Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld
A website for the essay writing service www.ukessays.com, seen on 28 July 2017. The home page featured text that stated “… GUARANTEED GRADE, EVERY TIME We’re so confident you’ll love the work we produce, we guarantee the final grade of the work. Unlike others, if your work doesn’t meet our exacting standards, you can claim a full refund … LOVED BY CUSTOMERS & THE GLOBAL PRESS UKEssays have lots of press coverage from all over the world confirming that a 2:1 piece of work produced by us met this standard … We were the first company in the world to offer you guaranteed 2:1 and 1st class work”.
Additional information about the service was included on pages titled ‘WORLD CLASS GUARANTEES’ and ‘UK ESSAYS IN THE PRESS’.
The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) challenged whether:
1. the ad was misleading, because they believed it did not make sufficiently clear the risks associated with submitting purchased essays; and
2. the references to the press coverage that UK Essays received misleadingly implied that they had received positive coverage or endorsement from those press outlets.
1. All Answers Ltd t/a UK Essays stated that neither they nor their website at any point indicated that essays purchased from them were to be handed in by the customers to the education centre they attended. They said if they were providing an essay service intended to be submitted as the student’s own work, it would indeed be necessary to warn of the risks of doing so, such as plagiarism and academic misconduct. However, the service which they provided was a model answer for the student to use as a learning exercise and resource to start from when writing their own work for submission. If used properly in that way, there would not be academic misconduct and therefore any risks for the student.
UK Essays stated that they had a Fair Use Policy which fully explained the proper use of the model answer service they provided. They said the policy clearly stated that students could not submit the purchased essay as their own. UK Essays believed that the policy was prominent on the website – positioned at the top and footer of every page – and was drawn to the customer’s attention during the ordering process.
2. UK Essays said the references on the press coverage page were not in any way claiming endorsement by those media outlets. That page merely stated what had been written and published by the publications referred to on the page, and was not in any way a misrepresentation. They also said links to the articles and features were provided on the page so that they could be checked by users.
The ASA noted that the home page of the website included a number of claims including “the world’s greatest essay writing service”, “guaranteed grade, every time”, “we guarantee the final grade of the work”, “UKEssays have lots of press coverage from all over the world confirming that a 2:1 piece of work produced by us met this standard”, and “we were the first company in the world to offer you guaranteed 2:1 and 1st class work”.
The page titled ‘WORLD CLASS GUARANTEES’ stated claims in relation to a refund guarantee, for example, “We so firmly believe in getting you the grade you order, we guarantee if we don’t, we will give you your money back”, “Our Money Back Guarantee is firm proof of our confidence…”. The same page also contained claims in relation to their anti-plagiarism checks, such as “Every piece of work we deliver comes with a dedicated plagiarism report using Viper, our bespoke plagiarism scanner … our Viper Plagiarism Scanner will scan against online resources, as well as our own database of previous work, to check for any similarities. We’re so confident that our work is plagiarism free, if the work we produce contains plagiarism we’ll pay out a £5,000 guarantee”.
We also noted that on the order page, consumers were able to select the type of written work required (such as essays, dissertation, reports), grades, qualification levels, length or number of words, delivery time and subject areas.
We considered the ad gave an overall impression that consumers would be able to submit the purchased essays as their own, particularly because of the anti-plagiarism and grade guarantees. We considered that consumers would understand from the website that they could purchase an essay of a particular grade that was plagiarism-free, and that they would be able to make a claim under the refund guarantee if they submitted the essay and did not receive the grade ordered, or if the essay was found to be plagiarised.
We noted UK Essay’s comments that information on their ‘Fair Use Policy’ page drew to consumers’ attention of the risks of submitting the purchased essays as their own, which explained that the act of doing so would, in itself, constitute plagiarism, even with minor alterations. We also noted that the ‘Fair Use Policy’ stated that the purchased essays, or ‘model answers’, were intended to serve as a basis for the customer’s own further research. Similar information about the potential risks was also set out in a number of pages in the FAQ section.
However, we noted consumers would only be aware of the Fair Use Policy if they scrolled down to a link at the bottom of the website, which we considered consumers were likely to overlook. The FAQ pages relating to plagiarism could only be found if consumers clicked on the ‘About Us’ tab in the menu bar at the top of the page, then ‘Help Centre-FAQs’ and either search for related terms in the FAQs section or clicked on the sub-section, ‘Using Our Service’. We noted that consumers could proceed to the order page to purchase an essay without being made aware of those risks. We further considered that even if consumers had read the Fair Use Policy or the relevant FAQ pages, it was insufficient to counteract the overall misleading impression given by the website that consumers would be able to submit purchased essays as their own without repercussions.
Because we considered consumers would expect from the ad that they could submit purchased essays as their own that would meet the ordered grade without risks, which was not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
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), 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 3.54 3.54 Marketing communications must make clear each significant limitation to an advertised guarantee (of the type that has implications for a consumer's rights). Marketers must supply the full terms before the consumer is committed to taking up the guarantee. (Guarantees and after-sales service).
In addition to the quotations taken from an episode of BBC’s Fake Britain programme – including “I’d see this as a market of 65%, which is a 2:1. Just as UK Essays promised”, “The themes are well reviewed. An excellent writing style”; and “We opt for a week-long turnaround…. In fact, it arrives in just three days” – the web page ‘UK ESSAYS IN THE PRESS’ also included quotations taken from different articles published on other press websites, including the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail. For example, the quotations attributed to an article published on the Sunday Times website stated “Students are being sold fool proof dissertations written for them with a cashback guarantee if they fail to get at least a 2:1 degree” and “UKEssays.com promises to put the completed essay through its own anti-plagiarism scanner”. In another example, quotations attributed to a Daily Mail article stated “Students can buy essays guaranteed to achieve a 2:1 - or get their money back” and “Managing director Tony Eynon described his cashback guarantee as ‘a real breakthrough in contemporary academia’”. The page included a link to the articles from which those quotations were sourced, as well as links to further articles from the same media outlets and additional quotations.
We noted that the language and tone of the quotations, as set out on the web page, were positive in nature. Because of the manner in which the quotations were presented on the web page, we considered that consumers were likely to expect from those quotations that UK Essays had received positive reviews and coverage, in relation to the nature and quality of their services, from each of the media outlets referred to on the page.
However, we noted that the articles and features from which the quotes had been taken either featured the services provided by UK Essays in a factual manner or were related to essay writing services in general and referred to UKEssays as a means to illustrate how similar essay writing services operated with comments from both UK Essays’ representatives and opponents of such services. One of the articles which UK Essays quoted from was an opinion piece written from an anti-plagiarism perspective. We therefore did not consider that the way in which the quotes were presented were reflective of the tone of the articles and features from which they had been taken.
Because we considered that the manner in which the quotes were presented was likely to give an overall impression that UK Essays received positive reviews or coverage from the sources referred to, and that was not the case, we considered the references to the press coverage in the ad were misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising).
The ad must not appear in its current form for again. We told UK Essays to ensure that their website did not misleadingly imply that students could submit purchased essays as their own that would meet the ordered grade without risks. We also told UK Essays to ensure that their advertising did not misleadingly present quotations from press coverage and other published sources in a manner that was not reflective of the tone and content of those sources.