Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A letter for BT Solar Ltd, for solar panels, received on 15 January 2019, included a header that featured a logo with the text “BTSA … British Trading Solar Association”.
The body of the letter included prominent text in red stating “IMPORTANT PLEASE READ” and below that “We are writing to you with important information regarding your solar panels system … Our records indicate that you have not received your free health check and service on your system and your warranty may be due to expire … Please contact our booking team free of charge to validate your warranty”.
Smaller text at the bottom of the letter included the name and address of BT SOLAR LTD.
The ASA received two complaints:
1. Two complainants challenged whether the ad was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication.
2. One complainant challenged whether the ad was misleading because it implied that their solar panel systems warranty was conditional on responding to the letter.
BT Solar Ltd acknowledged the complaint, but did not provide a substantive response.
The ASA was concerned by BT Solar’s lack of response and apparent disregard for the Code, which was a breach of CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.7 (Unreasonable delay). We reminded them of their responsibility to provide a substantive response to our enquiries and told them to do so in future.
The CAP Code required that marketing communications were obviously identifiable as such. The complainants stated that the ad was received in a plain windowed envelope which had a return address on the back with BT Solar’s name and address. We considered that just including the return address was not sufficient to make it clear that the envelope contained a marketing communication, so the ad breached the Code.
Notwithstanding that the envelope did not make clear that it was an ad, we also reviewed the letter. The letter included a prominent logo and with the text “BTSA … British Trading Solar Association”. We considered that the placement and prominence of that logo meant that consumers would understand that the letter was sent by the “British Trading Solar Association”. We noted that the trade body for solar panels was the Solar Trading Association (STA). We considered, because the BTSA had a similar name to the STA, that consumers who were aware of that trade body may have understood that the ad was from them. We further considered that, even if consumers were not aware of the STA, they were likely to interpret the name in the ad as relating to the official trade body for solar panels.
We considered that the headline text, “IMPORTANT PLEASE READ” had more in common with a warning or informative message than a commercial one. Immediately below the headline, the text referred to “important information regarding your solar panels system” and we considered that consumers would understand that to mean that the letter contained information rather than an ad. The next paragraph mentioned the recipient’s warranty and stated that the recipient had “… not received your free health check and service”, but did not make clear that the sender was a commercial entity offering the service. The final paragraph stated “Please contact our booking team … to validate your warranty”, but did not make clear that the sender was a commercial entity offering a service.
We therefore concluded that the ad was not identifiable as a marketing communication.
On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 2.1 2.1 Marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such. and 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).
We considered that consumers would understand from the claim “Please contact our booking team free of charge to validate your warranty” to mean that, in order for their warranty to be validated, they would need to contact BT Solar. We noted that the body text of the letter contained three references to the recipient’s warranty expiring coupled with a call to action to contact BT Solar and we considered that consumers would understand from the overall impression created by the ad that their warranty was conditional on contacting BT Solar.
Because that was not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
On this 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).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told BT Solar Ltd to make its marketing communications obviously identifiable and to make clear its commercial intent. We also told BT Solar Ltd not to claim or imply that a consumers’ warranty would be impacted in any way if they chose not to contact them.