ASA Adjudication on British Gas Services Ltd
British Gas Services Ltd
23 December 2009
Number of complaints:
In a TV ad for British Gas, the voice-over stated "At British Gas we know your home is your world. We also know you need to get on with your day, which is why we’re committed to calling ahead, letting you know we’re on our way. So you’re only at home when you need to be". The ad showed a woman throwing a stick for her dog to fetch in a park. Her mobile phone rang and the ad then showed that the call was from a British Gas engineer who was out on the road. The woman and the dog then cycled back to her home and arrived in time to open her front door to the British Gas engineer.
Two viewers, who made appointments to have their meters exchanged, objected that the ad was misleading because they were told that British Gas's commitment to phoning ahead did not apply to that service.
BCAP TV Code
British Gas Services (BG) pointed out that the ad did not state they would always call ahead. They had a customer commitment to calling ahead but could not guarantee that would happen in every case (the engineer might not have the customer's telephone number, or might have an incorrect number, for example).
BG argued that it was clear from the ad's imagery that "we" referred specifically to BG engineers, because it showed an engineer driving a vehicle and wearing a uniform that were branded with the BG flame. They said their brand recognition research showed that the van's flame logo, as portrayed in TV advertising, rendered it highly recognisable as a BG vehicle. They said meter exchanges, readings and repairs were carried out by their third-party contractors, who were not obliged to adopt BG's policy of commitment to calling ahead because they were completely independent of BG. They did not arrive in BG branded vehicles, they did not wear BG branded engineer uniforms and did not carry BG identity cards. BG explained that when a customer made a booking to have a meter exchanged, they received a letter from the third-party contractor setting out details of the appointment; they said the letter made clear that the meter exchange would be carried out by a third-party company, not by BG.
BG said, although they had no management influence over outsourced service providers, they nevertheless encouraged their meter operators to call customers in advance of attending appointments, and one of the third parties they used was currently reporting that their meter operators were calling ahead in a significant number of instances before attending meter exchange appointments. They sent data which showed that the percentage of instances of the third party calling ahead ranged from 53% to 88%, and averaged at 79%.
Clearcast said that, at the time of clearing the ad, they were not made aware that certain work was carried out by third party contractors. If they had known that, they would have ensured that the ad made that clear.
The ASA accepted that viewers would understand that the claim "were committed to calling ahead, letting you know were on our way" reflected a business commitment and company policy, and would not interpret it as an absolute guarantee that BG engineers would always call ahead in 100% of cases. However, as a separate issue, we considered that viewers of the ad were likely to infer that the commitment to calling a customer on the day of an appointment, to give a more precise arrival time, referred to the whole BG business and was applicable across BG's entire range of services.
We understood that if BG customers booked an appointment for a meter exchange, reading or repair, they could not expect to receive a call to let them know the engineer was on his way, because those services were subcontracted to third parties, who were not obliged to adopt BG's company policies. We understood that BG encouraged their meter operators to call ahead but had no formal management control over them doing so. We considered the data BG had submitted on one of the third parties did not demonstrate that that company called ahead in all instances where it was possible, and we did not know how often the other third parties called ahead. We noted the complainants had both been told by BG that the engineer carrying out their meter exchange would not call ahead, because the commitment did not apply to that service.
We considered that viewers were unlikely to be aware which services were carried out by BG directly and which were carried out by third parties, and would certainly not know to what extent those third parties adopted the 'call ahead' policy. We noted the ad neither indicated that BGs services might be contracted out, nor that on most occasions the call ahead policy did not apply to services that were contracted out.
We considered that meter services were provided by BG via a contractor and disagreed that it was clear from the ad's imagery of a BG van that "we" did not also refer to someone working on behalf of BG. We noted the argument that the third-party contractors were not 'BG branded', and the letter to the customer confirming the booking made clear that the meter exchange was being carried out by a company on behalf of BG. However, the initial contact was with BG and there was nothing in the letter, and more importantly there was nothing in the ad, to suggest that anyone working on behalf of BG was not obliged to act in line with BG's policy and honour the commitment to calling ahead. Even if the letter had stated that the third-party contractor would not call ahead, we considered that the condition was significant enough to warrant being stated in the ad itself, as opposed to in a letter to the customer.
We concluded that the ad was likely to mislead, because it did not make clear that on most occasions the commitment to calling ahead did not apply to meter exchanges, repairs and readings, and any other services that were contracted out.
The ad breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1.1, 5.1.2 and 5.1.3 (Misleading advertising) and 5.2.3 (Qualifications).
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Broadcast)