Travel giant TripAdvisor is facing a second and potentially more serious complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority that threatens to outlaw all third parties using its reviews to market their products.
The first complaint questioned the veracity of TripAdvisor’s reviews but the second claims existing advertising rules mean no reviews can be used to market product if the author’s identity cannot be verified.
An increasing number of hotel, travel agency and tour operator websites pull in TripAdvisor content, or link to it to help promote their product and improve their search engine ranking.
The Kwikchex case cites rules in the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) non-broadcast code that states marketers must be able to show a review’s authenticity by proving it was made by an identifiable and potentially contactable person.
An ASA spokesman could not confirm the second complaint had been lodged, although this is understood to have been purely a procedural issue, a detailed submission having been sent on November 2 but not yet logged.
Kwikchex co-founder Chris Emmins said: “This is potentially much bigger than our first complaint. It’s absolutely apparent that reviews are not being verified and that they are being used for promotional purposes. We think that verifying testimonials is key to fulfilling the requirements of the CAP code.”
An extract from the code on testimonials and endorsements states: “Marketers must hold documentary evidence that a testimonial or endorsement used in a marketing communication is genuine, unless it is obviously fictitious, and hold contact details for the person who, or organisation that, gives it.”
The code does allow testimonials to be used by third parties from a “published source” without permission of the author, however this places the onus back on the originator of the review to authenticate it and Kwikchex believes TripAdvisor’s current procedures fail to do this.
In the submission Kwikchex makes reference to a number of cases in which it believes the CAP code is being breached. These include use of TripAdvisor content on hotel website Accor, Thomson’s tour operator site and tourism body VisitLondon.
Separately to the challenges to TripAdvisor, the UK government is working with a number of companies on a charter for online reviews to promote best practice led by Ed Davey MP, minister for consumer affairs for the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation.
Andrew Mabbutt, managing director of Feefo, an online review service and one of the firms working with the government on the charter, said:
“The ASA’s view on use of reviews that can’t be authenticated will be awaited with particular interest in the travel sector where TripAdvisor reviews are widely used for marketing purposes.
“We feel it is vitally important that any reviews used are at the very least checkable in terms of the person who posted them and if they are not then they either be flagged up as such or not made public until they are.
“This issue is becoming more and more high profile and it is important companies, review sites and regulators alike get to grips with it before there is widespread loss of public confidence in what can, and should be, a powerful marketing tool.”
Tripadvisor said it could not comment on the second Kwikchex complaint as the ASA had not confirmed it was investigating it.
The ASA confirmed to Travolution that the investigation into the first complaint was nearing a close although the recommendations had not yet been put to council and it could be a few weeks before any decision is made public.