Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
A billboard poster, digital poster and sponsored ad on a social media site promoted the expansion of Heathrow airport:
a. The billboard poster stated, "Those around us are behind us. More local people support than oppose Heathrow expansion. In a recent poll, 50% of those living around the airport were in favour of expansion and 33% opposed". Small print at the bottom of the ad stated, "Populus interviewed at least 1000 adult residents (18+) in ten constituencies local to Heathrow Airport by telephone between 19 Nov and 21 Dec 2014. In total 10,006 residents were interviewed. Results were weighted to be demographically representative of all adults in each constituency, and were also weighted by past vote to be politically representative of all adults".
b. The digital billboard poster stated, "Heathrow expansion Those living around us are behind us".
c. The sponsored ad stated, "Expansion will add up to £211bn to the UK economy. Locals support it. Britain needs it". Below there was an image of the United Kingdom, alongside the text "Heathrow Taking Britain further".
The ASA received eight complaints.
1. Two of the complainants challenged whether the claim "Those around us are behind us" in ad (a) was misleading and could be substantiated.
2. Six of the complainants challenged whether the same claim in ad (b) was misleading and could be substantiated.
3. One the complainants challenged whether the claim "Locals support it" in ad (c) was misleading and could be substantiated.
1., 2. & 3. Heathrow Airport Ltd said the ads were part of a wider campaign to show that there was a lot of support for the expansion of Heathrow, including from the councils and boroughs that relied on Heathrow for jobs and growth. They said contrary to some people’s perceptions, Chiswick and Richmond were not the only areas affected by Heathrow, but they were the most against expansion and individuals from those communities often believed that their views represented the majority. They said they had commissioned Populus to conduct independent polling, which showed that this perception was incorrect. They provided the poll results and a press release which summarised the key findings. They highlighted that the results showed that 50.46%, a majority of those surveyed, supported expansion, while 33% and 17% opposed expansion, or were unsure, respectively.
Heathrow Airport explained that the poll was limited to ten constituencies for budgetary reasons, and that they had ensured those included were representative of local views. In particular they had focused on those areas that were most impacted by the airport, in terms of noise, and those that were most vocal about the airport’s operations, or had MPs who strongly opposed expansion. They had actively tried to include local constituencies with the highest profile opposition to Heathrow, at the expense of those with lower noise complaints or MPs who endorsed expansion. For example, they had chosen to include Ealing Central and Acton because the local MP at the time was an active opponent of expansion and they received relatively a high number of noise complaints from individuals in the constituency. Further, they had included Uxbridge and South Ruislip after discovering that Boris Johnson had been selected to stand, as he was their highest profile and most vocal opponent. Working with Populus, they had also checked to ensure that the ten constituencies reflected the diverse political, socio-economic, ethnic and geographical nature of the region around Heathrow.
Heathrow Airport also highlighted that, although not referenced in the ad, they had support from the “Back Heathrow” group. They acknowledged that the airport had helped to setup the group, but that its aim was to give a voice to local people who wanted to have their views heard. The group was voluntary, but they were passionate supporters of expansion from the local community, and numbered nearly 80,000.
The ASA noted that the headline claim stated “Those around us are behind us”. We considered that most consumers would understand the headline claim to mean that a clear majority of those surveyed were pro-expansion. While we acknowledged that the survey showed that 50% of respondents were pro-expansion and 50% were against, or neither supported nor opposed, expansion, when rounded to the nearest whole number, we considered that the ad implied that the proportion of locals in favour of support was greater than 50%. Therefore, we considered that the headline claim misleadingly exaggerated the level of support for expansion. Further, while we acknowledged that the body copy explained that 50% of those polled supported expansion and 33% opposed it, we considered that this text contradicted rather than clarified the headline claim.
We noted Heathrow Airport’s comments that they had chosen the ten constituencies that were most negatively impacted by noise, those with the most vocal complainants in terms of noise and those with high profile opponents to expansion. We also noted that the small print at the bottom of the ad provided additional information regarding how, and when, the survey had been carried out, and referred to “ten constituencies local to Heathrow Airport”. In combination with the other references to “local people” and “those around the airport”, we considered that, although they would not know exactly which constituencies the survey related to, in the absence of any additional qualification, most readers would believe they were selected based on their proximity to the airport and included those most directly adjacent to it. Therefore, we considered consumers would interpret the claims to mean that a representative sample of individuals from the ten constituencies closest to Heathrow Airport, in terms of proximity, were pro-expansion. We understood from the data provided, however, that three constituencies that bordered Heathrow’s constituency, Hayes and Harlington, had not been included in the survey and their views not taken into account. Because we had concerns that most readers would interpret the ad to mean that individuals living in the ten constituencies closest to Heathrow Airport, in terms of proximity, were in favour of expansion, and Heathrow had not provided evidence to confirm that that was the case, we considered that the claim had not been substantiated.
For those reasons, we concluded that the claim exaggerated the level of support for expansion, had not been substantiated and was 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), 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 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification).
2. & 3. Upheld
We noted that the claims “Those living around us are behind us” and “Locals support it” were not qualified. We considered that most readers would interpret the claims to mean that a clear majority of those living in close proximity to Heathrow Airport supported expansion. The evidence provided, however, showed that only 50% of those surveyed from ten constituencies close to the airport supported expansion. In addition, as noted in point 1. above, three constituencies that were adjacent to Heathrow’s constituency, and therefore “local” to the airport, had not been included in the survey. Therefore, we concluded that the claims exaggerated the level of support for expansion, that they had not been substantiated and were misleading.
Ads (b) and (c) 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) and 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).
The ads must not appear in their current form again. We told Heathrow Airport Ltd to ensure they held sufficient evidence to substantiate their objective marketing claims in future, and to ensure their claims were adequately qualified, without contradiction.