Cycling company wrong to suggest Olympian's endorsement, rules ad watchdog

Out-Law News | 04 Feb 2010 | 1:17 pm | 1 min. read

An Olympic medal-winning cyclist has had her objection to being used in a bicycle chain advertisement upheld by advertising regulator the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Bike chain manufacturer KMC Chain Europe has been censured by the ASA for claiming in an ad that Emma Johansson endorsed its products when she did not. The ad even included a 'testimonial' from Johansson that she said she had never given.

A specialist cycling magazine carried an ad which pictured Johansson and stated that she 'chooses' the KMC X10SL Gold chain.

"Details makes [sic] the difference between the podium or nothing," it said she said. "KMC is the most innovative in chain technology and makes the difference with their X10SL Gold; optimal shifting performance and its extreme light weight. KMC Chains are simply the best," the ad quoted Johansson as saying.

Swedish cyclist Johansson's management team said that the testimonial was not genuine and that she had not endorsed the chains.

KMC said in its defence that Johansson was part of two cycling teams which it sponsored, and that the chain she was using in one of the ad's pictures was a KMC chain.

The ASA ruled, however, that the company's suggestion that Johansson herself endorsed its products made the ad misleading.

"KMC had not demonstrated that the testimonial in the ad was directly attributable to Emma Johansson or that she had given permission for her image or name to be used," it said. "Because KMC had not demonstrated that Emma Johansson endorsed the product or that the testimonial was genuine, we concluded that the ad was likely to mislead."

The ASA ordered the company not to use the ad again, and told KMC to ensure that it had people's approval before claiming that they endorsed its products.

In 2002 Eddie Irvine won a case in which the High Court confirmed that celebrities have the right to control their endorsements.

Irvine had appeared without his consent in an advert for radio station talkSPORT. In a promotional brochure sent to fewer than 1,000 people he appeared in a doctored photo which showed him apparently holding a radio with talkSPORT's logo on it.

The High Court awarded him £2,000 in the case but on appeal had that increased to £25,000 by arguing that that was his minimum fee for endorsements.

A false endorsement could also be prosecuted as a "misleading action" under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations of 2008. An advert could amount to a misleading action if "its overall presentation in any way deceives or is likely to deceive the average consumer" in relation to "any statement or symbol relating to direct or indirect sponsorship or approval of the trader or the product".