ASA Adjudication on Which? Ltd
2 Marylebone Road
2 Marylebone Road
31 October 2012
Number of complaints:
A TV ad for www.which.co.uk, a consumer advice service, featured a man and woman inspecting their new kitchen when the unknown brand name electrical appliances began to spectacularly malfunction. The voice-over stated, "Avoid costly mistakes. Check our latest expert reviews from fridges to financial services at which.co.uk."
A viewer challenged whether the ad was misleading, because it implied free access to the expert reviews, whereas they understood a subscription was required.
Which? said the ad was promoting brand awareness, providing viewers with an indication of the types of services they offered. They pointed out that the ad did not claim that their expert advice was free, but made clear to viewers that if they wanted to find out more they should visit the website; on those occasions when they advertised a free service that was made clear in the advertising. They argued that many ads did not include pricing for the products or services offered, but viewers would not infer from the advertising that there was no charge for the product or service.
Which? said, notwithstanding the fact that the ad did not claim a free service, they had been operating a subscription model since they were established over 50 years ago, which they believed was widely known and understood. They explained that there were several pricing options available and a substantial amount of content was also offered free. They said, although a subscription to Which? would provide access to additional 'premium' content, a large proportion of the website content was available at no cost and without a subscription; free content on all the appliances shown in the ad were available. They said they also published hundreds of free non-standard product reviews and information on a range of subjects online.
Clearcast acknowledged that some parts of the Which? website required a subscription, but did not consider that on-screen text was required as the ad was very general, informing viewers of the services available rather than urging people to subscribe. They believed the simple audio clearly detailed the benefit of Which? and outlined their services and did not exaggerate what was offered. They said there was nothing in the ad that had suggested the whole site was free.
Clearcast said Which? provided a variety of help to consumers and the website included free content of their experts advising on various products and services. They pointed out that Which? was a well-established brand and believed it was widely known that some parts of the website had to be paid for.
The ASA considered that, although the Which? website contained a number of different services and advice, the ad highlighted a specific service, that of expert product reviews, rather than simply promoting brand awareness. We understood that the expert reviews were only available by subscription, although there was free access to a number of other features on the products shown in the ad, for example explaining how products were tested, individual product specifications and general information on what to look for when buying white goods.
We noted the ad did not explicitly claim that the expert reviews were available for free. We acknowledged that the Which? brand was well-established as both a magazine and online service and viewers would be aware that Which? magazine was only available by subscription and that that subscription would give them access to expert reviews. We considered that viewers were therefore unlikely to expect the Which? website to make the expert reviews highlighted in the ad, available without charge.
We concluded that, because it did not claim either explicitly or implicitly that the expert reviews were available for free, the ad was unlikely to mislead viewers.
We investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules 3.1 and 3.2 (Misleading advertising) and 3.10 (Qualification), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.