Not all claims in advertising are meant to be taken literally. However, when they are, they may be open to challenge as Tourism New Zealand has recently found out. Tourism New Zealand’s “100% Pure New Zealand” campaign has recently come under fire both internationally and locally, including a claim being brought before the New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”).
Environmentalist Dr. Peter Nuttall lodged a complaint with the ASA in March this year regarding the campaign. The complaint was dismissed by the ASA Complaints Board and appealed by Dr. Nuttall in August. The basis of Dr Nuttall’s complaint was that research into New Zealand’s environment showed a degradation of its beaches, waterways and biodiversity thus making the campaign “misleading” and “unsubstantiated.”
Dr. Nuttall’s complaint was brought primarily under the ASA’s Code for Environmental Claims and secondly, under the ASA’s Code of Ethics. The objective of the Code for Environmental Claims is to ensure that advertisers and marketers develop and maintain rigorous standards when making environmental claims in advertising and to increase consumer confidence to the benefit of the environment, consumers and industry.
In determining whether the 100% Pure New Zealand campaign was in fact in breach of the Code for Environmental Claims, the Complaints Board said that the expression “100% Pure New Zealand” and the images combined with the accompanying text were contextually relevant to promoting New Zealand as a unique tourist destination. Despite Dr. Nuttall’s argument that “almost without exception, most commentators, whether they support the complaint or not see a strong environmental connection with the 100% Pure NZ Claim,” the Complaints Board held the expression “100% Pure New Zealand” was a positioning statement used to promote the unique experience New Zealand offered international tourists rather than a claim about New Zealand’s environmental purity. The advertisements did not imply that the environments featured were 100% pure, rather they implied that these scenes and places were a part of the unique visitor experience. The Complaints Board concluded that the Code for Environmental Claims had not been breached.
Under the Code of Ethics the Complaints Board considered whether or not the campaign contained anything which either directly or by implication, was likely to deceive or mislead the consumer or impair public confidence in advertising. The ASA also considered whether or not the campaign had been prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to both consumers and society. The ASA considered Tourism New Zealand’s response which quoted parts of a speech given by one of its former CEOs “the phrase ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ was the synthesis of everything we are – as a people, as a country and as an experience.” Tourism New Zealand then went on to say “when considered as part of the whole message, “pure” becomes synonymous with “genuine” and “authentic” – 100% authentic New Zealand.” The Complaints Board agreed with Tourism New Zealand and again held that “100% Pure New Zealand” was a positioning statement rather than an absolute claim of environmental purity.
Accordingly, Dr. Nuttall’s complaint was not upheld.
Arguably, the general public would never have regarded the campaign as literally meaning that everything in New Zealand was 100% pure, if for no other reason than it being practically impossible. However, the case shows that in some instances such claims can be considered in a literal sense and advertisers should take some care in this regard. The ASA decision ultimately has supported that claims should be considered in context and not be considered to have a wider application than was clearly meant.