It's official: Ryanair misleads customers
Ryanair is the latest firm to get caught out for misleading customers. But do the authorities do enough to clamp down on such practices?
Controversial airline Ryanair has been warned about its future advertising, after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint against the firm.
Last December, Ryanair ran a national press ad plugging flights to Dublin, which was headlined “Fly Ryanair one way from £7”, and which then highlighted events being held in Ireland’s capital city for New Year’s Eve.
However, it was only once you reached the small print of the ad that it was explained that the promotion only ran for flights between January and March - so if you didn't have a time machine to travel to December 31st, you'd miss out on the exact festivities Ryanair was using to promote the deal!
Ryanair has been warned to ensure that in future its small print does not contradict the impression given by the rest of the advert, but this is just one example of firms misleading customers like you and me in way that can leave us out of pocket.
Axa Sun Life
Back in 2004, AXA Sun Life was whacked with a fine of £500,000 – a record fine at the time – after admitting that adverts for its with-profits endowment policy and life policy were inaccurate.
The ads ran between February 2002 and January 2004, and featured celebrities like Carol Smillie. Not only did the adverts not provide sufficient information about the risks involved, but they even used dodgy figures – when comparing the AXA deals with rival building society accounts, the insurer failed to calculate the compound interest correctly, thereby giving false comparisons. Even once AXA realised the mistake, it took AXA more than six months to come clean to the FSA.
On top of the fine, AXA handed out around £1m in compensation to customers.
Cosmetic products are big business, and L’Oreal is one of the markets biggest names, utilising the world’s most beautiful women to plug its products. Unfortunately, the ads were found to be excessively airbrushed.
L’Oreal’s brands Lancome and Maybelline have both been forced to pull adverts in recent months after they could not prove that the flawless skin of Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington was the result of their skincare products, rather than a bloke in marketing with a flash computer.
As a result this week the ASA has published clear rules for when such digital techniques must not be used. Marketers have been told that they must not:
- Airbrush the appearance of lines and wrinkles around the eyes in an ad for eye cream
- Use before and after photos that exaggerate what the product can achieve
- Add highlights and shine to hair for a product claiming to product shiny hair.
So long as photos are allowed to be tampered with, you'll never truly know if you can trust the ads!
Last year, Standard Life was walloped with a £2.45m fine for enticing customers into investing in a ‘safe’ investment, which ended up being anything but.
An FSA report found that the Pension Sterling Fund had invested more than half of its £2.2bn kitty into mortgage-backed securities – hardly the low-risk investment it was marketed ad, particularly as Standard Life suggested in its marketing that the fund was wholly invested in cash.
Once the credit crunch hit, the fund dropped in value by almost 5%, with losses of around £100m.
Broadband providers are regularly in hot water for advertising speeds which are not exactly accurate, and Virgin Media is just the latest firm to get a telling off.
Back in July the ASA found that Virgin had been guilty of misleading claims about its broadband, in particular the claim that “Ofcom have proven our fibre optic broadband is around twice as fast as BT”. The ASA took issue with this as, when compared with BT’s fibre service Infinity, it just wasn’t true.
In 2011 so far, the ASA has upheld or partially upheld claims against Virgin, TalkTalk, BT and Plusnet! Clearly all telecommunications adverts should be taken with a large dollop of salt.
We have much to learn
These are just a handful of examples that I have highlighted, but in each case, the punishment has been relatively light. That’s not how our friends overseas do things – if they see dishonest advertising, they slap down serious fines.
For example, over in Australia in July the broadband firm Optus was ordered to pay a fine of $5.26m Australian dollars after they were found to have misled customers about the download allowances on new packages.
And in Canada, in June, Bell Canada – another communications firm offering broadband and wireless services – was whacked with a $10m Canadian dollars fine because it had misled customers over the actual prices they would pay, hiding charges and fees in the small print.
It’s only by hitting these fibbing firms where it hurts – their bank balance – that you can hope to affect change. It’s ridiculous that we have a situation where an airline can advertise a certain price, and we all know that our chances of actually paying that price are slim to none. It’s little wonder that it’s the same old companies getting referred to the ASA on a regular basis – in my opinion, being told to drop an advertising campaign is not a real punishment for telling lies. What do you think?