This Ruling replaces that published on 8 January 2020 following Independent Review of Points 3 and 4. Point 3 was originally resolved informally following agreement by the advertiser to make changes to their advertising; the Council has now ruled that this Point is ‘Upheld’. The decision on Point 4 has been changed from ‘Not upheld’ to ‘Upheld in Part’.
Two national press ads and a website seen for the Gtech AirRam Mk 2 and Gtech AirRam, a vacuum cleaner:
a. A national press ad for Gtech AirRam Mk 2, seen on 11 November 2017, included text “What do you hate most about vacuuming? […] Whatever it is, we changed the powerful Gtech AirRam Mk 2 to make it disappear... The dust cloud when you empty the cylinder. History […] Lightweight Thanks to its revolutionary design, which does away with so many bulky parts, the AirRam Mk.2 weighs just 3.5kg (7.7lbs) […] Long run-time AirRam Mk.2’s 40 minute* run-time gives you the ability to clean two average UK homes on one 4-hour charge. […]*Runtimes quoted may vary depending on floor surfaces cleaned”.
b. The website www.gtech.co.uk stated on the product listing for the Gtech AirRam Mk 2, seen in November 2017, “Its energy efficient design means you can clean your home twice on one 4-hour charge, running for up to 40 minutes; a 1-hour short charge will deliver a burst of additional time” alongside an asterisk. The text was accompanied by an image of the product on a carpet. An asterisk at the bottom of the page stated “Runtimes quoted may vary depending on floor surfaces cleaned”.
c. A national press ad for the Gtech AirRam, seen on 14 January 2018, included text “High performance cordless cleaning. The AirRam is a powerful but lightweight cordless vacuum with cleaning performance proven on both carpet and hard-floors […] Lightweight Thanks to its revolutionary design, which does away with so many bulky parts, the AirRam weighs just 3.2kg (7lbs) […] Long run-time AirRam’s 40 minute* run-time means you can clean two average UK homes on one 4-hour charge. A 1-hour short charge will deliver an additional burst of cleaning time”. The bottom of the ad featured the qualification “*Runtime quoted may vary depending on floor surface cleaned”.
Dyson challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:
1. in relation to ad (a) “The dust cloud when you empty the cylinder. History”;
2. in relation to ad (b) “Lightweight […] the AirRam Mk. 2 weighs just 3.5kg (7.7lbs)”, and in relation to ad (c) “Lightweight […] the AirRam weighs just 3.2kg (7lbs)”; and
3. In relation to ads (a) and (c), that a “40 minute run-time” gave the ability to “clean two average UK homes on one 4-hour charge”, and in relation to ad (b) that “you can clean your home twice on one 4-hour charge, running for up to 40 minutes”; and
4. In relation to ad (c), “The AirRam is [a] powerful”.
1. Grey Technology Ltd t/a Gtech said they believed that multi-cyclone vacuum cleaners generated a dust cloud when emptied, due to the way they separated fine particles from debris. They provided an internally conducted report which explained the process. They said that they had not and did not intend to claim that there were zero particulates released from the AirRam Mk 2 when it was emptied. They explained that they accepted that dust particles did escape and they may be visible when the bin was emptied in a certain type of lighting. They further explained that they did not consider visible particles to be a cloud and that a cloud would be a collection of particles of vapour which was of sufficient concentration that it would be clearly observed as a visible mass. They said that only isolated particles were visible when the AirRam Mk 2 was emptied and that this did not constitute a cloud. They provided us with evidence which they said showed there was a substantial reduction in the amount of dust that was released from the AirRam Mk2 compared to other models. They provided two videos which showed the emptying process of a Dyson upright vacuum cleaner and the Gtech AirRam Mk2, which they believed substantiated the claim.
2. Gtech said that they marketed the AirRam Mk2 as a vacuum cleaner and that they did not intend for consumers to limit their comparisons only to other cordless products. They explained that the Air Ram Mk2 was an upright vacuum cleaner according to the definitions contained within the IEC 60312/62885 series of standards and therefore if the lightweight claim was to be limited in scope the comparison would be against other upright cleaners. They further said that they did not limit any assessment of the claim to include only other cordless vacuum cleaners. They explained that the ad included a figure for the actual mass of the product in kilograms which they considered would assist consumers in being able to make an accurate comparison against any other type of vacuum cleaner. They provided a report which reviewed the weight of the best-selling vacuum cleaners compared to the AirRam Mk2, which they said showed that it was light weight.
