Put away the (cheap) Champagne: Tesco complains to ASA about Aldi

Watchdog tells Aldi (again) that it must not artificially skew price comparisons in its advertising.

Aldi: skewed price comparison with inclusion of Moët
Aldi: skewed price comparison with inclusion of Moët

An ad for Aldi that unfairly compared prices of its own-brand products with branded products sold at Tesco, including a premium bottle of Champagne, has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for being misleading.

The press execution appeared on 8 December 2018 with the headline "Swap to Aldi and save", beneath which were two images of a similar array of food and drink products. The batch on the left from Tesco was listed at £61.56 and the one on the right from Aldi was priced at £32.54. "Save 45%" appeared in large type below the imagery.

Significantly smaller text at the bottom of the ad explained that the comparison was based on "Aldi products against brands and fresh products as shown" and added that "Tesco may sell 'own brand' products at different prices".

While the Tesco products in the image were mostly well-known brands, such as Moët & Chandon Champagne, Oyster Bay white wine and KP nuts, Aldi's selection featured own-label products, including Aldi's Veuve Monsigny Champagne and its own-brand peanuts.

Tesco – the single complainant – argued that Aldi's own-brand Champagne unfairly skewed the price comparison in Aldi's favour and that the ad did not make it sufficiently clear that Tesco also sold alternatives to more expensive branded products, including a far cheaper Champagne. Tesco challenged whether the comparison was misleading.

Aldi countered that comparing own-brand with major brands was permissible, arguing that the inclusion of Champagne at Christmas time was justifiable and that some products invariably produced larger savings than others. It also argued that the differential between Tesco's Lindt chocolate reindeer and its own product was proportionally greater than that between the Champagnes.

The German supermarket stated that the complaint raised by Tesco did not reflect the two scenarios in the CAP guidance around price comparisons, which state that advertisers "should take care not to skew the comparison by, for example, comparing an overly small number of products or an untypically high number of high-priced products that are substantially cheaper than their competitors’ equivalents".

Aldi said that there was nothing in the guidance to suggest that multi-product comparisons were unfair where the products compared generated a range of savings. It also argued that the ad made clear that the Tesco goods were household brands and its products were own-label.

The ASA acknowledged that "it was permissible for marketers to compare branded with own-branded products, provided that the comparison was not misleading" and that the comparison was around price over quality.

But it felt that Moët was a high-end product with associations with luxury and that its inclusion "skewed the comparison and was likely to mislead consumers".

"We did not consider that the statement in the small print that 'Tesco may sell "own brand" products at different prices' was sufficient to counteract the overall misleading impression given by the selection of products," it said.

It ruled that the inclusion of the Moët Champagne in the ad "artificially skewed the comparison in Aldi’s favour and was likely to mislead consumers".

The ASA ruled that the ad must not appear again in the same form and that Aldi should ensure its future multi-product comparisons do not make general savings claims based on a specific selection of goods, rather than a typical weekly shop.

This is not the first time that Aldi has drawn the censure of the ASA for misleading price comparisons. In 2016, two TV ads and a press execution were banned for unfairly comparing savings between baskets of its own products and similar ones from the "big four".

The ASA ruled in Aldi's favour in January 2017, but it again ruled against the retailer in February 2018.

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