ASA instructs Michelin to change advertorial format following complaint

The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that a Michelin advertorial page published on the website in August 2015 was in breach of the CAP Code. Details of the ruling were published on 30 December 2015 and show that two issues – whether the article was misleading and if it was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication – were investigated and upheld. Both the Telegraph and the tyre maker deny any wrongdoing.

The text and video published by the Telegraph was based on a test carried out by racing driver Ben Collins during the “Telegraph’s recent Performance Driving Day, in association with Michelin” and compared a Michelin tyre with an unspecified ‘budget’ brand. The article concluded that the premium tyre offered better safety and performance in wet conditions than its budget counterpart.

The issue of whether the advertorial was misleading came under the ASA magnifying glass following a complaint from one reader who believed the advertorial “implied Michelin tyres would always outperform budget tyres” even though he or she “understood that some budget tyres had a higher braking performance rating than some Michelin tyres.”

Michelin challenged the allegation, claiming that the comments Collins made in the video were “unscripted and represented a genuine and honest expression of his opinion of the performance of the tyres.” The tyre maker added that it was “satisfied that the video was an accurate record of an appropriate test to demonstrate the comparative braking performance of two different quality tyres.”

Furthermore, Michelin said the video did not promote the sale of any particular design or named Michelin tyre, rather it illustrated the different performance characteristics of the two tyres in a clear and honest way in order to inform a consumer’s buying decision by demonstrating that price ought not to be the sole consideration. With respect to the complainant’s specific concerns, the company stated that the video and associated text did not attempt, whether directly or indirectly, to imply that its tyres would always outperform budget tyres. Michelin said the comparative remarks made were constrained and solely related to the objective testing undertaken and portrayed in the video; the test was an evaluation of two different types of summer tyre, and there was no intention to make a wider or more general comparison related to all premium or budget tyres.

The ASA says it decided to uphold the issue of the advertorial being misleading as it considered that comments made by Collins and accompanying text “would be understood by consumers as an objective test between budget and Michelin tyres, and that they would expect for the results to be representative of the range of tyres available in both sections of the market.” Therefore, the ASA determined that the advertorial breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising) and 3.33 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).

The issue of whether the ad was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication was raised by the ASA itself. The Telegraph stated, and Michelin confirmed the opinion, that the clear prominence of Michelin logo and brand name – plus the presence of information about Michelin’s sponsorship of the featured Performance Driving Day and of the advertorial – makes it clear that the advertorial was a marketing communication.

Despite these arguments, the ASA states that although several references to sponsorship were made and that the Telegraph wrote that the article was published “in association with” Michelin, these phrases did not sufficiently show that the content was specifically an ad (as opposed to, for example, material that had been financially sponsored, but over which the creator retained editorial control) and that Michelin held editorial control in the form of the right to veto the content if unsatisfied. The ASA therefore opines that the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 2.1 and 2.4 (Recognition of marketing communications) and 3.1 (Misleading advertising).

As a result of these rulings, the advertorial may not appear again in the form complained about. “We told Michelin Tyre plc to ensure that they held suitable substantiation for future comparative claims and that their ads were obviously identifiable as marketing communications, including by using labels other than ‘sponsored’ or ‘in association with’ for advertorials and ad features,” wrote the ASA.

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