3. Gtech explained that the run time on the AirRam Mk2 would vary from the maximum when running on a smooth flat surface such as tile, wood or laminate flooring to a lower figure when it was run on carpet. They said that the exact construction and fibre type of the carpet would influence the run time, typically giving a maximum when run on dense short pile synthetic carpet and a minimum when operating on deep pile low density carpet with a high percentage of wool fibres. They explained that this was because the amount of friction experienced by the brush bar of the product varied according to the level of resistance the rotating brush bar was subjected to as it engaged with the flooring. They said they had attempted to convey this information by including the small print which stated that the run time varied depending on the floor surface being cleaned. They said that they had already amended their advertising so it all now stated “Up to 40 minute run time”.
Gtech explained that at the time the ads were seen there was no standardised published method for the determination of the run time of a cordless vacuum cleaner. A method did exist in the British Standard 62885-4 (which was in draft form at the time the ads were published) whereby the unit was operated in a static position on a wooden plate or on Wilton carpet (the brand specified in the standard, which were woven natural fibre wool carpets). They said that when using this method, they had achieved a typical average run time on a hard floor of a little in excess of 40 minutes and on the Wilton carpet they achieved a typical result of 30:15 minutes. They explained that this test method had a problem with regard to the AirRam Mk 2 due to its AirLOC feature: a swinging flap which opened when the product was pushed forward and closed when the product was pulled back. They said that when the flap was opened there was minimum vacuum in the cleaning head as it tended to rest gently upon the surface of the test floor. When the flap closed, the vacuum in the head increased and the head of the product was pushed down against the floor surface. On a carpeted floor it increased the friction on the brush bar and decreased the run time. They said that unless the AirRam Mk2 was tested with the AirLOC feature in both conditions and an average result was calculated, the result would be misleading. They explained that for the AirRam it would therefore be more reliable and relevant to consumers to use a back and forth motion over the surface of the floor type in question and measure the run time of the product while it was ‘in use’. They said they had used a mechanical system which moved a floor fixture back and forth to complete run time tests and that it produced the following average results: 40:00 minutes on hard floor; 35:45 minutes on Wilton Carpet; and 36:00 minutes on synthetic fibre twisted cut pile carpet with a pile depth of 18mm. Gtech said that it was common for homes to have combinations of different flooring types, and that while the draft Standard required testing to be conducted on a Wilton carpet, such carpets were less common in UK homes due to their high cost. They said the most common carpet types sold and laid into UK homes were synthetic twist medium pile tufted carpets, and that a mix of this type of carpet and hard laminate flooring was a prevalent flooring combination in UK homes.
Gtech submitted the results of further testing which they believed more closely replicated the conditions common in UK homes. Tests of the AirRam were carried out on a range of different floor surfaces: a hard flat floor; four different types of synthetic carpet; and a 50:50 combination of hard flat floor and synthetic carpet. The products were left to run on a moving floor fixture until fully discharged and the total run time was recorded, with an average calculated from tests on two AirRam units. The average run times for hard flat floor and the 50:50 combinations of hard flat floor and synthetic carpet were over 40 minutes. The average run times for the four different types of synthetic carpet ranged from 36:13 minutes to 38:21 minutes. Gtech believed these results were sufficient to support their amended advertising claims that the AirRam had an “Up to 40 minute run time”. Gtech provided a separate study which timed how long it took 20 participants using the AirRam to clean a 9 sqm carpeted floor, and extrapolated that it would take 31 minutes to clean an 80 sqm house twice. They also provided data showing that the average size of a home was 90 sqm in 2015 and 67.8 sqm in 2016. Using the larger figure of 80 sqm and the IEC recommended walking pace of 0.5m/sec, they calculated it would take 551.7 seconds (9:20 minutes) to cover 80 sqm. They said that if the 80 sqm home was fully carpeted with the flooring type that yielded the lower run time of 35:45 minutes in the draft standard, the area could be covered 3.9 times. If the 80 sqm home was fully hard floor with the flooring type that yielded the higher run time of 40:00 minutes, in this time the area could be covered 4.3 times.
