A website for Falmouth University, www.falmouth.ac.uk, seen on 10 June 2017 featured text stating “The UK’s No 1 Arts University (for three years running)” in “The Sunday Times League Table 2017” on a webpage titled “League Table Results”. Additionally, on the third page of the “2018 Undergraduate Prospectus”, available on a webpage titled “Prospectus”, the headline text stated “THE UK’S NUMBER ONE CREATIVE UNIVERSITY”. Listed below this was: “The Sunday Times League Table 2017”; “Guardian University Guide 2017”; and “Complete University Guide 2017”.
Two complainants, one an academic, believed that there were no specific “Arts” or “Creative” categories in university league tables and that there were other higher ranking universities offering creative courses, thus challenged whether Falmouth University’s claims of being the UK’s number one “Arts University” and the UK’s number one “Creative University” were misleading and could be substantiated.
Falmouth University said that all of the courses it offered were creative subjects. It stated its claims were based on a defined subset of “Arts Universities” by The Times and Sunday Times University League Table, comprising five universities (including Falmouth) with a focus on the arts. It also said Falmouth University had been ranked as the number one “Arts University” within this smaller group of universities in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and it was also ranked as the number one “Arts University” within the same subset in the Guardian University Guide and Complete University Guide in 2017. Evidence of Falmouth University’s rankings in the published annual university league tables was provided.
Falmouth University said that “Arts University” and “Creative University” were well understood terms in the higher education sector. It noted that other universities in the group had used this term in their marketing communications; therefore other universities also recognised the defined subset of arts and creative universities in question. Additionally, it stated it was in a competitor set, defined by UCAS, with six other institutions specialising in creative subjects.
The ASA considered that the average consumer would interpret the claim number one “Arts University” or “Creative University”, in the quoted league tables, as the highest ranking university either offering, or specialising in, art or creative courses. We considered that “Arts” could also be interpreted more generally as art humanity subjects.
We considered that the average consumer for these ads would not be aware of the subset of five “Arts” or “Creative” universities referred to by Falmouth University, which predominantly offered art and creative courses only. Falmouth University did not provide evidence to demonstrate that the group of five “Arts Universities” or “Creative Universities” had been publically defined and ranked as a separate category by any of the suggested university league tables, such as The Times and Sunday Times. We also considered that other universities that were likely to be reputable for their art and creative courses were not included within this sub-group referred to by Falmouth University.
Furthermore, we considered that consumers were not likely to be familiar enough with the course offerings of various universities in order to differentiate between universities that solely offered creative subjects from those that offered creative subjects as well as other disciplines, unless it was made explicitly clear in the university’s name. For these reasons we considered that the terms “Arts University” or “Creative University” in the ads were ambiguous and were not widely understood definitions.
We acknowledged that Falmouth University was ranked higher than the other four universities which it stated were in the “Arts University” subset in the Times League table in 2017, 2016 and 2015. Falmouth University was also ranked higher than these universities in the Guardian University Guide and Complete University Guide in 2017. However, we considered that these “No 1” rankings were generated through narrowing down the pool of competitors from the overall league tables which included all other institutions, and there did not appear to be separate groups of defined “Arts” or “Creative” universities in these league tables. It was possible to filter the above university guides to rank institutions by subjects, such as “Art” or “Art and Design” courses, however Falmouth University was not the number one ranking university for these subjects specifically in the given time periods.
In conclusion, we considered that Falmouth University had not substantiated the “number one” claims as it was likely to be understood by consumers, therefore the ads were likely to mislead.
The ads 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 3.33 3.33 Marketing communications that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product. (Comparisons).
The ads should not appear in the current form again. We told Falmouth University to ensure that it held robust data to substantiate comparative claims in future and that the basis of their claims was clear to consumers.