Two paid-for Google ads for advice-debts.com, seen in July 2018, stated:
a. “Citizens Advice UK… Free Debt Help… advice-debts.com”… “Do you have debts over £4,000? See if you can have 86% wiped off”.
b. “Citizens Debt Advice… Write Off Over £4,000 of Debts… advice-debts.com”.
Citizens Advice South Warwickshire challenged whether the ads were misleading because they implied that the company was associated with Citizens Advice.
DebtHelp4Me Ltd t/a advice-debts.com said that the use of “Citzens Advice UK” and “Citizens Debt Advice” in the headline of the ads was to improve their quality score so the ads would appear more and they would pay less per click. They said that the ads and the landing page on their website to which they linked did not suggest that advice-debts.com were Citizens Advice. They said that the communication was created from an option from Google AdWords that automatically inserted the user’s keyword text into the headline.
Advice-debts.com considered that, in particular, the claim "Citizens Debt Advice" did not take advantage of a trademark as "Citizens Debt Advice" was not a registered trademark of Citizens Advice. Advice-debts.com further stated that Citizens Debt Advice was an accurate reflection of the service offered, because Advice-debts.com provided debt advice services for UK citizens and that "Citizens Debt Advice" was simply three words of which two were from the trademarked term. They considered that in that context, those two words were not mentioned together and were not misleading.
The ASA considered that consumers would be likely to associate the terms “Citizens Advice UK” and “Citizens Debt Advice” with Citizens Advice. Although advice-debts.com had told us that the ad was generated through an option on Google AdWords that inserted user text into the headline based on user searches, we noted that advertisers had full control over the wording of the headline and sub-heading texts of their ads. Although we acknowledged that the website URL and the text below the headlines did not further mention Citizens Advice, we considered that consumers viewing the ad would be likely to understand that when clicking through from the ad they would be taken to the Citizens Advice website or to a debt advice company that was associated with Citizens Advice. Because that was not the case, we concluded that the use of the terms “Citizens Advice UK” and “Citizens Debt Advice” in the ads were misleading.
Ads (a) and (b) 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 3.43 3.43 Marketing communications must not take unfair advantage of the reputation of a competitor's trade mark, trade name or other distinguishing mark or of the designation of origin of a competing product. (Imitation and denigration).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told DebtHelp4Me Ltd t/a advice-debts.com not to use the terms “Citizens Advice UK” or “Citizens Debt Advice” in their advertising, or any other term that implied they were associated with Citizens Advice.