Factual claims and comparisons in marketing

Factual claims and comparisons in marketing

Advertisers must be able to prove the factual claims made in their marketing materials. The accuracy of the facts must be ensured even before presenting them, and they must be correct at the time of publication.

Factual claims are any statements that refer to measurable effects that can be proved right or wrong. The more categorical the statement, the better the proof of its correctness that is required.

Claims must be based on unbiased and reliable reviews, research reports, statistics, tests or measurements, etc. If products are compared, the sample must be representative. Environmental claims may be made once the product has been proved to contain properties that are worth mentioning in environmental terms. Other requirements:

  • Properties with environmental significance must be presented clearly and unambiguously.
  • Other products in the product group must be taken into account when making claims concerning environmental significance. The use of the word “phosphate-free”, for example, is irrelevant if there are no similar products containing phosphates on the market.
  • The term “eco-friendly” and similar generalising terms (“green”, “environmental”, “ecological”, etc.) may only be used after a comprehensive impact assessment of the product’s entire life cycle. Such general statements may only be used if the product has a significantly lower impact on the environment than other products in its segment throughout its life cycle (cradle to grave).

Difference between praise and factual claims

A certain amount of exaggeration and praise is permitted in advertising. There is a significant difference between commercial praise and the presentation of factual claims, however.

Factual claims are concrete promises or claims made by the advertiser concerning the properties or effects of the product in question. If the product is claimed to have measurable effects, it must be possible to prove them.

Commercial praise is so generalised in nature that no proof of it is required. For example, the expressions “most beautiful”, “most luxurious” or “most delicious” are usually deemed to be matters of taste and therefore constitute commercial praise. They are not considered to be factual claims, because their evaluation is affected by the customer’s personal preferences.

Comparisons in marketing

Comparative advertising must be truthful, unbiased and appropriate. Comparative advertising refers to:

  •  Advertising that compares a company’s products, prices or other activities to those of specific competitors.
  •  Advertising that refers to competitors indirectly, comparing for example the material, properties or usability of the product in question to other similar products on the market, without identifying the specific point of comparison.

If products are compared, the sample must be representative. If the products compared are not identical, either the main differences must be described or the products compared must be specified.

The comparison must focus on qualities that are relevant for the consumer. For example, a car may not be advertised prominently based on test results that are on the whole of minor significance to the consumer.

Superlatives constitute comparisons

The use of superlatives in marketing is aimed at comparing a product with its competitors. Superlatives such as “the most eco-friendly on the market” may only be used if this can be proved. There is also a difference between saying “The best shoe shop in town X” and “The cheapest shoe shop in town X”.

The word “best” can be deemed to be commercial praise, requiring no proof, whereas “cheapest” is a factual claim referring to price levels in a specific geographical area and product segment. This sort of claim has to be possible to prove, for example through reliable price surveys. Research data in advertising If marketing materials point to research conducted in Finland, they must indicate at least who conducted the study and where. With regard to research conducted elsewhere, the consumer should be offered the opportunity to access the research results, because it may be difficult for them to find them for themselves.

 

Updated 24.10.2014 Print

Guidelines

The Consumer Ombudsman´s guidelines contain information on the application of provisions.