A YouTube video and a blog post from Peter Ward of Heritage House Building and Restoration, a building consultant whose services included damp surveys:
a. The YouTube video on Peter Ward’s YouTube channel, seen in August 2019, titled “Aquapol the fraud”, featured Peter Ward taking apart a device and stating “That’s it, you get a couple of jelly molds […] You are not seriously gonna [sic] pay thousands and thousands of pounds for this are you? This folks is the scam that is Aquapol […] just don’t go there folks”. Accompanying text underneath the video stated “Currently doing the rounds, and headed up by a very convincing? Hungarian bloke called [name] somebody or other, is Aquapol – now neatly dressed up as Core Conservation. His website features content largely drawn from our site, and the bloke charges many thousands (Seriously folks – this piece of crap sells for over £4,000 to unsuspecting victims) for his ‘services’. Spread the word – and save the unsuspecting public from Core Conservation and Aquapol. Our advice: Ventilate, and make your house breathable. It’s usually quite cost effective, and it works! For more information visit our website http://www.heritage-house.org or http://heritage-consultiong.org. [sic]”
b. The blog post on www.heritage-consulting.org, seen in November 2019, titled “Fraud warning- Aquapol and Core Conservation”. Text stated “We are encountering quite a few examples of a very slick and convincing fraud, which involves the use of a 'magnetic' device that hangs from the ceiling in your house. The fraudster in this case is we think Hungarian - his first name is [name]. He claims to be an engineer, and has no conservation qualifications. He runs a company called Core Conservation, which is used to sell a magnetic device called Aquapol…. It is a not very convincing scam to us - but ordinary people are being defrauded out of very large sums of money here […] I certainly wouldn’t want one of his weird beehives hanging off MY ceiling…”. Further text stated “He talks about breathability, about cement and the evils of it […] he’s just buttering you up for the kill…”. Text at the end of the blog stated “So…be warned: Aquapol, Core Conservation = SCAM = FRAUD”. The blog post also featured the video seen in ad (a)
IssueCore Conservation Ltd, a damp specialist company, challenged whether ads (a) and (b) and in particular the terms “scam”, “fraud” and “fraudster”, were denigratory. The ASA did not receive complaints about or investigate the efficacy or otherwise of the Aquapol device.
ResponseCampylite Investments Ltd t/a Heritage House Building and Restoration (Peter Ward) said that the consultancy was staffed by some of the leading experts in historic building conservation in the country. He listed his employment and educational credentials in this field. Peter Ward said that he did not consider the content to be advertising. He sought to raise awareness of claims that companies made to treat damp in old buildings, having been approached by members of the public with concerns about the credentials of companies operating in that field and the methods they used.
The ASA did not receive complaints about or investigate the efficacy or otherwise of the Aquapol device.
The CAP Code stated that marketing communications must not discredit or denigrate another product or marketer. The rule applied irrespective of whether or not a claim was true, if it appeared in a comparative advertisement and was expressed in terms which were insulting, derogatory or demeaning. Ads which included comparisons with competitors which went beyond a robust and objective comparison of their products or services risked breaching that rule.
Rule 3.42 3.42 Marketing communications must not discredit or denigrate another product, marketer, trade mark, trade name or other distinguishing mark. reflected the provisions of an EU Directive which set out the conditions for lawful comparative advertising which were implemented in the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 in UK law. We therefore first looked at whether or not the YouTube video and blog post were comparative advertising. We considered that there was a direct connection between the material posted and the advertiser and the supply of Heritage House Building and Restoration’s consultancy services.
We noted that ad (a) stated “His website features content largely drawn from our site and the bloke charges many thousands […] for his services […] our advice: Ventilate […]”. By referring to “our site” and “our advice” we considered the video was posted by Peter Ward in his professional capacity as the owner of Heritage House Building and Restoration and was a comparison of the information, expertise and value for money he believed was available from his company in contrast to Core Conservation. In addition, the ad included a hyperlink which led directly to the Heritage House website, enabling consumers to access its services. Another hyperlink led to another company website, Heritage Consulting, of which we understood Peter Ward was a director at the time the ad was seen.
Ad (b), which had the appearance of a blog post, appeared on the Heritage House Building and Restoration company website. It set out Peter Ward’s advice on treating damp alongside claims about the treatment offered by Core Conservation. We considered the content was likely to be seen as comparative, as it built on Heritage House’s expertise at the expense of a competitor and the web page and wider website promoted Heritage House Building and Restoration services as a damp treatment provider. In addition to technical information about damp and old buildings, it also featured Heritage House Building and Restoration’s contact details, office hours for enquiries, along with information on their services and expertise, and stated “We work all over the country”. We therefore concluded that ads (a) and (b) were comparative advertising which fell within the remit of the Code.
We next considered whether the ads were denigratory. In referring to the product, the video in ad (a) was titled “Aquapol the fraud”, used the word “scam” and described the product as a “jelly mould” and “this piece of crap”, and referred to Core Conservations customers as “victims” being buttered up for the “kill”. Ad (b) featured the prominent heading “Fraud warning – Aquapol and Core Conservation”. The words “fraud” and “scam” appeared several times throughout the post in relation to Core Conservation, its directors and the product. The blog also stated that ordinary people were being defrauded out of very large sums of money, together with descriptions of the device as a “weird beehive”. We considered ads (a) and (b) went beyond objective comparison which enabled consumers to compare both company’s products and services, and instead attacked Core Conservation’s business practices and created the impression that Core Conservation and its staff were dishonest and took part in illegal behaviour. We therefore concluded that the ads denigrated Core Conservation and breached the Code.
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.42 3.42 Marketing communications must not discredit or denigrate another product, marketer, trade mark, trade name or other distinguishing mark. (Imitation and Denigration).
Ads (a) and (b) must not appear again in their current form. We told Campylite Investments Ltd t/a Heritage House Building and Restoration to ensure they did not denigrate Core Conservation or their other competitors.