Two comparison websites, seen in October and November 2017:
a. The home page of a website for Compare Heaters www.compareheaters.com, was headed "Compare Heaters. Electric heating comparison site". Text stated "Compare Heaters helps you make the right decision. Compare electric storage heaters to make the best choice for your home. Fischer Future Heat, Elektrostore, EkoRad & Premier Radiators. Compare Heaters Now. Compare Heaters and find the best option for your home requirements".
b. The home page of a website called What Heater www.whatheater.com, stated "Find out more about popular electric heating brands. Whatheater.co.uk. Whatheater.co.uk compares four popular heating brands on the UK market. Fischer Future Heat, Premier Radiators, Elektrostore and EkoRad all have their own unique features. What brand suits your heating requirements?". Further text at the bottom of the page stated "Whatheater.co.uk was formed to help the British public choose which electric heater brand is best for their home. With so many heating options available on the UK market, it is so easy to get it wrong. Our easy to read comparison website is designed to reduce confusion and improve customer experience when choosing the best heaters for their home. Enquire through whatheater.co.uk for an easy, simple shopping experience".
The complainant challenged whether the websites were misleading because they implied that they were independent comparison websites, which they understood was not the case.
Barry Pearson t/a www.compareheaters.com & www.whatheater.com stated that they had added an "About Us" section on the websites which explained that companies paid to be featured. They believed that this was similar to other comparison websites, which were run in the same way. They said that the word "independent" did not appear anywhere on the websites. Publication on the websites was open to anyone and there was no bias. The fact that other brands were not listed on the websites did not mean that they could not be, but rather than they had not chosen to pay to appear.
The CAP Code stated that marketing communications must make clear their commercial intent, if that was not obvious from the context. We noted ad (a) stated “Electric heating comparison site”, “Compare Heaters helps you to make the right decision”, “Compare electric storage heaters and make the best choice for your home”. Ad (b) stated “Whatheater.co.uk compares four popular heating brands on the UK market” and "Whatheater.co.uk was formed to help the British public choose which electric heater brand is best for their home”. We considered that both web pages were likely to give readers the impression that they offered an impartial and independent comparison between electric heating companies.
We understood the companies compared on the websites had paid to appear there. We also noted there were a large number of electric heating companies in the UK, only four of which were featured on the websites. Both home pages included links entitled “Advertise” which led to a separate page that invited companies to pay to have their heater featured on the sites. We also acknowledged Barry Pearson had added "About Us" pages which stated "How does [website] make money? [Website] has commercial agreements in place with manufacturers across the heating industry. We charge manufacturers a fee to compare their products against competitors, which means we can provide consumers with a free advisory service". However, we did not consider the presence of this information on separate pages was sufficient to counteract the impression likely to be given to consumers by the home pages and other parts of the websites likely to be of interest to them, which was that the websites offered independent and impartial information comparing the attributes of different electric heaters. Furthermore, research on Companies House indicated that two individuals were listed as persons with significant control in relation to all four companies compared in the ads – Fischer Future Heat, Elektrostore, EkoRad and Premier Radiators.
The companies compared on Compare Heaters and What Heater had paid a fee to be featured, and the websites only compared a limited range of electric heating companies. We therefore considered the sites did not offer an impartial or independent comparison service as the ads implied. In addition, the web pages did not feature a sufficiently prominent explanation of how they made money, and therefore we considered they did not make clear their commercial intent. For those reasons, we concluded that the ads were misleading.
Ads (a) and (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 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), 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. and 3.3 (Misleading advertising).
The ads must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Barry Pearson t/a www.compareheaters.com and www.whatheater.com not to misleadingly present their websites as independent comparison sites.