Brand Reviews – Fake, Real or Simply Enticed

Brand Agency Melbourne

Last week ‘The Age’ newspaper reported that Australia’s largest home builder Metricon is suing a product review website for publishing misleading reviews about its main competitor without disclosing they were solicited as part a promotion to win an iPad mini.

Metricon, which builds and sells house and land packages across Australia, is alleging the ProductReview website engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct by publishing the favourable “five-star” reviews about competitor Porter Davis Homes.

Metricon alleges the “favourable” customer reviews published were gained as part of a promotion by Porter Davis Homes, which rewarded customers who wrote positive reviews with a one in three (yes, great odds) chance of winning a $369 iPad mini.

It has been claimed Porter Davis gave out prizes for the “Tell us how we did it” promotion only on the proviso it could approve customer reviews and reject opinions with “objectionable content” or that were generally damaging to the goodwill or reputation of the promotion and/or Porter Davis Homes.

The ‘review game’ is playing out more and more across many categories. The authenticity of restaurants reviews are a problem globally and in many reports also in the frame are real estate, funeral services and alternative health. Studies indicate that reviews can increase businesses sales between 17 per cent and 153 per cent. It is clearly seductive for brand’s to wish to influence.

It will be interesting to observe how the Metricon v’s ProductReview matter plays out.

However, what it does provide is a great reminder for all brand owners to ensure that they are playing an active role in not only monitoring their own reviews, but also those of their competitors. A sudden spike in positive reviews for your competitors suggests something may be at play that is worth investigating.

And the ACCC may well provide you with some defence. A look at their site indicates that from their perspective businesses and review platforms that do not remove reviews that they know to be fake risk breaching the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

Reviews may mislead consumers if they are presented as impartial, but were written by:
• The reviewed business
• A competitor
• Someone paid to write the review who has not used the product
• Someone who has used the product but written an inflated review to receive a financial or non-financial benefit.

Businesses that offer incentives to those who write positive reviews risk misleading consumers and breaching the CCA. Incentives should only be offered in exchange for reviews of your business (its products or services) if:
• Incentives are offered equally to consumers likely to be complimentary and consumers likely to be critical, and positive and negative reviews are treated the same
• The reviewer is expressly told that the incentive is available whether the review is positive or negative
• The incentive is prominently disclosed to users who rely on affected reviews.

You be the judge – but I sense Metricon may in fact have a strong case against ProductReivew, and therefore their competitor Porter Davis.

Peter Singline
Brand Scientist & Founder 

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