A table on a page entitled “Running Costs” on www.fischerfutureheat.com, a German storage heater retail company, compared the performance and energy usage of one of their products to two other storage heaters. The ad provided details about the testing which each manufacturer had carried out on their own product and the outcomes of those tests. It included a footnote which stated "The 4 rooms were of different dimensions, different U values and subject to different temperature differentials therefore the direct comparisons is only a reflection of the running costs where a room is maintained at 21C using the various types of heaters".
South West Heating Solutions challenged whether the comparison table was misleading.
Fischer Future Heat UK Ltd provided the test reports for their and the complainant’s product, as well as evidence in support of the other product mentioned in the comparison. They explained that the footnote was included to highlight the differences between each of the tests which each manufacturer had carried out. Fischer Future Heat explained that the size a room would determine which size radiator was required to heat it. They said, for example, an undersized one would take longer to heat a room and therefore, it would use more energy to do so. They explained that U-values represented heat loss and therefore, that U-value would determine how many kilowatts (kW) of heat were required. They explained that a well-insulated room would need fewer kW of heat to keep the room at 21 degrees. They believe their evidence supported the comparative claims they had made and that the footnote explained the differences between the test methodologies for each of the radiators. They did not believe the ad was misleading.
The ASA noted that the claims appeared on a page headed “Running costs” and in that context, we considered that this page implied that the lower amount of energy needed by Fischer Future Heat’s product could be translated into the home and therefore their particular product would offer a benefit to consumer in terms of financial savings in energy costs. However, we noted there was no data included in the ad which specifically related to running costs; rather it included theoretical figures to guide consumers in comparing the three heaters.
Fischer Future Heat had compared the performance of its product against that of two competitors and they had used publicly available test results to help form the comparison. We acknowledged that Fischer Future Heat had compared three products which met the same need, i.e. storage heaters to heat a room in a domestic dwelling. However, we had concerns about the methodology and testing conditions of all three tests.
Both Fischer Future Heat and Southwest Heating Solutions had used an independent third party to carry out their testing. Both had used the same firm which had used the same methodology although there were differences within the testing conditions. It was unclear whether the third product manufacturer had used an independent third party but nevertheless, we noted its testing conditions also differed to those used by Fischer Future Heat and Southwest Heating Solutions.
We understood there was an accepted industry standard against which the performance of such heaters could be measured – BS EN 60675:1995 “Household electric direct-acting room heaters: Methods for measuring performance”. However, both the test reports for Fischer Future Heat and Southwest Heating Solutions stated that the methodology used was based on BS EN 60675, but was not identical to it, but did not make clear why the testing laboratory did not carry out its testing in accordance with the accepted industry standard.
Furthermore, we noted that the performances of the heaters for both Fischer Future Heat and Southwest Heating Solutions were tested within a specially constructed cuboid measuring 3m x 4m x 4m, which was encased in a further chamber to replicate external conditions. We understood that Fischer Future Heat believed their testing conditions simulated an average UK home and that the use of cooling loads during testing represented the effect of heat loss as would be experienced within the home. Furthermore, we had also not seen any evidence that results from the testing could directly translate into consumer experience in the home, as implied by the ad.
We noted the other competitor had tested their product in a climate room which had been built to accurately replicate a room from typical UK housing stock. No further information was provided about what type of property it considered that to be. The room was described as having two external walls and two internal walls, with the temperature outside all the walls, ceiling and floor being accurately controlled. However, no details about how that temperature had been controlled had been included in the testing information.
We noted that all three testing sites used different external temperatures, with Fischer Future Heat using -1 degree C, Southwest Heating Solutions using 4 degrees C and the other company using 3.9 degrees C. In addition, we noted that Fischer Future Heat and Southwest Heating Solutions had been tested at different times of the year and in different years, while that information was not disclosed for the third product. While we recognised that each had used the same ambient temperature for inside the room (21 degrees C), Fischer Future Heat and Southwest Heating Solutions had measured performance over a continuous 24-hour period, whereas the third had only tested for a total of nine hours, with two hours in the morning (7am to 9 am) and seven in the evening (4 pm to 11 pm).
We acknowledged that the ad included a qualification regarding the differences between the test conditions of all three products in the comparison. However, we considered again that the reference to running costs in the qualification also implied that the comparisons made in the ad could be translated into savings seen in the home when running Fischer Future Heat’s product. We also considered that the qualification implied overall that the figures given could be used for an accurate comparison of the heaters performance in the home and any subsequent financial savings. We therefore considered that the comparison should have been based on testing the products under the same test conditions. We also had concerns that the test conditions were different, that the testing rooms were unlikely to be considered representative of a typical room within the average UK home and that none of the testing appeared to have been carried out in accordance with the accepted industry standard. For those reasons, we concluded that the comparison table was misleading.
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), 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. and 3.35 3.35 They must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative feature of those products, which may include price. (Comparisons with Identifiable competitors).
The ad must not appear in its current form. When making comparative claims about heater performance and running costs, we told Fischer Future Heat UK Ltd to hold adequate substantiation to demonstrate that all compared products had been subjected to the same testing methodology and how test results achieved in laboratory conditions could be translated into the home and therefore, into lower running costs for consumers.