Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, of which one was Upheld and one was Not upheld.
A TV ad for short-term loans company LendingStream.co.uk, seen in February 2018. The voice-over in the ad stated, "Hello, need a short-term loan? Then look no further than Lendingstream.co.uk. We stream loans. A fast, simple, secure way to get money.” Text at the bottom of the screen stated, “Representative 1325% APR …”. The voice-over then said, “Lending Stream lets life flow on, helping you through the everyday ups and downs. Apply today and you could get from £50 to £1,500. Representative one three two five per cent APR. So go online and start streaming. Welcome to Lending Stream.” Text at the bottom of the screen stated again “Representative 1325% APR”.
The ASA received 27 complaints:
1. Twenty-six complainants challenged whether the voice-over statement of the Representative APR (RAPR) as “one three two five per cent” was misleading; and
2. One complainant, who believed that the ad trivialised the decision to take out a high-interest loan, challenged whether it was irresponsible.
1. GAIN Credit LLC t/a Lending Stream said the RAPR was provided prominently and in an easily understandable format. As well as being included in the voice-over, it was also clearly displayed on screen in large text and appeared for six seconds as the only on-screen text directly underneath the graphic that encouraged viewers to “apply now”. It also appeared in the legal text at the bottom of the screen and in those various formats, it appeared for 24 seconds of the 30-second ad. They believed the way the RAPR was spoken was common in the market and provided a spreadsheet which included a number of examples of ads by other loan companies that had also expressed the RAPR as individual digits. They stated that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) raised a concern with their ad, which Lending Stream considered as minor, in relation to whether the disclaimer text at the bottom of the ad was clearly visible, due to the dynamic background with moving images and a possible lack of contrast in the colouring of the wording and the background image. Lending Stream said that they believed the FCA had no concerns of any kind in relation to the depiction of RAPR, whether visually or verbally, and provided positive comments on the RAPR visual depiction being in more than one location for an extended period of time in the ad.
Clearcast considered that stating numbers of three or more digits in the way it was done in the ad was an acceptable and well-established way of speaking. For example it was common in advertising to see an item of furniture priced at £799 being referred to as “Seven nine nine”. They therefore considered that the voice-over presented the RAPR in a sufficiently clear and intelligible manner, and a manner that the ASA had previously accepted. They said if there was any ambiguity in the way the RAPR was expressed, it was resolved by having the RAPR also stated in on-screen text for almost the entire ad.
Clearcast also stated that the acceptability of stating numbers in this way in TV ads was a practice on which the ASA had previously adjudicated. They referred to a previous ruling in which the ad in question was found not to be misleading because the ruling stated “the separate statement of each digit was a reasonably common way in which to present numbers … and that, while the more common pronunciation of the figure would have been unequivocal, the RARP as stated in the ad would be understood”.
2. Clearcast stated that they recognised that to use a high-cost short-term loan to cover spending on everyday purchases would, in general, be a poor way to manage money and could lead to serious money problems for customers if they were unable to make repayments on time. They also recognised that for a high-cost credit provider to encourage spending on items which might seem frivolous or non-essential could be socially irresponsible. However, that did not mean that there was no place for that kind of credit provider and many ads for high-cost credit firms highlighted the usefulness of that sort of credit when a sudden large and unavoidable cost was incurred, for example, repairs to a broken domestic appliance or car.
Clearcast also said the phrase used in the ad – “Everyday ups and downs” – was typical of ads which featured commonplace problems, such as a broken boiler. Those were events that were not particularly dramatic and would happen to people all over UK, and were in that sense “everyday”. However, they felt that those events were not something that people would generally welcome or would necessarily be able to easily cover in their usual budget. Those events were exceptional to the specific individuals when they happened, but were rather ‘everyday and commonplace’ when looking at the UK as a whole. They did not believe that “ups and downs” implied standard everyday purchases, but that it implied a deviation from the “flat” normal path, a bump in the road to be negotiated.
Lending Stream stated that they fully agreed with Clearcast’s comments on this point.
The ASA noted that the RAPR of 1,325% was included in on-screen text in one form or another for the majority of the ad. However, we considered that the on-screen text was not so prominent as to over-ride the impression created by the voice-over, and that a failure to express the RAPR intelligibly in the voice-over, risked creating ambiguity regarding the applicable rate.