4. Gtech said that they considered that consumers would interpret the “Powerful” claim to be in reference to cleaning performance and that consumers were likely to infer that the most powerful vacuum cleaner had the best dust removal ability. They understood that the relevant CAP guidance required that unqualified “power” or “powerful” claims needed to be supported by both suction power tests and dust removal tests. They disagreed with the guidance and said that they considered that these types of claims should be able to be justified with only dust removal tests as they considered that dust removal and cleaning ability were unrelated to suction power for some types of cleaners. They said that they had test data that measured the dust pickup performance against a number of competitor products. They provided four documents which included pick-up results comparison, pickup performance vs throttling, IEC pick-up results vs throttling and measurement data for air performance with different throttle plates. They included a chart which showed the cleaning ability of the product and followed the methodology detailed in the British Standard. Gtech said that they were aware that the AirRam Mk2 achieved a low suction power figure which was deliberate in its design. They said that there was no value in wasting energy in achieving high suction power when it was not of benefit to the function of the product or the consumer. They further explained that their ads made no claims about suction power and did not provide suction power figures to consumers as they were inconsequential to the design of the AirRam Mk2. They said that their claim of powerful cleaning performance only extended to cleaning performance.
Gtech provided further additional testing in response to the complainant’s concern that their testing could not demonstrate the vacuum cleaner’s effectiveness in picking up large objects. They explained that there was no standardised methodology to test performance on large object collection, so they had adopted the standardised method used to test dust pick-up performance on hard flat floors, using large debris: nuts, screws, lentil and rice instead of dust. Gtech blocked the AirRam’s inlet so that no debris could be picked up through suction power, while six other vacuum cleaners were run as normal. The results showed that that the AirRam picked up the second largest amount of large debris.
The ASA noted that ad (a) featured the claim “Whatever it is, we designed the powerful Gtech AirRam Mk.2. to make it disappear: … The dust cloud when you empty the cylinder. History”. We considered that consumers would interpret that claim as a whole and in particular the claims “disappear” and “history” in a definitive way to mean that Gtech had developed a new technology, which meant that there would no longer be a cloud of dust when the vacuum cleaner was emptied. We understood that the Gtech AirRam Mk 2 had a mechanism which meant that when emptying the cylinder the dust was pushed out with a lever rather than as in other types of vacuums, where the dust fell or was tipped out when the cylinder was opened. While we acknowledged the existence of that technical difference, we noted that emptying the cylinder still required a quantity of dust to be propelled through the air into a bin which meant that the presence of some dust in the air around the device at that time was likely to be inevitable. We noted from Gtech’s response that they accepted that some particles did still escape during the process.
Gtech provided a video of the product being emptied, which we considered showed that, if used in a certain way, the mechanism might assist a cautious user in reducing the amount of dust in the air around the device when it was emptied. However, some dust particles remained visible in the light, and we considered that a significant minority of consumers would regard this as a dust cloud. The complainant (Dyson) had also provided a video of the AirRam Mk2 cylinder being emptied using a slightly more forceful technique than in the video provided by Gtech, and a cloud of dust was clearly visible. Because we had not seen evidence that the Gtech AirRam Mk2 could be emptied without creating a dust cloud we concluded that the claim was misleading.
On that point, 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).
2. Not upheld
We considered that consumers would interpret the claims “Lightweight … the AirRam Mk. 2 weighs just 3.5kg (7.7lbs)” and “Lightweight … the AirRam weighs just 3.2kg (7lbs)” as claims about the weight of the product and not as comparative claims with other vacuum cleaners, either cordless or corded. We considered that as the claims stated the precise weights of the vacuum cleaners, this allowed consumers to make a judgement as to whether it was light enough for them to use and provided them with relevant information if they wanted to make a comparison with another model. We considered that the claim was a statement about the specification of the product.
We therefore concluded that the ad was not misleading. On that point, we investigated ads (b) and (c) under CAP Code 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), but did not find it in breach.
