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ASA backs Viagogo in Google ad complaint

The UK’s advertising regulator has been slammed by critics of Viagogo after it ruled that its Google advertising is not misleading consumers.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) move reverses an earlier draft ruling from June 2018 that challenged whether an ad was misleading because it did not make clear that Viagogo was a secondary ticketing website.

The ASA did not uphold the complaint, stating: “We did not consider that consumers would assume that the ad was for a primary ticketing website and did not consider it to be misleading for the ad to omit what type of seller they were.”

Anti-touting campaign group FanFair Alliance, which filed the complaint, said Viagogo’s marketing practices, with the site paying to dominate Google search, had a “detrimental impact.” It also states that it is estimated that more than 40 per cent of Viagogo’s traffic comes directly from paid search.

Adam Webb, campaign manager at FanFair Alliance, said: “We are struggling to make sense of this decision. It defies all evidence and favours a controversial and potentially law-breaking Swiss website over the interests of British consumers.

“An ASA stamp of approval flies in the face of everything we know about Viagogo, and implies that the site and it’s marketing practices meet the regulator’s standard of being ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’. We have already sent an appeal to the ASA’s Independent Reviewer urging that this ruling is overturned.”

In addition, Viagogo is currently being taken to court by the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) over long-standing concerns that the website breaks UK consumer protection laws. Those concerns are echoed globally, with the site facing similar actions in Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, France, Germany, Spain and Italy, while its practices have been widely condemned by audiences, artists, regulators and politicians.

Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, and Damian Collins MP, Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee, have both urged British consumers to avoid the site.

Sharon Hodgson MP, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse, said: “Throughout my many years of campaigning against the rogue secondary ticket market, I have heard time and time again of fans being misled and ripped off by Viagogo. It is time for serious action to be taken against them, but this statement from ASA is one step backwards at a time when we should be moving forwards with stronger enforcement for the sake of fans across the country.”

Last month, FanFair Alliance, the APPG on Ticket Abuse and Society of Ticket Agents & Retailers (STAR) sent a joint letter to Google executives, asking that the search engine enforce its own advertising guidelines and restrict Viagogo’s ability to pay for prominence. The letter was countersigned by MPs, as well as many of the major music, sports and theatre organisations.

Jonathan Brown, chief executive of STAR, said: “FanFair’s research underpins widespread criticism that Viagogo’s ability to buy its way to the top of searches for tickets can lead to consumer confusion and potential harm. It is disappointing that the ASA has ignored the experiences of ticket buyers, as well as the many concerns raised by regulators, politicians and the industry over Viagogo’s practices. STAR supports FanFair’s appeal against this adjudication in the hope that it leads to a better resolution that actually works to protect consumers.”

Viagogo responded to the ruling, stating: “We have been working closely with the ASA and are pleased to have reached resolution. We remain committed to providing clear information to our customers. All tickets on Viagogo are genuine and backed by our guarantee.”

Image: Kristina Alexanderson