The home page of the YorHost web hosting business, www.yorhost.net, featured several client testimonials that referred to the service provided by the advertiser.
A complainant challenged whether the testimonials were genuine as he believed some were related to another business, Web Mania, which has ceased to trade.
YorHost said that users had the option of adding a testimonial. During the process whereby users posted a testimonial, text was shown stating "Please share with us and others why you use our services, we will then show these testimonials on our site at random ...". YorHost believed that this demonstrated that they had been given permission to use the testimonials. They also supplied the names and addresses of the customers who had submitted the testimonials on the home page.
YorHost admitted that the testimonials displayed on the home page had been added by customers of Web Mania and that some had been changed from Web Mania to YorHost. They pointed out that in 2007 the original company, Web Mania, was transferred to Web Mania Ltd and in 2011 it was transferred back to the original owner under a voluntary liquidation agreement and was re-branded as YorHost.
The advertiser said that as he was a sole trader, the testimonials were submitted for him. Because the ownership had not changed, only the company names, and that YorHost offered the same hosting and specification from the same servers, he believed that altering the testimonials was justified.
The ASA noted that before customers submitted a testimonial they were presented with text that clearly informed them that their testimonial would be used on the YorHost website. They could then decide whether or not to submit one. Due to this and because the advertiser had supplied details of the customers who had submitted the testimonials we considered that they were genuine and permission had been gained to use them at the time they were submitted.
However, although we acknowledged that the advertiser believed Web Mania and YorHost were one and the same company trading under a different name, and therefore they were justified in altering the testimonials to feature the current company name, we also noted that the CAP Code required testimonials to relate to the advertised product. We considered that whilst the companies could be seen as the same company under different names, consumers posting the testimonials did so under the name of the original company, Web Mania. We concluded that despite the testimonials being genuine at the time of posting, because consumers submitted them for Web Mania before YorHost came into existence, and they were altered accordingly, they were likely to mislead.
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), 3.45 3.45 Marketers must hold documentary evidence that a testimonial or endorsement used in a marketing communication is genuine, unless it is obviously fictitious, and hold contact details for the person who, or organisation that, gives it. 3.46 3.46 Testimonials must relate to the advertised product. and 3.48 3.48 Marketing communications must not feature a testimonial without permission; exceptions are normally made for accurate statements taken from a published source, quotations from a publication or references to a test, trial, professional endorsement, research facility or professional journal, which may be acceptable without express permission. (Endorsements and testimonials).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told YorHost not to use testimonials that had been submitted for a website with a different name.