Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
Two ads for Fischer Future Heat, a heating company:
a. A leaflet, seen in July 2017, stated "Over 100,000 smart storage heaters installed in UK homes".
b. A press ad, seen in a national newspaper in October 2017, was headed "No Boiler - No Brainer. Boiler Scrappage Scheme". Further text stated "Did you know ... Gas boiler uses more energy" and “Fischer dynamic storage heaters use up to 50% less energy than your gas boiler. Efficient heating for less energy!”. These claims were linked to small print at the bottom of the page that stated "Test conducted in comparison to conventional gas boiler by BRE where Fischer heaters used 70w per degree of room temperature compared with 108w used by domestic gas boiler".
The ASA received two complaints.
1. One complainant, an energy advisor employed by a charity that supported households at risk of fuel poverty, challenged whether the claim "storage heater" in ad (a) was misleading and could be substantiated.
2. One complainant, a retired electrical engineer who believed that the ad implied that the heaters would save users money compared to gas heating, challenged whether the claims "Gas boiler uses more energy" and “Fischer dynamic storage heaters use up to 50% less energy than your gas boiler” in ad (b) were misleading and could be substantiated.
1. Fischer Future Heat UK Ltd stated that their heaters consisted of an internal 40 millimetre heating clay core which stored and retained heat within the heater, which was then distributed via convection as and when it was used. They believed that this functionality was in line with the commonly used or published definition of what a storage heater was and did. They also stated that their heaters had been recognised and described as storage heaters by industry organisations that had conducted tests on their products.
Fischer Future Heat stated that there were several kinds of storage heating. They made it clear in their advertising that their heating was not “night storage”, which absorbed heat during the night and released it during the day, but “dynamic storage”, which consisted of a storage element in conjunction with temperature control.
Fischer Future Heat said that their advertising was not the point at which customers made the decision to buy their products. They said that once a customer contacted them, they fully explained their products and how they worked to them over the phone, via their brochure and then during their house survey with a qualified engineer. It was only at this point that a customer was ever allowed to continue to purchase and this was specifically so that they were fully educated and aware of what they were buying.
They submitted a test report from an energy-saving organisation which they stated demonstrated that the heaters provided long-lasting heat emission as well as not being more expensive to run than other types of storage heating, but in many cases cheaper.
2. Fischer Future Heat said that the claim referred to the consumption of less energy, and there was no reference to monetary savings or cost. They stated that they could not account for differences in tariffs as each individual would pay differently for a unit of electricity, and it was therefore impossible to say by how much any one person could save. They stated that efficiencies in the way that heating systems functioned accounted for a lot more than simply what consumers would pay for a unit of energy. However, they were able to quantify the reduction in actual energy usage in kilowatts.
Fischer Future Heat submitted a test report conducted by an independent testing body in support of their claim.
Ad (a) described the product as a “smart storage heater”. We considered that consumers were likely to understand a “storage heater” to have the functionality of absorbing heat during the night and releasing it during the day, thereby allowing them to benefit from the lower Economy 7 electricity rates that were in place during night time hours. While we noted Fischer’s assertion that their heaters complied with commonly used and published definitions of “storage heaters”, they did not refer to any specific examples. A search for information about storage heaters aimed at consumers indicated that the term was mainly defined in terms of a heater’s ability to use electricity overnight and release heat during the day.
We noted that both reports submitted by the advertiser referred to the Fischer heaters tested as “storage heaters” or “dynamic storage heaters”. However, we considered that did not demonstrate that they conformed to an industry standard definition of a “storage heater”. Furthermore, the report on tests conducted by the independent testing body indicated that the Fischer heaters were drawing on the electricity supply throughout the 48- to 72-hour testing periods (though the amount of energy being used fluctuated), while the “traditional” storage heaters tested almost exclusively used energy during night time hours, and daytime usage stayed largely at zero. In addition, the conclusion of the report acknowledged that the two Fischer heaters “did not demonstrate characteristic behaviour of storage heaters, in that they did not absorb energy overnight to release this energy during the day”.
While we acknowledged that the report from the energy-saving organisation, which compared the performance of Fischer heaters with householders’ previous storage heating systems, indicated that energy consumption was somewhat lower when using the Fischer systems, it did not demonstrate that they functioned as consumers would expect a “storage heater” to function.
We concluded that the claim “storage heater” in the ad, as consumers were likely to understand it, had not been substantiated and was therefore misleading.
Ad (a) 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 3.7 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).
Ad (b) stated “Gas boiler uses more energy" and “Fischer dynamic storage heaters use up to 50% less energy than your gas boiler. Efficient heating for less energy!”. We acknowledged that the ad also made references to “green energy” and being “eco-friendly”. However, we considered that consumers were also likely to associate reducing the amount of energy used by their household utilities with a resulting saving on their energy bill. We considered that consumers were likely to understand the claims to mean that installing a Fischer heater would enable them to save money on energy costs compared to a gas heating system.
We considered the test report conducted by the independent testing body, which compared the performance of two Fischer heater models, two storage heater models, and a gas heating system. The results suggested that the Fischer models used less electricity than the other systems. However, we noted that the test used a single laboratory testing environment and only tested one type of gas boiler. We considered that performance could be affected by the differing characteristics of varying types of properties, and we had not seen evidence to demonstrate that the results were sufficiently representative of consumer experience. We noted that the report acknowledged that the savings indicated by the report results “cannot be quoted as a general figure to represent the difference in efficiency between gas central heating and electric heating”.
That notwithstanding, we calculated the comparative cost of energy for the Fischer systems and the gas heating system using the energy savings outcome from the test report, and the UK average cost per unit of Economy 7 electricity (the lower rate) and the UK average cost per unit of gas, as stated by the Energy Saving Trust. We noted that even if the energy savings stated in the report were representative of average consumer use, the Fischer systems would still cost more to run due to the differences in cost between electricity and gas.
We concluded that the claims “Gas boiler uses more energy" and “Fischer dynamic storage heaters use up to 50% less energy than your gas boiler”, as consumers were likely to understand them – that is, that they would achieve a monetary saving by using a Fischer heater as opposed to gas central heating – had not been substantiated and were therefore misleading.
Ad (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), 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), 3.11 3.11 Marketing communications must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product. (Exaggeration) 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 with identifiable competitors).
Ads (a) and (b) must not appear again in the forms complained about. We told Fischer Future Heat UK Ltd not to use the claim “storage heater” in relation to their products unless they held evidence that demonstrated the products were in line with consumer understanding of that term, or made sufficiently clear how the product used electricity. We also told them not state or imply that their heaters would save consumers energy or money compared to gas central heating unless they held adequate evidence to substantiate their claims.