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ASA Adjudication on SpicerHaart Group Ltd

SpicerHaart Group Ltd t/a Darlows

Colwyn House
Sheepen Place
Colchester
Essex
CO3 3LD

Date:

16 May 2012

Media:

Mailing

Sector:

Property

Number of complaints:

1

Complaint Ref:

A11-158423

Ad

Two ads in May 2011 for an estate agent, Darlows of Llanishen:

a. A leaflet ad included the text "Darlows are part of the UK's largest independent estate agency group. We advertise more extensively than our competitors both online and offline".

b. A circular letter ad included the text "Why should you choose Darlows? The UKs largest independent Estate Agency ... multi-award winning agent".

Issue

Kelvin Francis Estate Agents challenged whether:

1. the claim "We advertise more extensively than our competitors" could be substantiated because they believed other local estate agents advertised more.

2. the claim "multi-award winning agent" could be substantiated because they believed the advertiser had only won one runner-up place in recent years; and

3. the term "independent" was misleading because they understood Darlows of Llanishen were part of the Spicerhaart Group, a limited company owned by shareholders.

Response

1. SpicerHaart Group Ltd t/a Darlows of Llanishen (Darlows) accepted that they were unable to substantiate the claim "we advertise more extensively than our competitors" and stated that it had been included in the ad as a result of human error. They stated that they had taken measures to ensure the phrase would not be used again.

2. They stated that Darlows had won several industry awards in recent years and believed that the phrase "multi-award winning" was therefore reasonable, proper and not misleading. They provided evidence of the two awards that had been received from the Residential Property Awards: one in 2007 and the other in 2010.

3. They stated that estate agents generally regarded the term 'independent' to mean privately owned and owner managed and that the phrase was used in order to convey a sense of quality and personal attention. They stated that it allowed consumers to differentiate between corporate monoliths and dedicated estate agents, who were truly focused on their local markets and consumers. They stated that Darlows was a business dedicated to the South Wales market and that Spicerhaart was tightly focused on providing a personal and excellent service to their client’s in particular regional markets, as opposed to seeking to trade across the country. They stated that the Spicerhaart Group traded under a variety of brands, including Darlows, but that Spicerhaart was family owned and controlled and that the CEO of Spicerhaart was also a director of Darlows Ltd. They stated that both he and another Spicerhaart director were involved in the operation of Darlows. They said that there were two shareholders of Spicerhaart, one of which was the CEO, who owned approximately 80% of the company and that the remaining 20% was owned by his father. They added that they were the fifth largest estate agent in the UK and that the four larger estate agents were owned by building societies or private equity investors or were publicly quoted; their owners were third parties who had no involvement in day to day operations and management of the estate agency businesses.

Assessment

THIS ADJUDICATION REPLACES THAT PUBLISHED ON 5 OCTOBER 2011. THE VERDICT ON POINT 3 HAS CHANGED, MAKING THE COMPLAINT ON THIS POINT PARTIALLY UPHELD.

1. Upheld.

The ASA noted Darlows had made the comparative claim in error and had taken steps to prevent it from being repeated in future ads. We considered that the claim "We advertise more extensively than our competitors both online and offline ..." had not been substantiated and concluded that the ad breached the Code.

On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.3, 3.7 and 3.38 (Misleading advertising).

2. Upheld

The ASA noted Darlows had supplied documentary evidence which showed they had won two industry awards in the past five years. However, we considered that the average consumer would interpret the text “multi-award winning agent” as a claim that Darlows had won more than two awards in recent years and therefore concluded that the claim was misleading.

On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.3 and 3.7 (Misleading advertising).

3. Upheld in relation to ad (b) only

We noted, despite its size (turnover of nearly £83 million in 2010) and the fact that it traded under a number of brands, Spicerhaart was family owned and controlled, focused primarily on estate agency, and independent of any other larger concerns. We considered that it would be accurate to refer to Spicerhaart as the UK’s largest independently owned estate agency group and that a claim by one of its constituent businesses to be part of such a group would not be misleading.

We noted the wording in ad (a) made it clear that the claim was made in respect of Darlows being part of a larger group, a point emphasised by reference to “Darlows.co.uk part of haart the nation’s leading local agent”. We considered that the claim would be read as a reference to private/family ownership and management of the group, which was not misleading.

However, the claim in circular ad (b) was not appropriately qualified. Small print stated “Darlows is a trading name of Spicerhaart Limited”, but this text was of a size and location within the ad such that it was unlikely to be seen by the reader. We considered that the overall impression of the ad was that Darlows of Llanishen was itself a trading name under the Darlows estate agency group and that Darlows was therefore independent from any other estate agency business or group. We therefore concluded that because circular ad (b) did not make sufficiently clear that Darlows was a trading name for the larger Spicerhaart estate agency group, the claim “The UKs largest independent Estate Agency” in ad (b) was misleading.

On this point we investigated ad (a) under CAP Code Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.3 and 3.7 (Misleading advertising) but did not find it in breach.

On this point ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.3 and 3.7 (Misleading advertising).

Action

The ad should not appear again in its current form. We told Darlows to hold documentary evidence to support their claims and, if making claims for independence, to make clear they operated as part of a much wider group, Spicerhaart.

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