A website and a Facebook post for estate agent Leftmove:
a. The website www.leftmove.com, seen on 11 January 2019, stated on the home page "Official Market Leaders ... In 2017 we sold more in PR4 than any of our competitors. During the period 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2017 we successfully sold more properties in the PR4 postcode than any other PR4 Agent. Source: Rightmove Intel".
b. A Facebook post on Leftmove’s Facebook page, seen on 4 November 2018, stated "... you can now find us in 12 locations!" followed by a list of locations with a different phone number alongside each one, including a 'Poulton Branch'.
Farrell Heyworth Ltd challenged whether:
1. the claim "Official Market Leaders ... In 2017 we sold more in PR4 than any of our competitors" in ad (a) was misleading and could be substantiated; and
2. ad (b) misleadingly implied that Leftmove maintained an office in Poulton-le-Fylde.
1. Leftmove Estate Agents Ltd provided a spreadsheet from Rightmove that showed properties ‘sold’ in the PR4 postcode between January 2017 and December 2017.
2. Leftmove said that they did not have a physical branch in Poulton-le-Fylde but maintained a serviced office in the area with a receptionist who could assist consumers.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand the claims made in ad (a) to mean that in 2017, Leftmove achieved a greater number of completed sales on properties in the PR4 area than any other estate agent operating in that market.
We considered Leftmove should provide comparative evidence showing that they had achieved more completed sales on properties in the PR4 area than their competitors. Although Leftmove provided a spreadsheet showing their purported sales figures for the PR4 area in 2017 there was no data about their competitors against which this could be assessed. We also understood that not all sales agreed on properties were eventually finalised as completed sales and considered that in order to support the ad’s claims, the evidence should relate to completed sales.
We further understood that not all agents operating within a given area would list all of their properties on online property portals, and considered that data derived only from those portals could not support a general market-share claim. We therefore considered that there were limitations on the applicability of Rightmove’s data to the claim that the advertisers were the “market leaders” in the area.
Because we had not been provided with sufficient evidence, we concluded that the claim had not been substantiated and was therefore 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), 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 3.33 3.33 Marketing communications that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
We considered that consumers would understand the claim in ad (b) to mean that Leftmove maintained a local presence in Poulton-le-Fylde through a fully operational branch. We considered, in that context, that consumers might understand that the branch would be staffed by individuals with expertise and knowledge of the local area. We considered that a photograph on the 'Our Branches' page of Leftmove's website contributed to this understanding.
We acknowledged that the services Leftmove offered were provided by a serviced office in Poulton-le-Fylde. However, because they did not have a fully operational branch or property agents based in the area, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
On that point, ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Leftmove Estate Agents Ltd to ensure that they held appropriate substantiation for future claims and that future advertising did not state or imply they had physical branches in locations if that was not the case.