What is it with SUVs and superlatives? After StopPress covered SsangYong’s schooling on the use of ‘best’ by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), we have another case of the absolutes. Mahindra New Zealand has claimed their SUV is the “best value 7 seater” in a recent website video that's revved up the ASA once more.
The complaint by T. Morris summed up his sensible sentiment: “I feel like a broken record here, but 'Best value' SUV seems to be being thrown around willy-nilly in the car industry at the moment. I recently noticed the following advertisement from Mahindra, claiming their XUV500 is 'NZ's best value seven seat SUV'. This vehicle is retailing at $36,990.”
Morris compared the Mahindra SUV with the Holden Captiva seven seat SUV, and said the claims were being made without any facts, openly deceiving consumers. The now taken down advert shows an image of the Mahindra SUV beside text describing the features of the vehicle as a voiceover says “…The new age of Mahindra motoring brings the best value 7 seater SUV to the market…”.
Mahindra NZ thanked Morris for highlighting its claim in its ASA reply, as they believed they had the robust evidence needed to back it up. Its main argument was the price of the Mahindra being the lowest for the amount of value and that other seven seater SUVs were special editions, rather than regular models like the XUV. “Captiva Equipe specification is not a regular model within the Captiva range and can only be purchased from participating dealers — not the entire Holden dealer network. By comparison, the Mahindra XUV500 is not a limited edition, the $36,990 +ORC starting price is available throughout the year from all Mahindra dealers.”
The advertiser claimed the “single most important factor” was the internal diesel combustion engine as there are no other diesel seven seaters at a lower recommended retail price. It pointed out Trade Me listings that show it is the lowest on the market. It also pointed out that specifications, including ‘nice-to-have additions’ such as Apple CarPlay and sunroofs in other SUVs were too subjective to be compared to the likes of their satellite navigation and reversing sensors.
Remaining proud throughout the process, Mahindra NZ's response read: “For a small, fledgling brand in NZ, we’re actually really proud to offer the product we have at the sharp price without gouging the consumer. Yet we now find ourselves in a position of having to defend claims due to the lack of advertising transparency from other established brands around their RSP pricing and secretive restricted sale conditions. Shame isn’t it”.
However, the shame was on Mahindra as Trade Me listings were not enough evidence to support their claim of “best” value. The board upheld the complaint, agreeing that the ‘best value’ claim must be substantiated by comparing the SUV with all other seven seater SUVs available in the New Zealand market, not just two.
The Appeal Board said ‘value’ is a subjective term and ‘can mean different things to different people.’ But it needs 'robust evidence'. It agreed the advert was a breach of the Advertising Code of Ethic’s Basic Principle four (due sense of social responsibility) and Rule two (misleading or deceptive) and Principle one of the Code for Comparative Advertising (once again, likely to mislead or deceive the consumer).
The ruling referred to the previous SsangYong case, which claimed to be ‘New Zealand’s best value mid-size SUV’. In this case, comparison to other car models played a large role and Basic Principal four was also broken. It seems car brands have been appearing on the wrong side of the ASA’s ruling list lately, with a Volkswagen and FCB TVC pulled earlier this year for promoting unsafe practices.
A battle for being the best of the best not only gets you in trouble with the ASA, it can also create tunnel vision. Brands like Carlsberg have found ways around advertising's panache for promoting the best product with a tongue-in-cheek tag line: ‘Probably the best beer in the world'. This campaign has been running for several years and included the ‘probably the best poster in the world', which included a self-pour beer tap for passers-by. In New Zealand the 'probably most creative way around the ‘best’ problem' campaign is on the airwaves with a radio advert.
It ain't easy being the best, but if a little bit of creativity is all that's needed in a saturated beer market then there must be more than one way to sell a SUV.
Read the full ASA case here.