Tesco has been slapped down by the Advertising Standards Authority for one of the horsemeat apology ads it ran at the height of the scandal earlier this year.
The ASA said Tesco’s two-page press ad – headed “what burgers taught us” – misleadingly suggested there were problems with meat standards across the entire food industry, when only some retailers and suppliers were affected by the scandal.
The text of the ad stated: “The problem we’ve had with some of our meat lately is about more than burgers and bolognese. It’s about some of the ways we get meat to your dinner table. It’s about the whole food industry.”
Two complainants – one of them an independent butcher – challenged the claim “it’s about the whole food industry” on the basis that it was misleading because it implied there were issues with meat standards across the industry, and because it unfairly denigrated food suppliers who had not been implicated in the scandal.
In defending its ad, Tesco said consumers would have known it was referring to the specific horsemeat problems at Tesco and not at other retailers or suppliers. It also hired an independent expert to back up the claim the horsemeat crisis involved issues that affected the whole food industry, including sourcing through complex supply chains and a lack of testing.
However, the ASA ruled the ad was misleading because at the time it appeared investigations into the scandal had not been concluded, and it was therefore incorrect to suggest there was a widespread problem.
“We understood that while some products had been sold, contaminated with meat not shown on the label, this was not widespread as only a small number of products had tested positive for horsemeat and others had tested negative,” it said. “Because the ad implied that all retailers and suppliers were likely to have sold products contaminated with horsemeat, and because relatively few instances of contamination had been identified at the time the ad appeared, we concluded the ad was misleading.”
But it found the ad did not unfairly denigrate other suppliers.
A spokesman for Tesco said the retailer was “disappointed” with the ASA’s decision, but accepted that “the ASA has taken a very literal view of the wording of in the advert”.
“We think our customers understood that our aim with the advert was to set out the action we had taken in relation to the horsemeat crisis and to acknowledge the fact the issue had serious consequences not just for Tesco, but for the whole food industry.”
It is understood the General Media Panel (GMP) that advises the ASA argued the complaint against Tesco should not be upheld, but the ASA disagreed. A spokesman for the ASA said he could not comment on the advice given by the GMP, but added: “It’s important to mention that while the GMP offers invaluable advice and guidance on a range of advertising regulatory matters, ASA Council is the independent body responsible for administering the Ad Codes and adjudicating complaints. It is not bound by GMP advice.”