Ad (a) featured the claim “40 minute* run-time gives you the ability to clean two average UK homes on one 4-hour charge” and ad (c) featured the claim “40 minute* run-time means you can clean two average UK homes on one 4-hour charge”. Ad (b) featured the claim “* […] clean your home twice on one 4-hour charge, running for up to 40 minutes”. We first considered what consumers would understand from the specific run-time claims in ads (a) and (c) that the product would achieve a “40 minute* run-time”. We noted that the asterisked text stated “Runtimes quoted may vary depending on floor surfaces cleaned” and while we considered that consumers were likely to understand from that text that performance might be longer on less demanding (hard) surfaces, neither the headline claim nor the qualifying text indicated in what circumstances the quoted run time might be achieved, or how it might “vary” (which suggested the possibility of longer performance than that quoted, as well as shorter). Also it did not provide any information about how different flooring types might affect run time, such that consumers would be able to make an assessment of the product’s likely performance in their own homes. We therefore considered that consumers would infer that the product would deliver a 40-minute run time on all surfaces.
In ad (b) the 40-minute run-time claim was modified by the inclusion of the phrase “up to”, but the qualifying text was the same as in the other ads. We therefore considered consumers would understand from ad (b) that the product would achieve a maximum 40-minute run time in optimal conditions (hard floors), but in more demanding conditions (thick carpet) it might be slightly less. We also gave consideration as to whether or not a 40-minute run time would be enough to vacuum two properties. Gtech provided data showing the average size of a UK house and the IEC recommended walking pace for cleaning floors; on that basis, they extrapolated that a 35-minute run time could cover a house with carpeted flooring 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. times over, while a 40-minute run time could cover a house with hard floor 4.3 times over. They also provided a separate study which timed how long it took 20 participants using the AirRam to clean a 9 sqm carpeted floor, and extrapolated that it would take 31 minutes to clean an 80-sqm house twice. We were therefore satisfied that a 40-minute run time would be adequate to clean two average UK homes. We next considered whether Gtech could substantiate the claims that the AirRam Mk2 had a “40-minute run time” and “up to 40-minute run time” as they would be understood by consumers in the context of the ads. We understood that at the time the ad appeared there was no published standardised method for measuring a cordless vacuum cleaner’s run time, although a British Standard method existed in draft form.
Gtech was concerned that, due to particular design characteristics of the AirRam, the test methodology set out in the draft Standard would not give results representing ‘real life’ use of the product. They also said that the draft Standard’s requirement that Wilton carpet should be used for the carpet tests did not represent the type of carpet found in most UK homes. We noted their concerns but understood that the draft Standard’s methodology represented a balance between a range of factors such as the different approaches taken to vacuum design by manufacturers, the difficulties in devising standardised methodologies that replicated ‘real life’ vacuum use, and the intention that the Standard for cordless vacuums would produce results comparable to the results obtained through the already established Standard for mains-connected vacuums. We also understood that the construction of Wilton carpets meant that they provided greater resistance to vacuums than carpets of the type tested by Gtech, and as such using Wilton carpet for testing allowed vacuum performance to be tested under the most strenuous conditions. However, given that the Standard was only in draft form at the time the ads were published, we considered it was reasonable for Gtech to have used advertising claims that were based on additional testing of their own methodology, so long as that methodology was robust and the advertising claims were adequately supported by the results of those tests. In addition to the results from the tests conducted using the draft Standard methodology, Gtech provided results from two sets of tests they had conducted, the second of which was carried out after the ads were published. Both sets of tests used a mechanical system which moved a floor fixture back and forth under the vacuum. The results for hard flat floors correlated with the results of the testing conducted using the draft Standard methodology: using all three methodologies the run time was 40 minutes or over. The moving floor tests also showed a run time of over 40 minutes for tests on a 50:50 combination of hard flat floor and synthetic twisted cut 10-mm pile carpet. However, none of the tests on carpet alone resulted in a run time of 40 minutes or over. While the results were all within 10% (four minutes) of 40 minutes for synthetic carpets, the results for Wilton carpet were 35:45 minutes using Gtech’s moving floor test and 30:15 minutes using the draft Standard methodology. We considered that, overall, the results therefore showed a significantly shorter run time performance on carpets.
