Gas giants spat over price comparison ad

Advertising watchdogs have upheld a complaint by British Gas over a rival provider's 'unfair' price claims in a newspaper advertisement.

The contentious advertisement appeared in the national press in March under the headline ‘npower cheaper than British Gas’.

It explained npower’s rates would be reduced 16 days after the advertisement was published making them lower than British Gas’s on the day of publication.

British Gas complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on three grounds:

-the advertisement implied the price drop had already taken place or was imminent, whereas it would happen over two weeks after publication.

-the basis on which the price comparison had been made was unclear

-the price comparison was unfair.

Npower defended the advertisement arguing the text below the headline put the claims in context and made the comparison clear.

The ASA dismissed the first two complaints but upheld the third.It ruled the advertisement should not be run again because npower had no way of knowing, and no control over, future British Gas prices.

The authority ruled: “Although the basis on which the price comparison had been made was likely to be clear, and we understood npower had used their competitor’s most up-to-date prices as the basis of the comparison at the time the ad was published.

“We considered the comparison was nevertheless problematic, because npower had no means of knowing what prices BG would charge in the future.

“We also considered that consumers were likely to interpret the ad as making a promise that npower would be cheaper than BG (British Gas) for the average Direct Debit customer from 26 March.

“Although fortuitously it transpired that the claim proved to be correct, it could equally have proved to be incorrect, because npower were making claims about circumstances over which they had no control.

“We considered that at the time of the ad’s appearance, npower were making a claim they could not substantiate, because they had no way of knowing what BG would be charging a couple of weeks in the future.

“We concluded that the price comparison was unfair.”

David Gibbs

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