Advertising Standards Authority upholds review website complaint

09-02-2012 16:09

The Advertising Standards Authority (“the ASA”), on 1 February, 2012 upheld a complaint made by two hotels against the review website TripAdvisor.

The ASA is the UK’s regulator of advertising across all media.  It is independent and works to ensure that advertising, including on websites, is honest and truthful.  One of the codes that it works to ensure compliance of by advertisers is the Committee of Advertising Practice (“CAP”) code.  This code is broken down in different rules, some of which are general to all advertising and some of which are specific to particular industries, for example, advertising in relation to medicines.

The complaint in this instance was raised by two hotels under the CAP code regarding the following claims made by TripAdvisor:

  • “...reviews you can trust...”
  • “...read reviews from real travellers...”
  • “TripAdvisor offers trusted advice from real travellers”
  • “More than 50 million honest travel reviews and opinions from real travellers around the world”

The complainants complained that the claims were misleading because they understood that the reviews were not verified and therefore could not prove whether the reviews were real or genuine.

TripAdvisor argued, amongst other things, that they had fraud detection systems in place and “dedicated substantial resources to indentifying and minimising any non-genuine content”.  Furthermore, it argued that an independent study in July 2011 had shown that respondents to the study found the reviews to be accurate of their actual experiences and that hotels were using the reviews themselves on their own websites.  Hotels were offered a public right of reply to negative reviews and that reviews had to declare that the review was honest and genuine.

The ASA upheld the complaint.  It decided, among other things, that consumers would read the four claims above and be sure that the reviews were genuine.  It stated that the fact the reviewer had to make a declaration regarding the accuracy of the review did not prevent non-genuine reviews being placed on the website.  The advert is not allowed to be reproduced as it is.

It is important to remember that the advertising codes need to be adhered to.  Significant cost may be spent in producing advertising and if this breaches a code and needs to be removed, it could cost substantially more.

The full decision in this case can be found at the ASA website at www.asa.org.uk.

If you would like any more information on this issue, please contact Emma Hayward.

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