We had previously ruled on an ad that included a voice-over that stated an RAPR of 603% as "six oh three per cent". In that case, we considered that the three digit number had been delivered at a reasonable pace and was clearly enunciated. We noted that the word “oh” was commonly used instead of “zero” when describing that digit, and we acknowledged that a separate statement of each digit was a reasonably common way in which to present numbers. We therefore concluded that the ad had not breached the Code, but we made clear that the most common enunciation "six hundred and three" would have been unequivocal and avoided potential ambiguity.
Lending Stream’s ad stated that viewers “could get from fifty to one thousand five hundred pounds” and that those figures were said using the most common form of expression. We noted that the RAPR was spoken immediately after those figures in a comparatively subdued tone and more quickly than the amounts that could be borrowed, and was expressed as “representative one three two five per cent APR”. There was no obvious reason for the change of speed, tone and way of expression, and the effect was that the RAPR was not expressed in a way that percentages would ordinarily be communicated. It was therefore presented considerably less clearly in the voice-over than for the amounts that could be borrowed. Given the interest rate was so large that it extended to four digits, we considered that it could be unclear to viewers whether there was a decimal point between two of the digits, or that viewers could easily miss the first or last digits being said, such that the RAPR became “one, two three per cent” (123%) or “two three five per cent” (235%). All of which could result in them believing the RAPR was significantly lower than the actual RAPR of 1,325%. Even for those who heard each digit, the effect of saying the digits individually meant that the word “thousand” did not have to be said. We considered that carried a significant risk of viewers underestimating the amount of the RAPR.
Therefore, because we considered that the voice-over expressed the RAPR in an ambiguous manner, and because we considered that the on-screen presentation of the RAPR was insufficient, given the relative prominence of the voice-over and on-screen text, to clarify that ambiguity, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached BCAP Code rules
The standards objectives, insofar as they relate to advertising, include:
a) that persons under the age of 18 are protected;
b) that material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or lead to disorder is not included in television and radio services;
c) that the proper degree of responsibility is exercised with respect to the content of programmes which are religious programmes;
d) that generally accepted standards are applied to the contents of television and radio services so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from inclusion in such services of offensive and harmful material;
e) that the inclusion of advertising which may be misleading, harmful or offensive in television and radio services is prevented;
f) that the international obligations of the United Kingdom with respect to advertising included in television and radio services are complied with [in particular in respect of television those obligations set out in Articles 3b, 3e,10, 14, 15, 19, 20 and 22 of Directive 89/552/EEC (the Audi Visual Media Services Directive)];
g) that there is no use of techniques which exploit the possibility of conveying a message to viewers or listeners, or of otherwise influencing their minds, without their being aware, or fully aware, of what has occurred"
Section 319(2). and 3.2 3.2 Advertisements must not mislead consumers by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that consumers need in context to make informed decisions about whether or how to buy a product or service. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead consumers depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the advertisement is constrained by time or space, the measures that the advertiser takes to make that information available to consumers by other means. (Misleading advertising).
2. Not upheld
We understood one of the complainants was concerned that the presentation of the ad was similar to the branding of an online music streaming service. While there were similarities in aspects of the colour scheme, we did not consider that viewers would generally make such an association.
We also noted that the voice-over stated, “We stream loans. A fast, simple, secure way to get money … Lending Stream lets life flow on, helping you through the everyday ups and downs … So go online and start streaming”. Notwithstanding that wording such as “stream”, “streaming” and “fast” indicated to audiences that they might be able to receive a loan in a short period of time, we did not consider the overall tone of the ad made light of the decision or process of obtaining short-term high-cost credit. In addition, we noted the reference “Lending Stream lets life flow on, helping through the everyday ups and downs” did not give specific examples of the scenarios to which it referred. We considered that it would be understood to mean that a loan could help with unforeseen or unexpected situations which might not be accounted for in everyday budgeting, rather than as a means to cover day-to-day expenditures in a routine manner or for frivolous and non-essential purchases.
Because the overall tone of the ad did not make light of the decision to take out a loan or encourage viewers to use the loan as the main means to cover day-to-day expenditures or for non-essential purchases, we considered that the ad was not irresponsible.
On that point, we investigated the ad under BCAP Code rule 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Social responsibility), but did not find it in breach.
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told Lending Stream to ensure in future that their ads did not mislead by presenting the RAPR in an ambiguous way.