A TV ad for a property developer, Birch's Group Ltd, seen on 17 July 2016 featured a voice-over that stated, “Birch’s is delighted to present Little London Park at Torksey Lock near Lincoln. Set within a peaceful location near the canal. With fully furnished bungalows from £140,000. A part exchange scheme is also available. Come along to our open weekend this Saturday and Sunday …”. Throughout the ad, internal and external images of the properties were shown and at the end the voice-over stated, “Little London Park one exclusive location” and featured on-screen text that stated, “Little London Park Torksey Park, Lincoln, LN1 2EL Open Weekend this Saturday & Sunday …”.
The complainant, who understood that the images shown in the ad were taken from another property site owned by Birch’s Group Ltd, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
Birch’s Group Ltd stated that they owned several property sites throughout the UK, including Hampshire, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Somerset. They stated that the ad was made to promote an open weekend at their Little London Park site located at Torksey Park in Lincolnshire.
Regarding the ad’s content, Birch’s Group stated that it was captured from various properties at their Cambridgeshire site. They explained that their selection of properties and internal features were available across all their locations and believed that the images and footage shown in the ad were an accurate representation of properties customers could purchase at their Little London Park site.
Birch’s Group stated that customers could select any property from a range of options offered by different manufacturers across any of their sites, whereby its size would be customised based on how big the base supporting it would be. They provided a price list detailing some of the property options available at Little London Park where customers could choose to either purchase a show home that was ready made or alternatively select a plot and the home of their choice in the appropriate size. All of the park homes, with the exception of show homes, were custom built and therefore possible for a customer to request a particular layout and internal features, including any that they had seen in the ad. Regarding their show homes, they were also designed by the same manufacturers and built across all their sites. Furthermore, the outside features of each property, such as driveways and paths, were identical regardless of their location. They believed that whilst the ad showed exterior images and footage of the properties, there were no features in the background of those shots to link the properties to a particular location.
Birch’s Group also confirmed that, like the Cambridgeshire site and as reflected in the ad, Little London Park was also a gated development.
Birch’s Group believed that the voice-over’s reference to “with fully furnished bungalows from £140,000” did not claim that a customer would receive the exact properties featured in the ad, but rather that the images were an accurate representation of the sort of properties that they could receive for the quoted “from” price.
Birch’s Group stated that the properties featured in the ad were two of their show homes called “Omar Sheringham” and “Omar Heritage” located at their Cambridgeshire site and provided links to the manufacturer’s website showing images, sizes and layouts of the properties. They explained that on the open weekend at Little London Park the Omar Sheringham property was available for viewing and whilst the Omar Heritage was not, they were very similar in layout. Furthermore, the size of the Omar Sheringham property shown in the ad (45’ x 20’) was identical to the one available for viewing at Little London Park, but was smaller than the featured Omar Heritage (50’ x 20’).
Clearcast stated that they received assurance from Birch’s Group that the images depicted in the ad were accurate and truthful representations of what a consumer would receive at the property location. They understood that the ad was not singling out one type or design of property, but instead, offering a range of properties and styles for the consumer to choose from.
Having obtained Birch’s Group assurance that the visuals were true and accurate representations, Clearcast did not consider the ad was misleading. Furthermore, given that any of the properties shown in the ad could be re-created, they were satisfied that the filming location did not misrepresent what the consumer would receive.
Clearcast were also satisfied that the external images of the properties were equally representational and did not include specific landmarks that Birch’s Group would be unable to supply at their Little London site. Therefore, Clearcast were satisfied that Birch’s Group could accurately supply the homes as shown in the ad, regardless of location.
The ASA considered that viewers would interpret the ad to mean that the featured properties were available to purchase at Birch’s Group’s Little London Park site and that they were ready for viewing on the open weekend.
We noted that the ad included footage of properties located at their Cambridgeshire site rather than of the properties situated at their Little London Park location.
However, we acknowledged that Birch’s Group offered the same portfolio of properties and internal features for custom-made homes across all their locations. We understood that Birch’s Group offered consumers a choice of either purchasing a ready-made show home or an empty plot. If the latter, consumers would select a property from a range of options whereby its size would be customised based on how big the base supporting it would be and that alterations could be made to the property’s standard layout. Furthermore, the range of options included those properties that were sold as show homes. Consumers could choose their preferred internal features for the property, such as kitchens and bathrooms. Therefore, it was possible for consumers to purchase the featured properties as they appeared in the ad at the Little London Park location. However, we considered that Birch’s Group also needed to show that the actual properties shown in the ad were ready for viewing at their Little London Park open weekend.
We noted that the properties featured in the ad were the show homes called Omar Heritage and Omar Sheringham and were presented in that order. On the open weekend the latter property of the same size as shown in the ad was available for viewing whilst the former was not. We understood, however, that it was available for consumers as a custom built home where the internal layout and features could be matched to what was shown in the ad.
However, we noted from the ad that the external structure and design of the properties were vastly different. In particular, the Omar Heritage had a large triangular roof over the front entrance of the property and larger windows. We also noted that it was generally bigger in size than the Omar Sheringham, which along with its external design we considered would be appealing to viewers who wanted to purchase such a property and was likely to influence their decision to go to the open weekend believing that the particular property was immediately available to view.
We therefore considered that although the properties featured in the ad were available to purchase at Little London Park as either a show home or custom-made property, because the Omar Heritage was not available for viewing during the open weekend we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached BCAP Code rule 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Birch’s Group Ltd that their future advertising for their open weekends must only feature properties that were ready for viewing.