Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
Three online ads for JC Inc:
a. A banner ad, displayed on www.brothersoft.com, stated "100% FREE Cloud Storage Unlimited Storage Space Sign Up justcloud.com".
b. An ad, on the comparison website www.thetop10bestonlinebackup.com, stated "JustCloud have fast become the #1 Cloud Storage and Online Backup provider online by offering free no obligation accounts with unlimited storage space and superfast upload/download ... They will automatically backup all your files to your free cloud storage space so you can access your files anywhere at anytime ... In terms of storage space, JustCloud provides an unmatched storage capability by offering unlimited storage space for its users. To seal the deal, the company also provides a complimentary free account that allows you to use the software as you see it fit without any charges whatsoever".
c. The advertisers' own website, www.justcloud.com, included a sign-up form at the top of the web page headed "Get FREE Cloud Storage", next to which text stated "Professional Cloud Storage from JustCloud is Simple, Fast and Unlimited". Underneath, bullet points included the claim "Unlimited Cloud Storage". Under the heading "Why Choose JustCloud?", further bullet points included "Free Cloud Storage" and "Unlimited Storage Space". A further web page stated "Unlimited Cloud Storage Unlike other cloud storage services here at just cloud we don't limit the amount of files you can store, so you can enjoy the freedom of unlimited online storage".
Two complainants challenged whether the claims:
1. "100% FREE Cloud Storage Unlimited Storage Space" in ad (a);
2. "free no obligation accounts with unlimited storage space" in ad (b); and
3. "Get FREE Cloud Storage" and "Unlimited Cloud Storage" in ad (c)
were misleading and could be substantiated, because they understood that customers must pay for unlimited storage space.
1. JC said the banner ad had been placed by an affiliate; they had told them to remove it and had suspended their account with that affiliate. They said the ad was no longer appearing.
2. JC said the website was an affiliate website. They said they had contacted the affiliate and the ad had been updated to include pricing information. References to free, unlimited storage accounts had been removed.
3. JC said they had updated their website to remove all references to "unlimited" cloud storage.
1., 2. & 3. Upheld
The ASA noted that CAP Code rule 1.8 stated that primary responsibility for observing the Code fell on marketers and that others involved in preparing or publishing marketing communications, such as agencies, publishers and other service suppliers, also accepted an obligation to abide by the Code. We noted JC's explanation that ads (a) and (b) had been created by affiliates, but we considered that, because the ads linked through to JC's website and JC therefore benefited every time a consumer created an account as a result of clicking on the ads, JC had primary responsibility for ensuring the ads complied with the Code. Furthermore, we noted that ad (b) was not an independent comparison website but rather was owned and operated by a SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) marketing company which required companies to pay to be featured on the website.
We considered that all three ads implied that consumers who created an account on JC's website would receive unlimited cloud storage space, without any charges, for an unlimited period of time. We understood, however, that the "free" account was a 'trial' which gave users only 15 Mb of storage for the limited period of 14 days; they could not add or remove stored files after that time period elapsed. We considered those were significant limitations to the "free" offer which had not been made clear to consumers and concluded that the ads breached the Code in that regard. We concluded the ads should have clearly stated that the "free" offer gave consumers access to only 15 Mb of storage for 14 days.
We also understood that if consumers wished to have unlimited storage they must 'upgrade' and pay for the service, which we considered was a significant qualification to the "unlimited storage" offer which was not made clear in the ads. In particular, we considered that the parts of JC's website which were accessible to non-account holders gave the impression that consumers would have "unlimited" storage at no cost; information regarding costs was not made available to consumers until after they had created a "free" account, and even then that information was not easy to locate. We therefore concluded that a significant condition to the "unlimited storage" claim was not made clear to consumers and the ads breached the Code in that regard. We concluded the requirement that consumers must pay for "unlimited storage" must be made clear in the ads, and that in particular, JC's website should state pricing information clearly and prominently on pages accessible to non-account holders.
The ads 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 again in their current form. We told JC to amend advertising for their "free" trial accounts so that they did not refer to "unlimited" storage and instead stated that the accounts included 15 Mb of storage for 14 days. We told them that their ads which referred to "unlimited" storage should include pricing information for "unlimited" storage accounts clearly and prominently in a manner accessible to non-account holders.