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Morrisons rapped by ASA for "misleading" wine adverts after only two complaints

Published:  26 November, 2014

Morrisons has been forced by the Advertising Standards Authority to pull what it claims are "misleading" adverts offering special promotions after only two complaints.


Morrisons has been forced by the Advertising Standards Authority to pull what it claims are "misleading" adverts offering special promotions after only two complaints.

The ASA has ruled Morrisons cannot run the newspaper and online adverts in their current form after consumers had complained there were insufficient stocks to make use of the offers before they ran out.

The dispute dates back to adverts that Morrisons ran in May that offered a 3 for £10 deal on seven selected wines that each would have cost £5.

In its ruling the ASA states the press ad seen on May 23 2014 was headed "any 3 for £10. £5 each" with pictures of seven bottles of wine for: Campo Viejo - Rioja; Wolf Blass - Shiraz; Martini - Prosecco; Wolf Blass - Chardonnay; Gallo Family - White Grenache; Echo Falls - Chardonnay; and, Blossom Hill - White Zinfandel".

The text underneath the advert stated "max 12 per customer" and that it was "available in most stores in England and Wales. Excludes Scotland. Subject to availability. While stocks last. Excludes M local".

The ASA said it had received complaints from customers who had visited a number of stores and not only could they not find the wines on offer, but questioned whether Morrisons had enough stock of the discounted items to match the likely demand. Hence it claimed the adverts were misleading. The newspaper advert also did not make it clear when the promotion was to end.

In its ruling the ASA said: "We told Morrisons to ensure that they made reasonable estimates of demand for similar promotions in future and that they did not misleadingly omit offer end dates from ads."

The ASA said it "understood Morrisons had calculated their estimate of the likely response by using the highest sales for the product lines in the offer when they had previously been on promotion; that they had included a 25% uplift to the estimate based on the strength of the promotion; and that they had ensured there was contingency stock of 399,000 bottles".

The supermarket said it felt the very large contingency stocks would cover any run on the product. But "with hindsight" the company said it had not factored in "demand from small traders purchasing the products to resell", with eventual demand exceeding supply.  Internal monitoring systems alerted the retailer that it was running low on some wines on day one of the promotion. With this is mind it began to withdraw some advertising to limit the offer's exposure and arranged for the contingency stock to go out to stores on May 24. However the retailer said demand was "unprecedented", and it then added 138,000 bottles of three similar quality wines to the promotion.

By the time the offer ended the retailer had sold 1 million bottles. The company said it made every effort to withdraw advertising of the deal from May 23 - including replacing a TV ad and national newspaper ad. All related advertising was removed by 8pm on May 26.

The ASA said: "We noted Morrisons had taken a number of actions in response to the demand, including adding additional product lines to the offer and ensuring contingency stock was transported to stores, and also gave instructions for the advertising to be withdrawn as soon as they became aware of the stock issue. However, we considered the speed with which the advertised products ran out demonstrated the estimate of demand was not adequate for the purpose of satisfying the requirements of the Code. We also noted the promotion continued to be advertised for up to three days after the advertiser became aware of the problems with stock levels and concluded that the ads were misleading."

"We understood the offer was intended to last for 10 days and that Morrisons had made an estimate of what would be sufficient stock on this basis. We considered that, given this relatively short-term nature of the promotion, it was misleading to omit the offer end date from the ad, because it meant consumers were not provided with the information required to determine how quickly to act to obtain the offer...because the ad did not include the end date for the offer we concluded it was misleading."

A Morrisons spokesperson told today's Guardian: "We are disappointed with the ASA's ruling, which we understand was based on only two complaints. We ran a market leading deal which resulted in unprecedented sales of over a million bottles of wine. Even though our advertising stated 'subject to availability' and 'while stocks last' we also continued to honour the deal long after allocated promotional stocks ran out - so as not to disappoint our customers."