Can you give a shiatsu? Comparative advertising amuses

Written by Margaret Briffa | July 11, 2018

Intellectual Property

It almost 20 years ago that Virgin Atlantic, then a relative newcomer and challenger brand ran the advertising campaign declaring ‘BA don’t give a shiatsu’ on giant bill boards strategically placed outside Heathrow airport.

As a slogan it hit all the right ad campaign buttons. It was amusing playful original and above all else memorable. BA was not amused. The arch rivals were at that time locked in tit for tat legal actions as they vied for customers and dominance of the airways. The shiatsu ad was followed by the release of a Virgin airship emblazoned with the words ‘BA Can’t Get it Up’ flying high over a BA sponsored ferris wheel. It said BA old and rusty, Virgin young and potent.

These days Virgin is no longer the newcomer on the block and with that the constant need to be a thorn in BA’s side has diminished.

So we must turn to the dusty world of vacuum cleaners for similar entertainment, where we learn that two of Britain’s biggest vacuum cleaner makers are embroiled in a legal spat over rival advertising campaigns.

Dyson, run by the billionaire inventor Sir James Dyson, has filed a High Court action against rival Gtech complaining about a series of advertisements which compare Gtech technology favourably to Dyson’s. The offending description used by Gtech is allegedly saying that its cordless vacuum cleans for up to “15 times longer” before it needs emptying than Dyson’s V8. Dyson said that Gtech’s claims were “untrue and misleading”. It is seeking damages, or profits arising from the ads.

Gtech defending the ad said its testing was “fair”, “produced an objective measure” and was “not misleading”. A second claim around Gtech’s claim that its bag would not envelope the user in a dust cloud is said by Dyson to discredit the Dyson brand.

Gtech have retaliated by launching a counterclaim for damages against Dyson for promoting its V8 cleaner with the slogan that it had  “more than 10 times the suction power” of Gtech’s AirRam cleaner.

Comparative advertising disputes give us opportunity to consider laws relating to trade marks and advertising which is an area heavily regulated to ensure that consumers are not misled. Such campaigns are often very effective but there are knotty questions to be answered to work out what is and what is not acceptable and its hard work for lawyers who may have to scrutinise the technical elements to advise. It can lead to feelings of hunger and the need for refreshment. Then I remember another famous case in this area – this time courtesy of Burger King, it went:

‘It’s Not Just Big, Mac’.

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