Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Not upheld.
A website advertising local businesses in Lowestoft, www.thebestof.co.uk/local/lowestoft, included a web page profiling a local firm of solicitors. The page included a tab headed "reviews (7)" and clicking on it showed seven written reviews of the firm, including star ratings. A link to "Write a Review" was also shown on the page.
The complainant challenged whether:
1. the ad breached the Code, because they did not believe the reviews were written by consumers; and
2. the ad was misleading, because they believed the advertiser would not publish negative reviews.
1. & 2. N5 Ltd trading as thebestof.co.uk/Lowestoft (N5) said that each location's web page (in this case Lowestoft) was managed by individual affiliates and they had control over the content. They said they generally only featured businesses that paid to work with them, and they provided marketing services to them, including featuring them on their websites. They said they were selective about the businesses they worked with and would only work with them if they were recommended by at least two local people first.
N5 said their affiliates were encouraged only to include reviews if they were certain they were genuine. They explained that those submitting reviews were asked to provide an e-mail address for verification and they also only included reviews of 75 characters or more. Reviews that did not appear to be genuine, or were suspicious, malicious or contained swearing would not be included. They also moderated reviews to ensure they were recent and relevant. They said that affiliates were told to post all genuine reviews, including those of three stars or less and there was no policy not to publish negative reviews. They explained that negative reviews did not go up automatically. These were only uploaded once they had all the details surrounding their feedback, and they usually went back to the reviewer for more information about the issue raised. Once they had this information they then went to the business owner for a comment and the review was then posted including this 'talk back'. They provided an example of this from their website.
As well as reviews submitted on the website, N5 said they also included reviews submitted on cards filled in by a business's customers. They explained that all the businesses they worked with had branded cards which customers were invited to fill in. The content of the review was then uploaded to the website by the franchisee. Customers were asked on the card to give their name and an e-mail address, although cards with no e-mail address would still be uploaded on the basis that not all people, for example older people, would have one. For both online reviews and card reviews if an e-mail address is given then this was validated, by the reviewer responding to an e-mail from N5, before the review is posted. They provided copies of cards relating to three of the reviews on the solicitor's N5 web page.
N5 said that following the receipt of this complaint they had added a reviews policy to their Terms and Conditions, in which they give information about their reviews process, including the type of content that would not be published.
1. Not upheld
The ASA understood that the complainant believed the reviews featured on the web page were in fact marketing, rather than consumer reviews. The advertiser supplied copies of the review cards relating to three of the reviews on the solicitor's N5 web page. All of them included a full name and two included an e-mail address, which we understood would have been validated before the review was featured. Because the reviews were organic user-generated content and had not been adopted and incorporated into the marketing communication we considered that the actual content of the reviews was outside of the remit of the ASA and the advertisers were therefore not required to hold evidence that the reviews were genuine or to hold contact details for those who submitted it. We also noted the ad did not include any claims that the reviews were all genuine. However, we considered the evidence supplied by the advertiser demonstrated that the reviews had been submitted to them by consumers, and were therefore not marketing. We considered the ad did not falsely imply that the marketer was acting as a consumer and therefore concluded it did not breach the Code.
On this point we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 2.3 2.3 Marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession; marketing communications must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context. (Recognition of marketing communications) but did not find it in breach.
2. Not upheld
The complainant believed that N5 had a policy of only publishing positive reviews. They said that their negative review had not been published and that the reviews on the website in general were overwhelmingly positive. The advertiser told us the complainant's review had not been published because it related to events dating back to 2003 and they considered that it was therefore out of date. We considered that it was reasonable and understandable for a review website to have some restrictions on the types of reviews they would accept, including that reviews related to recent experiences. We welcomed N5's decision to include information about their reviews policy on their website. They had provided evidence to us of one negative review featured on their website and confirmed that they did not have a policy of only publishing positive reviews, and had also explained that they were selective about the businesses they deal with. We considered that the ad implied that the reviews were user generated and that consumers would therefore expect the full spectrum of reviews, from positive to negative, to be published. Because we understood that was the case we concluded the ad was not misleading.
On this point we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such.
Marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession; marketing communications must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context.
(Recognition of marketing communications) and
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising) but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.