We concluded the evidence provided was sufficient to support the advertising claims that the AirRam had a 40-minute or “up to 40-minute” run time in relation to hard flat floors and a 50:50 combination of hard flat floor and synthetic twisted cut 10-mm pile carpet. However, we concluded that the results of the tests were not sufficient to support the claims in relation to carpet alone. Because we considered that the claims in ads (a) and (c) would be interpreted to mean that the AirRam would run for 40 minutes on all surfaces when that was not the case, we concluded that the ads were misleading. In relation to ad (b), although we considered that Gtech had shown that the AirRam could run for 40 minutes in optimal circumstances, because its run time was significantly shorter on carpet we also concluded that ad was misleading.
On that point, ads (a), (b) and (c) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer 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 the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (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), 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification) and 3.11 3.11 Marketing communications must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product. (Exaggeration).
4. Upheld in part
We noted that the claim “The AirRam is [a] powerful but lightweight cordless vacuum cleaner with cleaning performance proven on both carpet and hard floors”, which was featured in a section of ad (c), discussed the product’s cleaning performance and features. We considered that consumers would interpret the claim to mean that, as a cordless vacuum cleaner, the product was effective at removing different types of dirt including dust and debris commonly found in a household from different surface types. We noted that the evidence submitted by Gtech did not include suction power testing. Gtech argued that suction power testing was of no benefit to consumers because it did not increase a vacuum cleaner’s cleaning performance. They argued that there was no link between suction power and cleaning performance as the testing only measured how effectively the unit converted electrical energy into air movement and that other factors could play a far more important role in determining a vacuum cleaner’s cleaning ability.
Other manufacturers including Dyson, however, argued that a vacuum cleaner functioned solely because it generated the suction power to draw in dust, dirt and debris. They believed that suction power was a key component because it demonstrated a vacuum cleaner’s ability to collect dirt, dust and larger debris whereas dust pick-up performance only measured dust and dirt. Dyson therefore believed that a combination of dust pick-up performance and suction power testing was necessary to support the claim. We noted that there was a standardised dust removal test for vacuum cleaners, which Gtech had used in support of the claim “powerful.” The testing included measurements of a vacuum cleaner’s dust removal ability from hard flat floors, floors with crevices and carpets. The results showed that the pick-up performance of three AirRam Models had the 1st, 2nd and 4th highest pick-up performance results out of 26 cordless vacuum cleaners tested on hard floors; the 5th, 10th and 12th highest results on carpet; and the 1st, 6th and 19th highest result on crevices. We considered that those results showed that the vacuum cleaner was effective at removing dust. However, while those measurements were relevant to a vacuum cleaner’s cleaning ability, we considered that there were other elements, which were not covered under the standardised dust pick-up testing, that consumers would expect a vacuum cleaner to remove from a household, such as larger debris e.g. outdoor debris and food particles. We understood that there was no standardised testing for effectiveness in picking up larger debris and that there was significant disagreement within the vacuum cleaner industry about the relevant test methods which should be used and, in particular, about what role suction power played in overall performance. To address those concerns, Gtech provided additional testing during the course of the investigation, applying the dust removal test methodology to nuts, screws, lentil and rice. The results showed that the AirRam model had the second highest pick-up performance results out of six cordless vacuum cleaners. We considered that the methodology was robust, and demonstrated the vacuum cleaner’s effectiveness to remove large debris on hard surfaces. Although the large debris testing was not conducted on carpets, we considered that, in the context of the general claim (as opposed to more specific performance claims or comparative claims about a vacuum cleaner’s effectiveness), the evidence was adequate alongside the dust pick-up performance data on hard surfaces and carpets. We therefore concluded that, although the “powerful” claim had not been adequately substantiated with evidence held at the time the ad was published, the additional testing provided during the investigation to demonstrate the vacuum cleaner’s effectiveness at removing larger debris instead of suction power testing, in conjunction with the initial dust pick-up performance testing, was adequate to substantiate the “powerful” claim. As such, we concluded that the claim “powerful” was not misleading.
On this point, ad (c) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 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). We investigated ad (c) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 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.
The ads must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Grey Technology Ltd t/a Gtech not to claim that their product had completely eliminated dust clouds unless they held adequate evidence to demonstrate that. We also told them to make clear that the 40-minute run time did not apply to carpets.