ASA Ruling on Medway Council
16 March 2011
Number of complaints:
A leaflet, produced by Medway Council, promoted "Historic Rochester and Maritime Chatham". It was distributed in a local tourist information office. The front page featured a logo which stated "City of Medway rich heritage great future".
The complainant thought the claim "City of Medway" could not be substantiated and was misleading, because Medway was not a city.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
Medway Council said the word 'city' was defined in the English dictionary as any large town, or as the people of a city collectively, or (in Britain) as a town that had received the title from the Crown. They argued that it was appropriate to describe Medway as a city because, although it did not hold city status from the Crown, it did constitute a large town: it was an urban area with a population of 253,000, a cathedral, extensive transport networks and four universities. They continued that Medway was the largest urban settlement in the South East outside London. They believed most consumers would understand the word 'city' in their promotional material to mean a large urban settlement and would not interpret it in a technical or legal way. They also believed many would understand it to mean a place with an Anglican cathedral and pointed out that Medway's cathedral was the second oldest in Britain, after Canterbury.
Medway Council explained that, in April 2010, Medway's local strategic partnership created a promotional logo including the phrase "City of Medway - rich heritage, great future" in recognition of the heritage of the area and of the achievements to date in regenerating Medway. They said they were bidding for city status in 2012, and the "City of Medway - rich heritage, great future" logo formed part of their campaign to support that bid; it was intended to raise awareness of the bid among local, regional and national audiences. They said the logo was seen and read on a daily basis by residents of and visitors to Medway. It did not aim to persuade them to change their economic behaviour, and it was difficult to envisage that someone might make an economic choice based on Medway Council's use of the word 'city' or, conversely, decide not to invest in Medway when they realised the Queen had not granted it the official title 'city'. They said they had carried out market research on a random sample of 500 people in Medway. Of those surveyed, 38% thought the use of the word 'city' in the logo meant Medway had a cathedral, and 56% thought Medway was bidding for city status. They did not send the full details of the survey's methodology or results. They pointed out that the logo did not state that Medway had already been granted city status, or imply that the word 'city' carried royal approval, for example by use of the Royal Coat of Arms; they believed that would have been misleading but the logo as it stood was acceptable, and there was no clear evidence that anyone had been misled by it.
Medway Council argued that the term 'city' was in common use within Medway already; for example, a large industrial park within Medway, housing more than 500 businesses, was known as Medway City Estate. They also argued that other towns that did not hold city status from the Crown, such as Milton Keynes, used the word 'city' in their own promotional material. Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth Garden City also styled themselves as cities despite not holding city status from the Crown. They pointed out that the City of London comprised approximately one square mile, but Greater London was commonly referred to and known as a city; for example, London City Airport was in Greater London, not the City of London.
Although they thought their use of the word 'city' was justified, Medway Council nevertheless offered to make changes to their marketing material to avoid any confusion. They proposed that in future, where the city status bid context of the "City of Medway" logo was not immediately and clearly apparent, the logo would be used alongside straplines such as 'Support Medway's city bid', 'We're supporting Medway's city bid' and 'I'm supporting Medway's city bid'; they believed that would clarify that the logo was part of Medway's bid for city status. They intended to continue using the 'City of Medway - rich heritage, great future' logo in marketing materials such as brochures and leaflets, as an important part of securing Medway's regeneration and continued success.
The ASA acknowledged that the word 'city' might sometimes be used to signify a large town when used in conversation in a colloquial or informal way, but noted that, in an official sense, a place in Britain was a city only if it had been granted that status by the British monarch. We considered readers of the leaflet were likely to be aware of that official definition of a city, and would recognise the leaflet as official Council material. They were therefore unlikely to expect that the word 'city' was being used in an informal or colloquial way by Medway Council, and were instead likely to infer that the "City of Medway" logo referred to the fact that Medway had been granted city status by the Crown. Because that was not the case, we considered that readers of the leaflet were likely to be disappointed. We concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 (Misleading advertising).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Medway Council to ensure future ads did not imply Medway had officially been granted city status if that was not the case.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)