NAD Judges a Popularity Contest
NAD recently issued a decision in a challenge that Zillow brought against Apartments.com involving a humorous campaign that featured Jeff Goldblum. The decision covers a lot of ground, including some issues that may be unique to the rental market. For today, though, we’ll focus on an issue that spans industries and comes up frequently. Specifically, we’ll look at popularity claims, such as the advertiser’s “The Most Popular Place to Find a Place” tagline and a couple of “#1” claims.
NAD noted that “most popular” and “number 1” claims send a powerful message that a brand is preferred over all other brands. Because these messages can factor heavily in consumer purchasing decisions, NAD scrutinizes them carefully to determine whether the evidence fits the claim. In most cases, the best evidence to support these claims is sales data. That wasn’t available in this case because rentals take place off the parties’ sites. Instead, the parties each presented data on website visitors.
Apartments.com and Zillow sparred over whether “most unique visitors” or “most visits” is a better metric for determining popularity. NAD didn’t pick either option, concluding that website traffic is not a good fit for “Most Popular” claims. When an advertiser makes a broad superiority claim, it must support “all reasonable interpretations of its claim.” Because readers could interpret the claim in different ways, the advertiser’s data showing it had the most unique visitors wasn’t enough to support the claim.
NAD also considered the claim that Apartments.com is “#1 listing network for houses, townhomes, condos and apartments.” The advertiser provided evidence comparing the number of listings on its site and the number of listings on Zillow. NAD concluded that Apartments.com could support a claim that it has the” #1 listing network” based on listing volume, but recommended that the basis of the claim – listing volume – be clearly disclosed to avoid conveying a message that it is the #1 network based on popularity.
Zillow also challenged the claim that Apartments.com is “the nation’s #1 rental network, with more than 25 million visitors to our sites each month searching for a new apartment.” Although NAD determined that the “25 million visitors” part of the claim was supported, it pointed to its previous conclusion that website traffic was not sufficient to support a popularity claim. Accordingly, NAD recommended that the advertiser stop the claim or make “a more limited claim regarding the number of visitors to a website.”
Popularity claims are always going to be . . . well . . . popular with advertisers. And they’re always going to be unpopular with companies on the losing end of the comparison. If you plan to make a popularity claim, you should generally look to independent sales data for support. Although this decision states that website traffic won’t be enough to substantiate a broad claim, advertisers still have room to make more tailored claims. Those can still have an impact with consumers, while lowering your risk of challenge.