A paid-for search result on Google, an email, a TV ad, a website and a regional press ad for the price comparison website Confused.com, seen between December 2016 and January 2017:
a. The paid-for search result on Google said "Cheap Car Insurance - No.1 for car savings - confused .com”.
b. The email, seen on 12 January 2017, said “Confused.com is No.1 for car savings. Here are six reasons why we’re no.1 for car savings. 50% could save £283.51 on their car insurance! Save on average £2,801 when buying a new car! You could save on breakdown cover. Save up to £79 on your car’s next full service. You could save up to £343 on multi-car insurance. That’s a saving of up to £3,554! No one offers drivers more opportunities to save on their car. Find out all the ways you could save. Based on online independent research by Consumer Intelligence (September ’16). 50% of car insurance customers could save £283.51”.
c. The TV ad featured James Corden and included a voice-over which said, “Drivers win at Confused.com, No.1 for Car Savings”. The ad included prominent on-screen text which stated “Confused.com - Drivers Win - No.1 for Car Savings”. Small text below that claim said “No.1 for car savings - based on opportunities to save on car-related products. Correct as of Nov ’16. See Confused.com/no1”.
d. The website www.Confused.com, said on the home page “No.1 for car savings. No one offers drivers more opportunities to save on their car”. A “Find Out More” link led to another page, which repeated the six reasons why the advertiser claimed it was No.1 for car savings, referred to in ad (b).
e. The newspaper ad, seen on Friday 27 January and Monday 30 January 2017, said “Confused.com - No.1 for car savings - No one offers drivers more ways to save on their car".
Gocompare.com, who believed the ads gave the impression that consumers would save more money with Confused.com versus its competitors, challenged whether the ads were misleading and could be substantiated.
Inspop.com Ltd t/a Confused.com said they removed the email (ad b) from their marketing before they were notified of the complaint. While the body text of the email stated "No one offers drivers more opportunities to save on their car", with a link to their website, they said the overall tone of the ad did not make the basis of the comparison sufficiently clear.
Confused.com said they undertook a market review and compared the number and type of car-related services available through them and the next three largest UK price comparison sites, which provided a range of price comparison services to customers across insurance, finance, car sales, breakdown cover and car maintenance. The products included in the comparison were car insurance, temporary cover, gap insurance, car warranty, multi-car insurance, breakdown cover, new car sales, used car sales, sell my car services, car loans, car leasing, car check, car hire, care hire excess insurance, airport parking, car parking, petrol price comparison, diesel prices, LPG price, car repair, MOT, car servicing, car parts, tyres, car valuation and number plate purchase. Confused.com counted all of the car-related products on each of the sites. The sites were then ranked by the total number of opportunities to save on car related products.
Confused.com said it offered savings on 23 of those products, followed by MoneySuperMarket, Gocompare.com and Comparethemarket.com. They noted that on one occasion a competitor was able to offer a car comparison service that they did not. They reiterated that the review was a market-wide exercise and not just a count against the Confused.com list of car-related products (i.e. where a competitor had a car related product that Confused.com did not, it was still taken into account).
Confused.com said they had a dedicated page on their website which presented the resulting tally of the total number of opportunities to save on car related products for each organisation. They said they carried out internal monitoring to support the claim and that the URL for the web page – confused.com/no1 – was included in all of their advertising through prominent text within the qualifying statement.
They said they took care to explain the comparison was not based on price and had discussions with Clearcast to ensure the basis of their claim was clear. They said the ads did not claim that they offered greater savings on individual products and the claim did not indicate that consumers would take up all of the opportunities to save. They said that all the ads that included the No.1 claim included a qualification clarifying it was based on opportunities to save.
In ad (a), that was explained upon clicking through to the website and in ad (b), it was in the body of the email using the sentence "No one offers drivers more opportunities to save on their car" with a link to further details on where to save. In ad (c), the claim was supported by text at the bottom of the screen. In ad (d), the qualification appeared directly underneath the No.1 claim with a link to "Find Out More" where there was more information on how the claim was qualified. In ad (d), the claim was also supported by the sub-heading "No one offers drivers more ways to save on their car" and an additional statement making it clear they offered more opportunities than competitors. In ad (e), the qualification was in text beneath the claim as well.
Confused.com were presented with market research, conducted by a consumer research agency for Gocompare.com, that asked 1,025 participants from the UK, aged 18 years and older, to assess the "No.1 for car savings" claims, using a screenshot taken from ad (c) and write what they interpreted the claim to mean in an open-ended response. The screenshot taken from ad (c) showed both the "No.1 for car savings" claim and the on-screen text with the qualification about opportunities to save on car related products. According to the research less than 5% of participants considered the No.1 for car savings claim fitted the definition which Confused.com had provided.
In response to the market research, Confused.com said the participants were expressly asked what they thought it meant to be 'No.1 for car savings' and were not asked to focus on the on-screen text or the ad as a whole but should have been expressly asked what they thought was meant by both the 'No.1 for car savings claim' and the on-screen text. They considered that because the on-screen text was not referred to in the question, the research was distorted. They said that after reviewing all of the survey responses and how the responses were categorised, they did not believe that the evidence demonstrated that the claim was misleading.
