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ASA slams 'misleading' eBay ad

Testy bargain-hunter unable to find specified tat

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eBay has been rapped over the knuckles by the UK advertising industry regulator for a misleading web ad.

The ad, which ran on various websites for two weeks in early December, suggested that top-line coffee machines could be purchased on eBay for less than £100, designer chairs for £50 and Le Creuset pots for under £80.

An irate customer, unable to find any of these things at the prices stated, complained to the Advertising Standards Authority and had his/her grievance upheld.

The ASA noted that "we considered that the vast majority of consumers were likely to understand the nature of the eBay website", suggesting that the anonymous complainant perhaps – in its opinion – had failed to do so.

Nonetheless, the ASA said "all the items depicted in the ad should have been available for the whole time the ad appeared, and as soon as the items were no longer available the ad should have been withdrawn".

This could, on the face of it, open the floodgates for an avalanche of complaints, especially if other media are to be held to the same standard the ASA has seemingly set for online ads. Assuming that the authority sticks to precedent, this could raise the spectre of budget airlines being required to pull posters from Tube stations every time a flight sold out, or magazine print runs having to be pulped and reprinted at an advertiser's expense.

However, the judgment involves no visible penalty and eBay merely received a wrist slap. A representative commented that "we have duly noted the ASA's ruling". So that's all right then. ®

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