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New unfair trading laws are due to come into force on 1 October.
They will give important new rights to consumers where businesses mislead or trade aggressively with them.
Fortunately, the majority of companies do neither.
However, this doesn't mean that traders can stifle their yawns and look for a cosy bed of laurels to rest their indifferent heads on: it could be surprisingly easy to fall foul of the (amended) Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
In the last two Comet posts, we discussed how the new right to a discount and the right to unwind will affect businesses. Today, we look at the third new right under the 2008 Regulations: the right to damages, particularly in the context of 'misleading actions'.
In effect, if traders are slapdash about the truthfulness of their advertising or aren’t bothered by what their sales teams tell customers, they may find themselves at the wrong end of a claim form under this new legal regime.
This is potentially worrying for a commercial world that has been encouraged for years to stop ‘selling products’ and start ‘selling stories’. Organisations have been told that spinning a compelling yarn can help to build trust, be entertaining and, most importantly, give customers something to relate to.
This remains useful advice.
But when does sales talk become misleading? When does exaggeration in marketing material become untruthful? After all, we can all exaggerate stories from time to time. Was it not Mark Twain that said 'never let the truth get in the way of a good story'?
In essence, businesses will still be allowed to market creatively but they should be mindful to do so in a fair and truthful manner. Above all, they will have to take greater care to manage the risk of consumers suing them if they get this wrong.
Jane (other names are available) complains to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about a misleading advert from We Sell Widgets Ltd.
She wins. The ASA bangs a gavel on its special desk and declares that the ad is misleading.
It mustn't appear in the same form again.
As it happens, the ASA typically takes a more robust view on what is acceptable or not in comparison with the courts (see our post:
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