Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, of which one was Upheld and one was Not upheld.
a. A poster seen outside London Paddington station between August and November 2015 for Great Western Railway stated “The railway belongs to the region it serves”. Underneath smaller text stated “THE RETURN OF GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY”.
b. A website, www.gwr.com, seen on 21 October stated in large text “Changing from First Great Western to GWR - Our vision”. Smaller text underneath stated “Our aim is to reinstate the ideals of our founder, Isambard Kingdom Brunel”. Smaller text further stated “going back to the name given to us by our illustrious founder, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, is a huge step … We’re proud to have the chance to bring back Brunel’s original ideals and take them forward into the 21st Century”.
1. Four complainants, including Common Capital, an online blog concerned with social enterprise, who believed that Great Western Railway was owned by an international company, challenged whether the ad (a) was misleading because they believed it implied that the railway was publically owned.
2. One complainant, who understood that Isambard Kingdom Brunel was not the company’s founder, challenged whether ad (b) was misleading.
1. First Greater Western Ltd t/a Great Western Railway (GWR) said the claim “The railway belongs to the region it serves” was designed to inform consumers that the GWR was there to serve the people of its locality. They said that they wanted to encourage consumers to identify with the change from the name “First Great Western” back to the original brand “Great Western Railways”, which they said would be left for further franchisees to trade under and so “belonged” to the region. They also said they believed GWR benefitted the UK both locally and nationally by contributing to the public purse, increasing value within the local area and by contributing to a fund which supported the local council and community groups. They did not consider the claim suggested that the ownership of GWR had changed and did not believe that the ad was misleading.
GRW also explained that National Rail, a public body, owned the rail infrastructure upon which GWR provided a railway service on behalf of the Government. They stated that, in light of this, the railway did in fact “belong to the region it serves” and that they did not consider the ad to be misleading.
2. GWR said that Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed in 1833 as the Chief Engineer of the original Great Western Railway. They said that Brunel was widely recognised as the founding father of the original Great Western Railway, given his contribution to the creation of the railway by overseeing the construction of the railway and by personally surveying the London to Bristol route. They said that the website did not claim that GWR as a company was founded by Brunel and that its aim was to draw attention to the history and legacy of the GWR.
The ASA considered that “The railway belongs to the region it serves” was likely to be understood by consumers to imply that GWR was publically owned and, as such, there could be a resulting financial benefit to the region that GWR operated in.
We understood that the aim of the ad was to evoke a sense of identity between the organisation and consumers, and noted some of GWR’s profits were used to support local groups. However, we considered that the use of the world “belongs” was likely to be understood to imply public, as opposed to private, ownership, rather than, for example, that community groups received funding. Although we considered that the average consumer was likely to have a general awareness of the manner in which the railways were franchised and operated, we considered that this misleading impression might encourage consumers to use or enquire about using the service, for example, out of regional loyalty or because they believed profits directly belonged to the local region. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising).
2. Not upheld
We considered the claim “Our aim is to reinstate the ideals of our founder” was likely to be understood to suggest that Brunel possessed ideals which GWR aspired to, an impression that was further emphasised by the use of “our illustrious founder”. In the context of the ad, we considered consumers were likely to understand “founder” in a broad sense: to mean that Brunel had made a significant contribution to the early formation of the railways in the GWR locality, rather than that he was the founder of the company itself. In those circumstances, and because we understood Brunel had made a historically significant contribution to the region’s railways, we concluded that the ad was not misleading.
On that point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), but did not find it in breach.
Ad (a) must not appear again in its current form. We told Great Western Railway not to suggest in future that the railway franchise was publicly owned, if that was not the case.