Software ad banned for 'taking unfair advantage' of Sage

A rival's product was promoted with the headline "Sick of Sage?" and a claim that Sage's product range was a "bag of bits."

Interprise Solutions ran a direct mailing campaign for its software package showing an office worker kneeling on a deserted beach with his hands stretched up towards the sky. In front of the man were the letters SOS written in pebbles. The headline stated "Sick Of Sage?" with the capital letters S, O and S highlighted.

Text on the reverse stated: "If so, take a look at Interprise Suite ... Integrated CRM, BI, Accounts, eCommerce, Fax, Email, Reports, Stock, Order processing, Trade Counter etc, all with One look and feel, One database and One Business Logic i.e. not a bag of bits..."

An internet banner ad was also headlined "Sick Of Sage?" with the capital letters highlighted and the same image. Text stated: "If so, take a look at Interprise Suite".

Sage objected that the ads denigrated its product and took unfair advantage of the reputation of its trade mark.

Sage argued a breach of two provisions of the ASA rulebook, the CAP Code:


20.1 Although comparative claims are permitted, marketing communications that include comparisons with identifiable competitors and/or their products should not discredit or denigrate the products, trade marks, trade names, other distinguishing marks, activities or circumstances of competitors. Other marketing communications should not unfairly attack or discredit businesses or their products.

20.2 Marketers should not take unfair advantage of the reputation of trade marks, trade names or other distinguishing marks of organisations or of the designation of origin of competing products.

Interprise had argued that the ads were phrased as a question and if customers were not 'Sick of Sage' then Sage would have no need to be concerned because the ads would be ignored. It also argued that Interprise's own director had been a Sage reseller for 16 years and "knew Sage's products better than Sage themselves did."

Interprise said that in its opinion the Sage product range was a "bag of bits" because nothing integrated properly. The Sage logo had not been used. Interprise claimed that "was the only thing that was trademarked."

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) agreed that Interprise had broken both rules of the CAP Code.

"We understood that the name 'Sage' was a registered trademark," it ruled. "We considered that the initial letter of Sage in the 'SOS' configuration drew attention to the trademark in a prominent way. We noted the image below 'Sick of Sage?' was of a man who had used the distress signal 'SOS' to be rescued from the situation he was in. We considered that readers would infer from this that Sage users experienced distress when using the Sage product and needed rescuing."

"We also considered that the claims 'bag of bits' would be seen as a reference to Sage. We concluded that the phrase 'Sick of Sage' in conjunction with the image and the reference to a 'bag of bits' denigrated Sage and their products and took unfair advantage of the Sage trademark."

Interprise was ordered not to repeat its approach in future advertising.