Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Lead generation is the process of attracting and converting prospective consumers into potential buying customers using a variety of marketing techniques. A lead generation company aggregates consumer information that it can then sell on to businesses looking to purchase leads. While responsible lead generation can help businesses by delivering warmed up and qualified leads that they can then follow up on, the ASA has ruled against several instances of misleading lead generation marketing.
Make clear that you’re a lead generation company
Rule 2.3 makes clear that marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting for purposes outside its trade, business craft or profession and that they must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context. The ASA has judged a number of ads from lead generation companies to fall foul of this rule for not making sufficiently clear in the ad that the marketer collecting the information was a lead generation company.
Lead generation companies operate across a wide number of sectors but are commonly associated with solar panels, windows/double glazing, funeral plans, pensions and other financial services.
The ASA has ruled against a number of paid-ads on social media and websites promoting ‘solar funding schemes’ and ‘grants’, suggesting that homeowners could qualify for free or heavily subsidised solar panel installations, and encouraging consumers to check their postcodes and “Apply Now”. Aside from the fact that the advertisers could not satisfy the ASA that the ‘funds’ and ‘grants’ they promoted were genuine, it was also ruled that the ads misleadingly created the impression that solar panels and associated funding options were directly available from the advertiser, when that was not proved to be the case. Because these ads were principally for lead generating companies that provided consumers’ contact details to other companies, rather than for a solar panel installation company and/or funding scheme, the ASA concluded that the marketers had falsely implied that they were acting for purposes outside their profession and therefore breached the Code (Watts Marketing Ltd t/a Solar Panel Funding, 24 October 2018, Solar Panel Funding Ltd, 13 November 2019, Rock Paper Click Ltd t/a Government Solar Checker, 13 November 2019).
Similar ads from lead generation companies for ‘funding’, ‘scrappage’ and ‘grants’ for windows and double glazing have also been ruled against (Watts Marketing Ltd t/a Help2Buy Windows, 11 July 2018, Clearwin Ltd, 7 August 2019). Although some of the ads included some references to disseminating consumers’ information to third parties, these references were considered ambiguous and/or not sufficiently prominent to counteract any misleading impression given by the wider content.
A website presented as a price comparison website for double glazing was also ruled to breach the Code for not making sufficiently clear that the purpose of the website was to generate leads that were sold to interested companies, as opposed to being an independent price comparison service (The Lead Guys Ltd t/a Discount Double Glazing, New Windows Scotland, 30 October 2019). Similarly a website presented as a pension comparison website was judged to be misleading because, while it included small print at the bottom of the page that stated that the advertiser introduced consumers to financial advisors and they were not authorised to provide financial advice, this wasn’t considered prominent enough to override the impression that the advertiser provided financial advice and did not make sufficiently clear that the advertiser was a lead generation company that would pass on consumers details to financial advisors (Centurius Ltd, 9 October 2019).
Ads for funeral plans have also been judged to be misleading as they claimed to offer a means to obtain a free quote for a funeral plan when, in fact, the advertisers were lead generating companies that facilitated the passing of consumers’ personal information to other businesses in order to be contacted by them, rather than companies offering consumers specific funeral plans (Person(s) unknown t/a Savvy Finances, 30 October 2019; Mortgage Complaints Bureau Ltd, 6 November 2019).
Disclaimers and footnotes are unlikely to be sufficient
Marketers advertising lead generation services should note that disclaimers and footnotes are unlikely to be sufficient to avoid a misleading impression, and that making clear upfront that the marketer is a lead generation company is likely to be the most effective way to avoid a breach of the Code.
A social media ad and website for company calling itself ‘National Debt Help’ claiming to offer “free, impartial advice” with a “non-judgement friendly service” and that they were “open honest and helpful” was ruled against, despite a footer on the website that stated “We will never charge you any fees for using the services on this site whatsoever. Therefore as an introducer we may receive a commission from our selected partners whom you may be referred to”. The ASA did not consider this ‘disclaimer’ sufficient to counteract the overriding impression that the advertiser themselves offered impartial, free-of-charge advice about debt. Because the ads did not make clear that they were principally for a lead generating company that provided consumers’ contact details to other companies, and instead suggested that they were for a debt advice service, the ASA concluded that the marketer had misleadingly implied that they were acting for purposes outside their profession and the ads therefore breached the Code (Money Tree Media Ltd t/a National-Debt-Help.org.uk, 20 November 2019).
Be mindful of the rest of the Code
When material falls within the ASA’s remit, it must comply with the Code in its entirety. It therefore should not, among other things, materially mislead consumers or cause serious or widespread offence. Some sections within the Codes are sector-specific, which means that ads for particular product types (e.g. Food, Alcohol, Gambling) must comply with very specific rules, whereas other parts of the Code (e.g. Misleading Advertising, Harm and Offence) apply to all ads irrespective of the product/service they are advertising.
As mentioned above, it has been common for the ASA to rule against lead generation companies for misleading claims regarding the existence of funding schemes and grants. Marketers should therefore ensure that, when advertising such a scheme, they hold robust evidence to prove that it is genuine and available as advertised (Watts Marketing Ltd t/a Solar Panel Funding, 24 October 2018, Solar Panel Funding Ltd, 13 November 2019, Rock Paper Click Ltd t/a Government Solar Checker, 13 November 2019, Watts Marketing Ltd t/a Help2Buy Windows, 11 July 2018, Clearwin Ltd, 7 August 2019).