Following on from a recent spate of misleading comparative advertising (see my colleague, Geraint's article here), the ASA has provided some helpful guidance which is targeted at the education (particularly higher education) sector.
The guidance does not add anything to the rules governing comparative claims. Instead, it is a summary of the rules that apply more broadly. Here are the key points:
- Hold substantiation: When making claims, make sure you hold documentary evidence that allows you to substantiate your claim.
- Do not misrepresent the evidence: Claiming to be “ranked” when you are 150 out of 151 is likely to be misleading. Similarly, adding a gloss to the rankings might also be misleading.
- Be particularly careful with “No.1” or “Top 5” claims: One University recently got rapped across the knuckles for claiming to be “Top 5 for student satisfaction” when they had artificially limited their comparators.
- Include the source: If you're Top 10 in the Times but not in the Guardian, then "Top 10" on its own could fall foul of the rules.
As with all comparative claims, it is important to work out first what you want to say and then whether you have the evidence to back it up. This is even more important when you are naming a competitor, as naming them can introduce trade mark issues.
The higher education sector is a competitive one and making comparative claims can be a great way to stand out and provide prospective students with useful information to help them to decide where to apply. Such claims might draw on rankings and analysis from a range of published league tables, surveys and research. However, it’s important that comparative claims stick to the rules and don’t mislead consumers.