Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, all of which were upheld.
A website for HPI Check, www.hpicheck.com, seen on 10 November 2015, promoted a vehicle history checking service provider. The home page contained text that stated "The most trusted and reliable car history check for complete peace of mind". When the cursor hovered over the text "trusted and reliable", a pop-up text box appeared which stated "Based on independent market research with 464 responses across all vehicle history check providers. HPI rated number one for trustworthiness and reliability. October 2015". Text under the section 'Why you need a Car History Check' further down the page stated "A hidden past? ... Rightful owner? ... False identity? ... Clocked? ... Damaged goods? ... Only the HPI Check will protect you against all these risks".
Experian Ltd challenged whether:
1. the claim "the most trusted and reliable car history check" was misleading and could be substantiated;
2. the claim "the most trusted and reliable car history check" was verifiable because the ad did not contain sufficient information to allow consumers to verify the claim; and
3. the claim "only the HPI check will protect you against all these risks" was misleading and could be substantiated, because Experian believed that their own service also protected consumers against the listed risks.
1. HPI Ltd stated that they commissioned a third-party consultancy company to run a brand study in order to understand the position of HPI within the vehicle history check (VHC) market. They provided a copy of the survey that was used as part of the brand study, the survey results and an analysis of the results. HPI pointed out that the respondents of the survey were an even split of users of all VHC providers available in the market in order to ensure that the results to the questions posed were objective.
They explained that the claim in the ad had been based on the survey results to the question “Which of the following words do you associate each of these brands with?”. They stated that the evidence demonstrated that respondents had ranked HPI as the most trusted and reliable VHC provider in comparison with other competitors. They also provided details of other survey questions which they believed to be relevant to the issue at hand.
2. HPI believed that the ad contained sufficient information about when the study was carried out and how many respondents participated in the survey, to allow consumers to verify the claim. However, they stated that they were happy to publicise the details, results and methodology of the survey.
3. HPI explained that in comparison to their competitors, they carried out additional checks as part of their service by obtaining further details from customers about the logbook, and conducting manual checks to ensure that the document had not been stolen and that it was the most recent version. They provided a spreadsheet that contained a breakdown of the various types of data checks that might be included in a VHC and a comparison between HPI and four other competitors, indicating which types of data checks were included in the VHC provided by each. They said the spreadsheet showed that HPI outperformed its competitors with two more data checks than its closest competitor, and that it provided more data than other providers. They believed it demonstrated that HPI provided the most comprehensive history check on the market.
The ASA considered that consumers were likely to understand the main claim, in conjunction with the qualification in the pop-up text box, to mean that HPI had been ranked as the most “trusted” and “reliable” VHC provider by 464 respondents to an independent survey, in comparison with all other competing providers in the market. Given that the qualification did not contain further information about the factors on which respondents were required to base their response, we considered that consumers were likely to expect that the rankings were based on respondents’ previous experience in using HPI and other VHC providers.
We noted that the claim was based on the survey question “Which of the following words do you associate each of these brands with?”. Respondents were asked to select all of the terms they would associate with each brand from a set list of positive characteristics. We noted that the survey results showed that the majority of respondents had associated the terms “Credible/reliable” and “Trustworthy” with HPI. However, the results related to positive attributes that respondents associated with the brands based on their impression, rather than on their previous experience in using the providers shown. We also noted that respondents were only asked to associate the terms with three providers, including HPI, rather than all providers in the VHC market. In addition, we reviewed the other survey questions which HPI considered to be relevant to the issue concerned, including factors which had influenced the respondents’ decisions for choosing the providers that they had used previously and those they felt were important when choosing VHC providers, and the quality of VHC information provided. However, we noted that the questions did not relate to “trustworthiness” or “reliability”, and that most of them were also based on respondents’ perceptions rather than their experience of using particular providers. Therefore we did not consider that that data was relevant to the claim.
For those reasons, we did not consider that the evidence provided was adequate to substantiate the claim as it was likely to be understood by consumers, and therefore concluded that the claim was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are 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), 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification) and 3.33 3.33 Marketing communications that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
We understood that the claim was based on survey results that were not published or accessible in the public domain. The CAP Code, however, requires that comparisons with identifiable competitors are verifiable. This meant that an ad which featured a comparison with an identifiable competitor or competitors needed to include, or direct a consumer to, sufficient information to allow them to understand the comparison, and be able to check the claims were accurate, or ask someone suitably qualified to do so.
We noted that the text box that appeared above the wording “trusted and reliable” contained brief information about the source of the claim, the sample size of the research survey, the competitors included in the comparison and the conclusion drawn from the results. However, we considered that it did not contain sufficient information for consumers or competitors to verify the comparison for themselves, such as methodology of the survey, the group of respondents represented in the survey sample, which competing providers had been included in the comparison, or the factors that the respondents were required to consider when answering the question on which the claim was based. For that reason, we did not consider that the ad allowed consumers or competitors to verify the comparison and therefore concluded that the claim breached the Code.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.35 3.35 They must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative feature of those products, which may include price. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
We noted that the claim “only the HPI check will protect you against all these risks” appeared under the section ‘Why you need a Car History Check’. The claim was accompanied by a list of risk factors associated with purchasing a second-hand car and the number of cars that had each of those problems, as revealed by HPI’s checks. We also noted that the ad featured a list of information, for example the number of previous owners, insurance write-offs and outstanding finance, that might be included in the VHC reports carried out by HPI. The ad also contained references such as “our report is quite simply the most comprehensive car history check in the UK” and “it provides more information about the car you want to buy than any other check”. We therefore considered that consumers were likely interpret the claim within the context to mean that in comparison with the checks carried out by other VHC providers, only HPI’s VHC checks would protect consumers from all the risks listed in the ad.
We noted that the evidence provided by HPI showed that they offered more types of data checks in their VHCs in comparison to four other competitors. However, we noted that the comparison did not include all competitors in the market. In addition, we had not seen further evidence, including the source of the information detailed in the spreadsheet, on which they had based their findings in the comparison. For those reasons, we considered that the evidence provided was not adequate to substantiate the claim and therefore concluded it was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached the CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are 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 3.33 3.33 Marketing communications that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
The ad must not appear in its current form again. We told HPI to ensure that they did not make claims that implied that they were the most trusted and reliable VHC provider and that they were the only provider who would protect customers against specific risks associated with the purchase of second-hand vehicles, unless they held adequate comparative evidence to substantiate those claims. We also told HPI that they must ensure that they provided sufficient verification information when making comparative claims.