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 Working Lunch Wednesday, 15 January, 2003, 12:45 GMT
Firms warned over adverts
Price comparisons graphic
The latest spat was over the price of paint
Companies have been told not to use misleading price comparisons with rivals in their advertising.

Supermarkets and DIY stores are among those which highlight apparent savings to win customers.

But regulators are worried by the number of complaints they've been getting - about 13,000 a year compared with just 1,400 in 1998.

Now guidelines have been updated to keep firms on the straight and narrow.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) says it's easy for companies to get things wrong when making comparisons.

Paint advert in newspaper
Price comparisons are a common marketing tool
That can lead to censure by the sector's watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority.

B&Q fell foul of the ASA because of a newspaper advert comparing its paint prices with rival Homebase.

In the advert it said: "Homebase lowered their higher prices on these products to compare them to ours. Next thing they did was to put them up again."

Homebase argued that the advert misleadingly implied it had put up prices immediately, and suggested it used unfair trading practices.

Criticised

B&Q contended that the advert was justified because prices at Homebase had increased "soon afterwards".

But the store was criticised by the ASA in a ruling issued on Wednesday.

Guy Parker, Committee of Advertising Practice
Guy Parker: "Tempering enthusiasm"
And now the CAP has stepped in to help firms avoid breaching the advertising code of practice.

"To try and temper the enthusiasm of marketers we've pointed out a couple of areas where it's easy to make mistakes," explains the CAP's Guy Parker.

"The first is comparing your cheap own brand products with a competitor's premium products when they've got actually got more comparable branded products themselves.

"The second is comparing your cheap online prices with a competitor's more expensive in-store prices when that competitor has also got an online operation that would be the more appropriate subject for a comparison."

Companies these days vie with each other to protest about each other's advertisements.

It's a bit of a game - but the advertising authorities are worried that amid the confusion of questionable ads and complaints, customers can end up being duped.

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