A TV ad and website video promoted FirstBus buses.
a. The TV ad seen on 23 September 2011, showed a bus with a poster on the back of it. Text stated "We love [symbolised by an image of a love heart] low emissions". On-screen text stated "Our buses produce 4.97% less carbon than conventional diesel buses".
b. The video ad on www.firstbus.co.uk seen on 23 September 2011 featured the same images and text.
A complainant challenged whether the ads were misleading, because he understood that the Department for Transport (DfT) considered a low carbon emission bus to be one that produced 30% less carbon than conventional diesel buses.
FirstGroup plc t/a FirstBus (FirstGroup) said they believed the complainant had misinterpreted the ads, because they did not refer to low emission buses specifically but to low emissions. They said that regardless of the interpretation they did not believe that the DfT's definition of low emission buses was widely known among the general public.
FirstGroup said the claim referred to their corporate aims and their commitment to making demonstrable improvements to emissions through a range of initiatives, including new vehicle technology and driver training and monitoring. They said that as a result of those initiatives, they had lowered CO2 per passenger by 8% and their target for the next four years was to reduce emissions by a further 10%.
Clearcast responded to the complaint about ad (a) only. They said they had ensured the "We love low emissions" claim was qualified with on-screen text stating how much less CO2 FirstGroup buses produced compared to conventional buses. They said that because the qualifying text appeared on-screen at the same time as the claim, no one would have been misled by the "low emissions" claim.
Clearcast said their motoring consultant had reviewed and approved the 4.97% figure. He had advised that the DfT considered buses that produce 30% less carbon to be low emission buses because 30% was used as a guideline to measure the DfT's carbon credits scheme, which was driven by government emission targets. They said the DfT's definition of a low carbon emission bus was for the Department's own internal purposes, and was irrelevant to the claim in the ad.
The ASA noted that the DfT's definition of a low carbon bus was a definition produced for their own purposes, namely government emissions targets. However, we considered most viewers would expect the definition of "low emissions" in a transport ad to be in line with the DfT's definition. We also noted that the Government had recently announced that 542 new low carbon buses would be put on roads across England, which would produce 30% less CO2 than conventional buses. We considered that in stating "We love low emissions" in the ads, some viewers might have been misled into believing that FirstGroup's buses were comparable to those low emissions buses, when they only produced 4.97% less CO2 not 30%. We therefore concluded the ads were misleading.
Ad (a) breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 9.2 9.2 The basis of environmental claims must be clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information. (Environmental claims).
Ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 11.1 (Environmental claims).
The ads must not appear again in their current form.