ASA Adjudication on PRS Directory Services Ltd
PRS Directory Services Ltd
145–157 St John Street
4 July 2012
Internet (search engine)
Number of complaints:
Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated of which two were Upheld.
a. A sponsored search ad for PRS Directory Services, seen on 28 September 2011, which resulted from a search for "Nat West customer services" stated "Customer Service Number - Natwest ContactNumber [website address] - Need to speak to Customer Services? Call our quick directory service".
b. A second sponsored search ad for PRS Directory Services, seen on 3 October 2011, which resulted from a search for "DVLA" stated "Customer Service Number - DVLA ContactNumber [website address] - Licensing, Car Tax or SORN enquiry? Call our quick directory service".
1. A complainant challenged whether ad (a) was misleading because it suggested the link would provide a contact number for Nat West, whereas it led to a premium rate telephone number from which callers could obtain a number for Nat West from a recorded message.
2. A second complainant, who wanted to contact the DVLA, objected to ad (b) for the same reasons.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1. & 2. PRS Directory Services (PRS) said they believed their ads suggested PRS were a directory service that could provide the number the consumer was searching for quickly, and that they needed to call to use the service. PRS said that at no point in their ads did they state, and they did not believe they implied, that the ads linked directly to the required number. They said that there may be a small percentage of users that may make that assumption based upon "their mistaken belief that the internet is non-commercial in its nature and that its sponsored ads are not in fact ads but are part of the organic search results". They said that was not their intent and did not believe they had done anything to encourage that belief. They believed it was clear from the ad that readers needed to "call [our] directory service".
PRS said there were strict limits on the amount of text that could be included in a sponsored search ad and that it was unreasonable to require advertisers to state call cost information in sponsored search ads. The said the purpose of the ads was to direct consumers to a landing page where full details of the service, including call charges, were set out. They said no financial transaction resulted from the sponsored search ads but was only possible from the landing page, where pricing information was clearly displayed below the telephone number. They believed the ads needed to be considered in the context of the landing page. They did not believe the combined effect of the sponsored search ads and the landing page was misleading to the average consumer - they said the ads referred to their "quick directory service" and that, although they also featured the name of the company the consumer searched for, the ads did not claim that they linked directly to the required number. They said there was no legal reason why one company could not refer to another company's name, as long as there was no infringement of trade marks. They said they included the searched-for organisation's name in the web address that the search provided to indicate relevance (i.e. to demonstrate which organisation's contact number they intended to provide) and to be consistent with their site architecture. PRS said they offered unconditional, no proof refunds as a gesture of goodwill whenever they received a complaint. They believed the low level of refunds they had issued showed that consumers found their service useful and had not found their ads misleading.
THIS ADJUDICATION REPLACES THAT PUBLISHED ON 11 APRIL 2012. THE WORDING OF THE ASSESSMENT AND ACTION SECTIONS HAS BEEN CHANGED BUT THE DECISION TO UPHOLD BOTH POINTS OF COMPLAINT REMAINS.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA noted that the ads were headed "Customer Service Number - [organisation] ContactNumber ..."; that they contained a website address for the advertiser which incorporated the name of the organisation that the consumer had searched for; and that they then stated either "Need to speak to Customer Services? Call our quick directory service" or "Licensing, Car Tax or SORN enquiry? Call our quick directory service". The ads then directed consumers to a landing page where full details of the service, including call charges, were set out. We considered the ads suggested that the website provided a telephone number for customer service or enquiries at the organisation being searched for, but not that the ad would click through to a premium rate telephone number operated by PRS Directory Services. Because of that, we concluded that the ads were misleading.
On point 1., ad (a) and on point 2., ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told PRS Directory Services to make clear in future that they offered a premium rate directory service for which there would be a charge.