THIS RULING REPLACES THAT PUBLISHED ON 19 OCTOBER 2016. FOLLOWING INDEPENDENT REVIEW AND THE SUBMISSION OF ADDITIONAL RELEVANT EVIDENCE, THE DECISION HAS BEEN REVERSED, MAKING THE COMPLAINT NOT UPHELD.
Three ads for the furniture store, Oak Furniture Land, seen in May 2016:
a. A TV ad featured two characters who repeated the phrase "No veneer in 'ere" three times as they walked round a furniture store and appeared to examine different furniture. The voice-over described the advertiser's products as "Solid hardwood dining sets". One of the characters then said "Always remember to ask, ‘Is there any veneer in here?’"
b. A YouTube ad which featured the same two characters as ad (a). They walked round the furniture store, examined different pieces of furniture and stated "No veneer in 'ere". One of the characters then swung his arms round in a circular motion, raised his voice and said "No veneer in 'ere". The voice-over stated "100% solid hardwood furniture". The ad featured a sign "No veneer in 'ere!" on the store's entrance, as one of the characters said "No veneer in 'ere". The ad ended with text "100% Solid".
c. The FAQ section of the advertiser's website featured the question "Is your furniture really 100% solid hardwood?". The response stated "All of our cabinet furniture is made from 100% solid hardwood from top to toe; veneer, plywood and chipboard are never used". Further text stated "As our adverts say - There's no veneer in 'ere. The timbers used have been kiln dried using state of the art technology which ensures minimal movement and means, if looked after correctly, your furniture will last for years to come".
AJ Proctor Builders Ltd, who understood that some of the advertiser’s furniture was made using an “oak wrap” technique, challenged whether the claims in ads (a) to (c), that the advertiser's products were made from solid hardwood and did not contain any veneer, were misleading.
Oak Furniture Land said that the “oak wrap” technique referenced by the complainant was an industry recognised cabinetry technique for joining pieces of solid hardwood together. They clarified it was only used on certain dining table legs, which constituted 2.77% of their total stock of furniture and 5.58% of their sales (by value), amounting to 11,510 tables (2,710 as individual tables and 8,800 as part of a set) in the year ended 30 September 2016. They said that none of their other furniture was made from the oak-wrap or other similar techniques.
They said that the technique was one of several used by Oak Furniture Land to join pieces of solid hardwood together to cope with natural movement of real wood or to provide optimum strength. They said it strengthened the furniture by preventing it from expanding or contracting and reducing the chance of warping or splitting; it also meant that it was less susceptible to moisture content due to the moisture resistant adhesives. Therefore, they argued that consumers could not be misled to their detriment as the oak wrap technique meant that the legs were of a superior composition to legs made from a single piece of hardwood. They said the technique described multiple pieces of solid oak joined with other pieces of solid oak to form a piece of solid hardwood furniture, and was therefore consistent with the claim “100% solid hardwood”. They described the composition as “solid oak, with solid oak wrapped around it”, and emphasised that the wrap did not hide a cheaper or less desirable material, which was, by definition, what veneer meant. They submitted one of their table legs and a competitor’s table leg that was made from particleboard with an outer layer of oak.
Oak Furniture Land believed that consumers would understand the term “no veneer” to mean that their products did not contain a thin layer of hardwood surrounding a cheaper or less desirable material such as chipboard or medium density fibreboard (MDF). They said that the true purpose of a veneer was to create the impression that furniture was made from hardwood, when it actually was not. In the case of their furniture, they stressed that there was no other material but hardwood. They said the claims were based on a historical industry-wide application of the term, and provided eight definitions of “veneer” from dictionaries and specialist websites. Those included “a thin decorative covering of fine wood applied to a coarser wood or other material” (Oxford English Dictionary), “a thin layer of wood or plastic that covers something made of a cheap material and improves its appearance” (Macmillan Dictionary) and “a veneer is a thin sheet of wood or some other material. It is usually of better or superior quality, and placed over any lesser quality material such as an inexpensive wood, particle board or engineered wood” (furniture.about.com). They also provided a number of examples of competitor veneered products, which were primarily made from materials such as chipboard and MDF. They believed those were therefore consistent with consumer expectation of veneered furniture. They also submitted an email from the Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA), who had conducted a preliminary assessment of an Oak Furniture Land table leg. FIRA’s initial finding was that the table leg comprised of multiple laminated solid wood sections of varying width and thickness, but that those sections exceeded the thickness normally used to describe a veneer.
Oak Furniture Land said that there was no British or European standard for “solid hardwood”, and believed that the term would be understood by the average consumer to mean that the products in question contained nothing other than hardwood. They provided a legal source supplier information form and a copy of their ‘new production introduction’ process in support of their argument that they used only solid hardwood. They said that the average consumer would expect a piece of furniture described as “100% solid hardwood” to be made from multiple pieces of solid hardwood that were joined together using manufacturing techniques such as gluing. They would not expect every product to have been whittled down from a single piece of hardwood. They provided examples of other advertisers’ furniture that was described as being made from “solid wood”, and pointed out that those products contained more than one piece of wood. They also provided three definitions of solid wood from furniture specialists, which included “‘solid wood’ means that it is composed of wood, with no particle board or wood fiber…for tops and sides of furniture, boards are biscuited and glued together to create wide panels” (Demesne.info).
