this contrivance. Your “rule of thumb”, I believe, is that there must be 10% of fares offered at that price.  My reasonably extensive research could not find this many.  Your sample research (that you sent me) did not, either.  In fact, 2 of the journeys you found (67% for that period) included a 4 hour overnight journey break on-route.

I understand the concepts of “loss leaders” and the “from” qualification, but would suggest that this current ad campaign does not in any way accurately represent the cost of the product available.

Compared to the “full” fares available, it is clear that the £15 is, indeed, a loss leader.  What if the offer was London to Newcastle from 1p, would the ASA police the proportion available at that price more stringently?

This ad campaign gives the false impression that inter city rail travel is easily affordable, when, in reality, the average fare is considerably more expensive.

In truth, my complaint is not with East Coast.  They are playing within the rules. My real complaint is: what are the ASA doing to protect us from this practice?  Should the yardstick be what proportion of the fares are actually sold at the special price, not just “offered”.  

I would pre-empt any argument that refers to the presence of the qualifying “small print”.  I really do think the ASA are failing in not preventing blatant manipulation of the rules.  I would argue that the “small print” needs to be easily accessible, not just present.  The “small print” qualifications are OK in a newspaper ad or read out in a radio ad, but certainly not in a roadside street poster 30 metres away, or more dangerously, flashed on the TV during a slick distracting commercial.  I would suspect that the TV ad is considered the most effective by the seller, but is also the least appropriate for “small print” qualification.  That means, in my opinion, that their scope should be more carefully controlled/curtailed.

In conclusion, when I see ads like the ones discussed here, I wonder just what the ASA are doing.


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