Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A website promoting de Verde hydrogen performance cells for cars, www.hydrogenhybrids.uk.com, included a header on the home page that stated "de Verde Limited .. Improved Vehicle Performance, Increased Fuel Efficiency, Lower Emissions .. INTRODUCING THE H2R PERFORMANCE CELL (new for 2013) FANTASTIC NEW DEVELOPMENT". The web page made various other claims about the product including: "Independently Tested On Rolling Road for Performance"; "Will Reduce Emissions even if CAT Removed"; "Our Pegasus Hydrogen Cells can save you money by up to 45% every time you fill up your tank"; "de Verde manufacture a range of unique hydrogen cells, independently, third-party tested, which will reduce emissions & improve MPG by increasing the Thermal Efficiency of your engine! Producing on-board gas using just water, the thermal efficiency of your engine will improve, providing improved performance, increase in mpg, and lower emissions!"; "Pegasus 1100 - Larger cell for Vans, 4 x 4s, Taxis etc: (increased performance with fuel efficiency & lower emissions!)"; "Pegasus H2R - Motorsport & fast street use; a performance boosting Cell - up to 30BHP & 30% more torque, without remapping! - removes flat spots, reduces Turbo Lag!"; "EmissionsKing - A guaranteed and easy option to reduce vehicle emissions! our ‘Green cell’ will also increase fuel efficiency!"; "Bike Cell - Larger motorcycles up to 2300cc- these cells give a ‘boost’ & better mpg when cruising! (tested on a Harley Davidson, which increased fuel efficiency from 36mpg to 59 mpg!)"; "Truck Cell- Trucks/HGVs up to 7.5 tonnes (Fuel savings from 10 to 40%, lower emissions!)" and "New for 2013: We have developed a new Cell for Motorsport applications, the H2R Hydrogen cell .. up to 30% more Torque, & up to 10BHP".
Further text stated "all the testimonials are from actual real customers!".
The complainant challenged whether:
1. the efficacy claims for the products were misleading and could be substantiated; and
2. the claim "all testimonials are from actual real customers!" could be substantiated.
1. de Verde Ltd (de Verde) said they would remove the claim the product could "save you money by up to 45%". However, they believed they could substantiate claims relating to improved performance figures and reduced emissions. They provided a report which they said supported the MPG improvement claims, test results to support the reduced emission claims and test results to support the torque and power improvement claims. They also provided the manual for selling and installing their car, commercial vehicle and truck products as well as a DIY installation guide. They also provided a copy of their patent application for the 'hydroxy generator cell'.
2. They said the claim "all testimonials are from actual real customers!" was accurate and supplied a number of e-mail and written testimonials.
The web page made a number of claims about the products offered by de Verde. The ASA considered that the claims that were not linked to a specific product would be understood by consumers to relate to all the products offered by de Verde. The claims stated that the products could improve vehicle performance, increase fuel efficiency/MPG and lower emissions.
In relation to the claims about improvement in fuel economy we considered the report provided by de Verde as well as an e-mail that referred to "fuel saving" test results and another page of test results that related to fuel economy. The report gave test results for cells installed in a pick-up truck, two motorbikes, a four-wheel drive and a sport utility vehicle (SUV). The report gave a base MPG and a test MPG, and improvements of 10–70% were shown. However, the report did not give any information about the methodology of the testing and the results appeared to relate to one test of each vehicle only. It was unclear which products were tested, and whether all the products listed on the website were included. We therefore did not consider the report to be sufficiently robust to support the claims. The other two documents provided referred to test results relating to fuel economy, but again did not give any details of how the testing was carried out. We concluded that the evidence provided in relation to improvements in fuel economy/MPG was not sufficiently robust and the claims had not been substantiated.
We considered the claim "lower emissions" to be a comparative environmental claim that the use of their products would lead to lower vehicle emissions than if their product was not used. The advertiser supplied an emissions test document. However, the page gave test results only and we were not provided with information regarding the methodology of the testing or which specific product had been tested. We concluded that the evidence provided in relation to lower emissions was not sufficiently robust and the claims had not been substantiated.
The ad referred to improvements in torque in relation to the 2013 H2R motorsport cell and the Pegasus H2R motorsport cell. Two sets of test results from 2011 were provided. However, we were not provided with information regarding the methodology of the testing or details of what products were tested. We also understood that there were other ways in which torque could be improved and had not been provided with information regarding how this was controlled for. We concluded that the evidence provided in relation to improvements in torque was not sufficiently robust and the claims had not been substantiated.
On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 11.3 11.3 Absolute claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation. Comparative claims such as "greener" or "friendlier" can be justified, for example, if the advertised product provides a total environmental benefit over that of the marketer's previous product or competitor products and the basis of the comparison is clear. (Environmental claims).
The claim stated "all testimonials are from actual real customers!", and de Verde supplied samples of testimonials to us. We compared these to the testimonials listed on the website's "Testimonials" web page. Five of the testimonials supplied appeared to be included on the web page. The CAP Code required that marketers must hold documentary evidence that testimonials were genuine and hold contact details for the person who gave it. Four of the relevant testimonials were either handwritten, signed, dated and included an address or came from a provable company e-mail address. However, one of the testimonials came from an unverifiable web based e-mail address and contained no further contact details, which we did not consider to be sufficient to demonstrate the testimonial was genuine. Because the claim referred to "all testimonials" and at least one of the testimonials included on their website could not be proven to be genuine we concluded the claim had not been substantiated.
On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.45 3.45 Marketers must hold documentary evidence that a testimonial or endorsement used in a marketing communication is genuine, unless it is obviously fictitious, and hold contact details for the person who, or organisation that, gives it. (Endorsements and testimonials).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told de Verde not to make efficacy claims for their products unless they held robust evidence to support them. We also told them to ensure that their use of testimonials complied with the requirements of the CAP Code.