It’s simply the best, or is it? The ASA schools SsangYong on the use of absolutes

In the hyperbole party known as advertising, it’s quite surprising that we don’t see products proclaimed as the ‘best’ more often. But, as SsangYong recently found out, there’s a good reason for the omission of this word from most marketing campaigns.   

The South Korean car brand recently found itself in hot water, when a complaint about one of its ads appeared before the ASA.

The complainant in this instance, listed as C Franks, took exception to the description of the SsangYong Korando SUV as “New Zealand’s best value mid-size SUV” in a car brand. 

Franks described the claim of ‘best value’ to be “strange” when comparing the Korando to the Peugeot 4008, another mid-size SUV, which was on the market for the same price, and had features the Korando did not, including such things as rain sensing wipers, seven airbags and rear parking sensors.

Initially, the complaint was dismissed by the Complaints Board, but this decision was overturned on appeal, with the Appeals Board finding that that the ad was likely to mislead consumers and had not been prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers.

More specifically, it was found that in order for the Ssangyong to make that claim, it would need to provide specific evidence, suggesting that it would need to include information about all the other mid-size SUVs available in New Zealand, and how the Ssangyong Korando was relatively better value overall.

The board agreed this information was not provided and because of that the advertisement was in breach of rule two of the Advertising Code of Ethics and Basic Principle four of the Code of Ethics.

Rule two of the Advertising Code of Ethics provides that advertisements should not contain any statement or visual presentation that is likely to deceive or mislead the consumer, makes false and misleading representation about a product, while Basic Principle Four of the Code of Ethics places an onus of social responsibility on the advertiser.  

And although there is an allowance for hyperbole in the Code of Ethics, the appeal was upheld in this instance. However, because the television campaign had already concluded no further action could be taken (it is worth noting that the claim is still visible in the above Facebook post). 

The reason why the Appeal Board found in favour of the complainant in this instance was because the word ‘best’ is an absolute rather than an example of hyperbole. 

SsangYong countered this argument by saying that ‘value’ is a subjective term, which varies in meaning from person to person.

The Appeals Board weren’t convinced, saying  value can be measured by a number of factors, including price, the cost of servicing the car, resale value and forth—which in turn places the onus on the advertiser to be clear as to what ‘value’ measure they are referring to when using the term.

The real problem here lies in SsangYong’s decision to use an absolute in describing its product. 

And the car brand isn’t the only one to have recently got caught up for speaking in absolutes. At the beginning of last year, Spark and Vodafone became embroiled in a tussle over who had the ‘largest’ 4G network.

And while such bickering might seem unnecessarily petulant to most consumers, it’s worth remembering that businesses spend millions of dollars on the technology that allows them to make such claims. So, to have a competitor step in and trade on an false claim, will leave a particularly sour taste in the mouth of the brand that feels wronged. 

The lesson here is that it’s probably best to stick on the safe side and not use absolutes in ads. Unless, of course, you have some staff in white lab coats just waiting to lay down the cold, hard evidence one page at a time.   

Read the full case here.

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