The ASA has upheld a complaint against Not Guilty Food Co Ltd t/a The Skinny Food Co, that removing genuine customer reviews was misleading. While the ASA considered it was reasonable for an advertiser to have a moderation policy in place, any moderation which removed genuine reviews that were relevant to the product and did not contain offensive material was unlikely to be acceptable. As such, the ASA found that the removal of genuine reviews meant that the ad did not accurately portray consumer response to the product and was therefore misleading.
The Skinny Food Co advertised a product on its website with the heading “Garlic Mayo #NotGuilty Zero Calorie Sugar Free Sauce - The Skinny Food Co - 425ml”. Halfway down the page was a section headed “Customer Reviews” underneath which were five stars, followed by text which stated “Based on 16 reviews” and a link to “Write a review”. There were 16 reviews underneath, which each showed five stars.
The complainant, who believed The Skinny Food Co did not publish negative reviews, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
The Skinny Food Co’s response
The Skinny Food Co claimed that there had not been any reviews on their website for some time. They said that they were not able to remove reviews themselves, and reviews that had used foul language, made false claims or that were repeatedly left would be automatically marked as spam by their review systems and would not be published.
The ASA’s ruling
The ASA upheld the complaint. It considered that consumers would understand the five star reviews published on the web page to be the average review comprised of all the reviews received, both positive and negative. In any event, consumers would expect that the content would not have been amended beyond what was necessary (i.e. advertisers would only remove offensive material, or reviews unrelated to the product featured in the ad).
In making its decision, the ASA assessed the complainant’s negative review which had been removed. It considered that it was relevant to the featured ad and did not contain any offensive material, and as such it should not have been removed. The ASA concluded that removing a genuine review meant that the ad did not present an accurate picture of customer response to the product and therefore the ad was misleading and in breach of CAP Code rule 3.1.
Misleading consumer reviews have been a concern for advertising regulators for some time. Advertisers who solicit reviews should be aware that, while a sensible moderation policy is acceptable, systematically removing negative reviews will render the remaining reviews advertising content, which will then inevitably be misleading. Advertisers who use software to vet their reviews automatically should review these arrangements and make sure their reviews are not being rendered misleading, even inadvertently.
Co-authored by Stuart Helmer and Aysha Kaplankiran.