A television ad for Barclays Bank, seen in December 2017, featured a toy robot giving general website security advice. The robot character pointed to a website URL featuring a green padlock and stated, “…It’s a scam. If you order me you’ll get nothing. Right, before you pay, look for a padlock and always check the seller’s genuine. You don’t want to get scammed by a fake site …”.
Fifteen complainants challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied that website URLs with green padlocks were guaranteed to be safe.
Barclays Bank plc said they intended the ad to highlight the risks of online shopping scams through which fraudsters could harvest payment card details in order to pursue payment fraud. They believed the ad provided two pieces of advice to help consumers avoid becoming victims of online shopping or payment fraud, namely, “before you pay look for a padlock” and “always check the seller’s genuine”. They said “before you pay look for a padlock” was advice given by private sector businesses and public authorities, including Financial Fraud Action UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office, Get Safe Online, Action Fraud and Norton Symantech. They said the ad did not intend to provide technical detail surrounding the website padlock. They also believed the ad made clear that additional steps were necessary, and that viewers would understand that the website padlock was not the only necessary step for an online shopper to check in order to be safe. They also believed the ad did not make any safety guarantees.
Clearcast said the claim did not amount to a promise of absolute safety but was sensible advice for consumers to follow. They did not think the claim promised a failsafe way to avoid getting scammed whilst online shopping. They noted the absence of any absolute claims and the direction to viewers to take extra advice to check that their seller is genuine. They believed the claim would be understood by most viewers as sensible advice, and one of a number of measures consumers should take when shopping online.
The ASA considered that consumers were generally unlikely to have a detailed understanding of the website padlock symbol and the general steps required to ensure a website was safe. We considered viewers would understand the claim “Right, before you pay, look for a padlock and always check the seller’s genuine. You don’t want to get scammed by a fake site” to mean that if they saw a padlock in the address bar of their browser they would be protected from online shopping scams or payment fraud. We noted that the character also stated “always check the seller’s genuine”, but due to the emphasis that the ad placed visually on the padlock, we considered that the overriding impression of the ad was nevertheless that the padlock guaranteed that a website was safe.
We understood that the padlock measure alone could not ensure safety, rather consumers would have to take additional steps to protect themselves from online shopping scams or payment fraud.
Because the ad suggested that a padlock guaranteed that a website was safe when a padlock in an address bar did not protect from online shopping scams or payment fraud, we concluded the ad was misleading.
The ad breached BCAP Code rule
The standards objectives, insofar as they relate to advertising, include:
a) that persons under the age of 18 are protected;
b) that material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or lead to disorder is not included in television and radio services;
c) that the proper degree of responsibility is exercised with respect to the content of programmes which are religious programmes;
d) that generally accepted standards are applied to the contents of television and radio services so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from inclusion in such services of offensive and harmful material;
e) that the inclusion of advertising which may be misleading, harmful or offensive in television and radio services is prevented;
f) that the international obligations of the United Kingdom with respect to advertising included in television and radio services are complied with [in particular in respect of television those obligations set out in Articles 3b, 3e,10, 14, 15, 19, 20 and 22 of Directive 89/552/EEC (the Audi Visual Media Services Directive)];
g) that there is no use of techniques which exploit the possibility of conveying a message to viewers or listeners, or of otherwise influencing their minds, without their being aware, or fully aware, of what has occurred"
Section 319(2). (Misleading Advertising).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Barclays Bank plc to ensure that they made clear that the website padlock security measure did not guarantee safety from online shopping or payment fraud.