Oak Furniture Land provided a report by an expert in matters relating to furniture construction and manufacturing processes. The report expressed the expert’s view on the use of the term “veneer” within the furniture industry, and included his comments on construction techniques that he felt could be described as producing “solid hardwood furniture”.
Oak Furniture Land provided two consumer surveys, carried out by independent companies. The first was of 2,000 adults. The advertiser said it demonstrated that 72% of consumers expect a piece of furniture described as being 100% solid hardwood to be made only of hardwood, with only 19% expecting the furniture to be made of a single tree; and that 73% of consumers understand the term “veneer” to refer to a layer of wood covering a lesser quality wood or material. The second survey was of 2,103 adults. The advertiser said that it demonstrated that over 90% of respondents believed that having joins in the furniture or wood coming from more than one tree was consistent with their understanding of “100% total hardwood”; and that 89% of respondents did not regard a layer of wood over the same type of wood as constituting a veneer.
Clearcast said that they had approved ad (a) based on the information they were given by Oak Furniture Land at the time the ad was cleared. Oak Furniture Land had confirmed that they only used 100% hardwood in their products, and that they did not use veneers, chipboards or MDF. They said the advertiser had said that they ensured that through their own quality control teams, which were based in all of their manufacturing facilities.
The ASA noted that the claims “no veneer in ere’” and an equivalent claim was spoken by the shop assistants four times in ad (a), and was repeated seven times in ad (b) including one instance where one of the characters swung his arms around in a circular three sixty degree motion, pointed towards the whole of the furniture store, and shouted “no veneer in ere”. Both ads also included signs which featured the claim. In ad (b), the voice-over and on-screen text referred to the furniture as being “100% solid hardwood”, the voice-over repeated the phrase “solid summer sale” twice and the ad closed with an image of a sign which stated “100% solid”. Ad (c) did not directly answer the question “Is your furniture really 100% solid hardwood”, leaving the consumer to guess (also asking “How can your furniture be made from solid hardwood at these prices?), and stated "as our adverts say - There's no veneer in 'ere”. A dining table was one of four products that featured prominently in ad (a), and a separate dining table was one of five products that featured prominently in ad (b).
We considered the ads from the viewpoint of the average consumer, who was reasonably well informed and reasonably observant and circumspect. The ads did not provide any clarification about how the furniture had been constructed or what Oak Furniture Land meant by ‘solid hardwood’ with ‘no veneer’.
We acknowledged the views expressed (tentatively) in the expert’s report, but considered that the views of an industry expert were not necessarily indicative of the perspective of the average consumer who saw the ads and to whom the ads were addressed. Similar considerations applied to the view from FIRA, which we noted was in any event only a preliminary assessment.
We acknowledged the findings of the consumer surveys, but identified a number of limitations with them. In neither survey were the respondents shown the three ads, and so respondents were not asked whether they considered the claims “solid hardwood”, “100% solid hardwood” and “no veneer” to be misleading in the context that they were presented in the ads themselves. The first survey and the first three questions of the second survey did not illustrate or explain the oak wrap technique at all. The last two questions of the second survey specifically addressed the oak wrap technique, but they were leading questions, and therefore could have skewed the results; question 4 provided a dictionary definition of a veneer before asking which image showed a veneer, while question 5 outlined some apparent benefits of the oak wrap technique before asking whether the technique should be classed as a veneer. Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the second survey, we noted that a significant proportion of respondents said that an image of the Oak Furniture Land furniture showed furniture with a veneer (34%, with 10% don’t know) and that they would describe the oak wrap technique as a veneer (27%, with 32% don’t know).
We understood that the oak wrap technique used by Oak Furniture Land on various dining table legs involved gluing numerous small segments of hardwood together, with a thin outer layer of hardwood wrapped around them. We considered that some people would describe the oak-wrap as veneered because the outer layer of wood hid from view the actual components used to construct the furniture. However, we considered that “veneer” had a more common meaning to the average consumer, which was an outer layer of wood that covered an inner base material such as MDF or plywood. Similarly, while some people would also regard the legs’ numerous small segments of wood to be inconsistent with the claim “100% solid hardwood” and “solid hardwood”, we considered that the more common meaning of the claim to the average consumer was wooden furniture that did not contain a cheaper material such as MDF or plywood.
We acknowledged that the oak-wrap was only used on the dining tables, which comprised 5.58% of Oak Furniture Land’s sales. We also acknowledged that the oak-wrap was only used on the legs of the dining tables and that no other parts of the table contained a thin outer layer of hardwood on the surface or were made from small segments of wood glued together. We considered that the oak wrap construction of the table legs was unlikely to be a material factor to consumers’ transactional decisions when the rest of the table, particularly the table tops, were made from solid exposed wood.
Because none of Oak Furniture Land’s furniture contained any cheaper material such as MDF or plywood, and because the oak-wrap technique was restricted to only the legs of the dining tables, while the rest of the tables were made from solid exposed wood, we concluded that the claims “no veneer”, “solid hardwood” and “100% solid hardwood” were unlikely to mislead the average consumer into taking a transactional decision that they otherwise would not have taken.
We investigated ad (a) under BCAP rule 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), and ads (b) and (c) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), but did not find them in breach.
No further action necessary.