Confused.com indicated that they would be willing to make some changes to their ads to explain further that the No.1 claim was based on opportunities to save.
Clearcast said in order for an advertiser to carry a No.1 claim, that claim would need to be qualified and based on substantiation which they said Confused.com had provided. Clearcast said they had received an assurance from the advertiser that they would monitor the market and if the substantiation of the No.1 Claim changed they would remove the ad or make amendments. They said the advertiser made monthly changes to their advertising based on that information.
The ASA considered consumers would understand comparison sites were intended to help them find the best value deals on whatever product or service they were interested in buying. In that context, we considered "No.1 for car savings" would generally be understood by consumers to mean that they were likely to save more money by using Confused.com versus its competitors when buying car-related products that were available on their competitors' sites.
In ad (a), the claim "Cheap Car Insurance" was followed by the "No.1 for car savings" claim, but there was no qualification elsewhere that "No.1 for car savings" related to the number of car products on which Confused.com compared prices. We considered that the overall impression of the ad was that Confused.com saved customers more on their car insurance than any of their competitors.
In ad (b) the claim "No.1 for car savings" was repeated three times at the top of the email, followed by body text that said "Here are six reasons why we're No.1 for car savings". Beneath that were six examples of areas where consumers could save money with Confused.com. The total saving of £3,554 was listed beneath that. It was only further down that the ad said "No-one offers drivers more opportunities to save on their car" with a hyperlink to a page that told drivers about opportunities to save. The ad did not explicitly link the claim "No.1 for car savings" to the number of products on which Confused.com compared prices.
In ad (c), the ad included small text at the end of the video with the qualification about opportunities to save on car-related products, but the voice-over and prominent on-screen text only stated that Confused.com was "No.1 for Car Savings". The video content reinforced that message, where the character played by James Corden carried out a car stunt before referring to himself and the passenger as "winners". The video did not highlight that Confused.com was "No.1 for Car Savings" because it compared more products than its competitors.
In ad (d), the No.1 claim appeared in a box around halfway down the page with text underneath that said "No one offers more opportunities to save on their car" with a link to another page to "FIND OUT ALL THE WAYS YOU COULD SAVE". That page attempted to explain in more detail how Confused.com qualified its No.1 claim. Under a title "How we fare against other price comparison sites" it said "When it comes to car savings, Confused.com is the place to come to. Whether it's saving money on car insurance, finding cheaper fuel getting a good deal when buying or selling your car, or just getting it repaired - no one offers drivers more opportunities to save than us! Not only that, we also give you everything you need to make an informed decision before you commit".
Another paragraph of text followed showing how consumers can compare products and next to that was a comparison chart between Confused.com, MoneySuperMarket, GoCompare and CompareTheMarket ranking "Opportunities to save on your car". That was followed further down by body text, similar to ad (b), where they gave six examples of opportunities where consumers could save with them, and finally a table of all of the products where they offered savings. However, the page did not explicitly state that the "opportunities to save" meant that they compared more products than competitors. In addition, we considered the repeated reference to car savings, and that Confused.com was "the place to come to" for car savings, implied that consumers could save more.
In ad (e), the front of the newspaper wraparound prominently featured the "No.1 for car savings" claim with the qualification "No one offers drivers more ways to save on their car" in a banner along the bottom of the page. On the inside of the wraparound was a list of products that "drivers could save on" and above that list, in smaller capitalised text, was the "No.1 for Car Savings" claim. On another side of the wraparound was the design on the front page, but with small text beneath the headline claim that said "No.1 for car savings - based on opportunities to save on car-related products". Although that helped to qualify the No.1 claim we considered its position, both on the page and in the wrap-around as a whole, diminished the likeliness of it impacting significantly on consumers' overall impression of the ad.
With the exception of ad (a), all of the ads used the statement "No one offers drivers more opportunities to save on their car" to qualify the No.1 claim. While we understood that was meant to clarify that they compared more car-related products than their main competitors, we considered that the phrase "opportunities to save" was ambiguous. It could be understood to refer to the number of products that Confused.com compared, or alternatively that each "opportunity" represented an occasion where Confused.com could have saved customers more money versus their competitors.
We were satisfied by the evidence that had been provided through Clearcast that Confused.com was able to provide a larger number of opportunities to save on car-related products than their three largest competitors. However, we noted that only one of the ads, ad (d), referred to those three competitors and in the absence of any qualification we considered consumers would interpret a "No. 1" claim to be a comparison with the entire market.
With the exception of ad (a), which we considered implied savings specifically on car insurance and which contained no qualifications, we considered that none of the qualifications were sufficient to clarify the intended meaning of the prominent headline "No.1 for Car Savings" claims and that the overall impression of ads (b) to (e) was that consumers were likely to save more money by using Confused.com versus all of its competitors when buying car-related products that were available on their and their competitors' sites. Because the market research provided did not support those interpretations of the ads, we concluded that they were likely to mislead.
Ads (a), (b), (d) and (e) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 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. (Qualification) and 3.3 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors) and ad (c) breached BCAP Code rules 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), 3.10 3.10 Advertisements must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification) 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).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Confused.com not to state or imply in future that consumers were likely to save more money by using their site instead of their competitors’ when buying car-related products unless it could be substantiated.