Four leaflets, from Ben’s Gutters, presented in the form of a compliment slip:
a. The first leaflet from Ben’s Gutters Ltd, was delivered to homes in Powys, Carmarthenshire, Kent and Warwickshire in July 2023. Text which appeared to be handwritten stated “Hello, We are cleaning gutters in your area over the next few days. Maybe you would like yours cleaned too? Please call us on [mobile number] for an estimate. Best regards, Ben’s Gutters [smiley face]”. Small printed text included an 0800 phone number, website and email address, the company’s registered name and Companies House number and the text “A National company with a local presence Established 2010”.
b. The second leaflet also from Ben’s Gutters Ltd, was delivered to homes in Norfolk, Gloucestershire, Kent and Cornwall in July and August 2023. It was the same as ad (a) except the handwritten-style text began “Hello, We are cleaning your close neighbours [sic] gutters over the next few days […]”. The mobile number was different to that in ad (a).
c. The third leaflet, from Ben’s Gutters Scotland Ltd, was delivered to homes in Lanarkshire in June 2023. It featured the same handwritten-style text as ad (b), with a different mobile number. The small print featured a different 0800 phone number, website and email address and the registered name and Companies House number for Ben’s Gutters Scotland Ltd. It included the text “A National company with a local presence Established 2010”.
d. The fourth leaflet, from Ben’s Gutters North Ltd, was delivered to a home in Durham in July 2023. It featured the same handwritten-style text as ads (b) and (c), but with another mobile number. The small print featured a 0161 phone number, the same website as in ads (a) and (b), and a different email address. It included the registered name and Companies House number for Ben’s Gutters North Ltd and the text “A National company with a local presence Established 2010”.
Thirty-two complainants, who believed the overall impression of the ads were that they were from a local tradesperson working in the area, challenged whether they were misleading.
Ben’s Gutters Ltd said they had contacted the CAP Copy Advice team and believed that by stating they were a national company with a local presence on the leaflets, they were following the advice they had been given. They believed that by stating explicitly that they were a national company, consumers would not be misled about the size of their company. They had used the handwritten style compliment slip for over 13 years, and it was a theme they used throughout their branding including on their vans, cherry pickers and websites. They also included details about their company, website, company registration numbers and VAT numbers on the leaflets, so that consumers could do additional checks.
They understood that many of their customers, after receiving a leaflet, looked the company up online. Their Trustpilot page had 4,431 reviews, a number which they believed would be very unlikely for a small, individually run business.
The ASA considered the ads contained certain elements that gave recipients the impression that it was from a local, small business or tradesperson. In particular, the handwritten style of the text on a compliments slip, the informal and individual sounding company name “Ben’s Gutters”, the text “Please call us on [mobile number] for an estimate” and the apparently hand-drawn smiley face symbol after the sign-off.
We acknowledged that the ads stated “A National company with a local presence”. However, that text appeared in the bottom right-hand corner, in typed text that was smaller than the main content of the ad. We also acknowledged that ads (a), (b) and (c) included a 0800 telephone number, and that all the ads included website and email addresses, a more formal version of the company name (“Ben’s Gutters Ltd”, “Ben’s Gutters Scotland Ltd” or “Ben’s Gutters North Ltd) and Companies House numbers. Ads (a), (b) and (d) also included a VAT number. We considered all of these were elements more likely to be associated with larger companies. However, we considered that these were insufficient to override the impression that the ads were from a small, independent, local business.
We considered the principle of supporting a small, independent, local business was likely to be a significant factor in a consumer’s decision to respond to the ad. However, while we understood that the work was carried out by individual tradespeople who were local to their area, Ben’s Gutters was itself a larger company working in various parts of the country. Because we considered the ads gave the overall impression that they were for a local, small business or tradesperson, when that was not the case, we concluded that the ads were misleading.
Ads (a), (b), (c) and (d) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising).
The ads must not appear again in the forms complained of. We told Ben’s Gutters Ltd to ensure that their marketing communications did not, through their content or presentation, give the overall impression that they were for a local small business or tradesperson.