Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, of which one was Not upheld and one was Upheld.
A TV ad and paid-for Google ad for Golden Charter, a funeral plan provider, seen in September 2016:
a. The TV ad included the voice-over claim, “Call now for an information pack … to find out why more people choose us for funeral plans over the Co-Op.”
b. The paid-for Google ad was headed “Golden Charter Funeral Plans - We’re Bigger Than The Co-op”. A sub-heading stated “We Are Bigger Than Co-op” followed by text which stated “UK's Largest Funeral Plan Provider”.
Co-Operative Group Ltd challenged whether:
1. the comparative claims in ad (a) that more people chose Golden Charter funeral plans over the Co-op, and in ad (b) that Golden Charter was “Bigger Than The Co-op”, could be substantiated; and
2. sufficient information was provided to verify the comparative claims in both ads.
1. Golden Charter believed consumers would understand the claim in ad (a) to mean that Golden Charter sold more funeral plans than the Co-Operative Group company which sold funeral plans – the Co-Operative Funeralcare (Co-Op Funeralcare). While the claim in ad (b), “Bigger Than The Co-op”, used different wording, they highlighted that the ad was headed “Golden Charter Funeral Plans” and included the text “UK’s largest funeral plan provider” as well as other references to funeral plans. In the overall context of the ad they felt consumers would understand the claim “Bigger Than The Co-op” to have the same meaning as the claim “More people choose us for funeral plans over the Co-Op”.
Golden Charter said the claims were substantiated by data relating to the number of funeral plans the two companies had sold. They and Co-Op Funeralcare were members of an industry self-regulatory body, the Funeral Planning Authority (FPA), which represented most of the providers of prepaid funeral plans in the UK. The claims in the ads were based on annual statistics published by the FPA relating to funeral plan sales made by its members, information from Golden Charter’s own sales records, and Co-Op Funeralcare’s annual reports.
Statistics for 2016 had not been published at the time the ads were seen. However, statistics showed that in 2015 FPA members sold 183,500 funeral plans in total. Golden Charter said their own net sales that year were 65,734 (a figure which was not published but which could be verified from their internal records), and that Co-Op Funeralcare’s sales for 2015 were stated in their annual report as “nearly 35,000”. In 2014, Golden Charter had sold 55,292 plans (net), compared to the approximately 28,000 sales stated in Co-Operative Group’s 2014 annual report. Total sales of FPA members in 2014 were 147,325.
Clearcast, responding in relation to the TV ad only, said that Golden Charter had provided them with figures from the FPA in support of the claim. Those figures showed that in 2015 Golden Charter’s funeral plans accounted for 40%, and Co-Op Funeralcare’s funeral plans accounted for 19%, of the overall sales of funeral plans made by FPA members. Other providers accounted for smaller percentages.
2. Golden Charter said the hyperlinked text in the Google ad took consumers to a landing page on their website where they could request an information pack. A section of that web page, titled “About Us” stated “As specialists in later life planning, we are the UK’s leading provider of pre-paid funeral plans. Based on analysis of recent statistics released by the Funeral Planning Authority (FPA), more customers chose to purchase their funeral plan from Golden Charter than the Co-op … in 2015.* * Sources: Funeral Planning Authority (FPA) statistics for 2015; Co-op Annual Report 2015; … Golden Charter plan sales data”. They believed that was sufficient to appropriately signpost the information, and the methodology used, to enable consumers to access the information themselves if they chose.
Golden Charter said that the comparison in the TV ad was simple and justifiable and they believed it was therefore unnecessary to include clarification in the ad as to how the comparison could be verified.
Clearcast said they received evidence which was robust enough for them to approve the comparative claim. They considered that because the comparison was straightforward and simple (rather than, for example, a complex price comparison) it was unnecessary to include information in the ad as to how it could be verified. They believed that adding on-screen text referring viewers to where the verification information could be found could be detrimental to good communication.
1. Not upheld
The ASA considered that consumers would understand the voice-over claim “… more people choose us for funeral plans over the Co-Op” in the TV ad to be a comparison between the number of funeral plans sold by Golden Charter and Co-Op Funeralcare. We considered that in the context in which the claim “Bigger Than The Co-op” appeared in the Google ad, consumers would interpret it similarly to the claim in the TV ad.
We reviewed the sales data provided by Golden Charter. We understood the most recent data available to them at the time the ads were published related to sales in 2015. We noted that in that year Golden Charter sold approximately 30,000 more funeral plans than Co-Op Funeralcare, and in the previous year they had sold approximately 27,000 more funeral plans than Co-Op Funeralcare.
We considered the data provided by Golden Charter substantiated the advertising claims as they would be interpreted by consumers and concluded that the claims therefore were not misleading.
On this point, we investigated ad (a) under BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is 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 Advertisements that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, consumers about either the advertised product or service or the competing product or service. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors), and ad (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements 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 Advertisements that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, consumers about either the advertised product or service or the competing product or service. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors), but did not find them in breach.
The CAP Code required that comparisons with identifiable competitors must be verifiable. That meant that an ad which featured a comparison with an identifiable competitor or competitors needed to include, or direct a consumer to, sufficient information to allow them to understand the comparison, and be able to check the claims were accurate, or ask someone suitably qualified to do so.
We noted the TV ad did not include any information about the figures the claim was based on, nor did it direct consumers to where that information could be found (for example, the URL of a specific page on Golden Charter’s website where the information was stated). We considered the TV ad did not provide sufficient information to ensure the details of the comparison could be verified by consumers and competitors, and therefore concluded that it breached the Code.
The Google ad did not include verification information for the claims, or state where such information could be found. We noted that the relevant information was one click away, on the landing page on Golden Charter’s website. We considered that in principle, in the context of an ad appearing in a medium with limited space such as a paid-for Google ad, the approach of providing information about the comparison immediately and prominently on the landing page to which consumers were taken would be sufficient to ensure the comparison could be verified. However, in this instance the relevant information was at the bottom of a long web page under the heading “About Us”. We noted that consumers were required to scroll down to the bottom of the web page in order to find the information about the comparison, and that the heading “About Us” did not specifically indicate that the information underneath related to the comparison in the ad. Additionally, the top of the web page featured a form for consumers to fill in to request an information pack. We noted that consumers were therefore encouraged to respond to the claims in the Google ad before seeing all the information relevant to those claims. We therefore concluded that the information that was needed to understand the comparison was not signposted sufficiently clearly.
Notwithstanding that, we also considered that the information provided on that landing page was not itself sufficient for consumers to verify the claim. While the FPA statistics and Co-Operative Group’s annual report were easily accessible to consumers online, Golden Charter’s sales data was not, and no facility was given for that data to be otherwise provided to consumers. It was therefore not possible for consumers to compare the number of plans sold by Golden Charter with those sold by Co-Op Funeralcare and so check whether the claims were accurate. We concluded the Google ad breached the Code on that basis.
On this point, ad (a) breached BCAP Code rule 3.35 3.35 Advertisements must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative feature of those products or services, which may include price. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors), and ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.35 3.35 Advertisements must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative feature of those products or services, which may include price. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
The ads must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Golden Charter Ltd to ensure they provided sufficient information to enable consumers to verify comparative claims.