From “advertising puffery” to simply “misleading ads”, the Fairfax vs News Corp property war ended in February with both sides claiming certain victories.
The saga commenced a year ago when publicly listed REA Group, which is majority owned by News Corp, alleged that its property listings rival, Fairfax-owned Domain, had breached Australian Consumer Law by publishing adverts that were misleading or deceptive.
REA’s complaints related to claims that the Domain app has the number one property app in Australia; the most property listings in Sydney; the best property listings in Melbourne, and to claims the Domain app is Australia’s highest rated property app.
In broad summary of two of the ads, Federal Court Justice Bernard Murphy said evidence showed the Domain app and website did not have more property listings overall in Sydney than the REA app and website ‘at the relevant time’.
Domain is now back with the slightly tweaked advert, with its chief editorial and marketing officer Melina Cruickshank taking to Instagram at the weekend to say “Federal Court Case later and our campaign is back. Australia’s number one property app was worth the fight” (above right).
At the time of the court case, Justice Bernard Murphy said one of these ads, a front page wrap-around on The Sydney Morning Herald (below) falsely implied Domain had the most listings in Sydney and the caveats on newspaper ads were too small for readers to easily find.
Speaking to AdNews, Cruickshank says: “Both REA and Domain had a good tussle in court. Justice Murphy ruled the #1 Property App ad wasn’t misleading. There is enough room for two strong Australian businesses in the real estate market and everything we do is in the spirit of friendly competition.”
Despite two of the six breaching rules, he said the remainder of the claims were not misleading or deceptive, broadly because they amounted to “advertising puffery”. See Federal Court case ends REA and Domain feud.
Old ad: Domain’s wrap-around which was deemed misleading
In February Fairfax Media confirmed it plans to split out Domain into its own entity to maximise shareholder value as the media company’s print ad revenue continues to decline at a rapid rate.
Domain posted revenue growth of 5.8% to $162.9m in the six months to 31 December 2016. This was driven by 15% growth in digital revenue to $114.3 million, while print revenue was down 11% to $48.6 million.
Last week Fairfax said it had ceased discussions with both private equity firms TPG Capital and Hellman & Friedman. Following the receipt of the two separate proposals this year, the Fairfax board granted both parties access to confidential due diligence to explore whether a whole company proposal was available. However, in an announcement on the ASX, the publisher says there was no certainty a proposal would result in an offer and now, as it has not received a binding offer from either party, it has “ceased discussions with both parties”.