A website ad for a sofa on www.lovesofas.co.uk was headed "NOVARO LEFT HAND LEATHER CORNER SUITE (BLACK/RED)". Text under the heading "Items Specifics" included "Material: Premium Bonded Leather/ Leather Match".
The complainant, who had purchased the sofa, challenged whether the "leather" claims were misleading and could be substantiated, because he understood the material used was not leather.
Love Sofas Ltd said the product was upholstered with bonded leather, which they said was made of off-cuts of leather, which was shredded and reconstituted, and given a polyurethane coating to give a leather look. They understood that most bonded leather sofas sold in the UK comprised 15–35% leather content. They believed its use was widespread.
Love Sofas said the first line of their ad descriptions always stated that the product was made of bonded leather and never implied that it was top-grain or 100% natural leather. They believed the ad was therefore not misleading. They provided a copy of a fire safety report for the material in support of the claims.
They said there was much debate in the furniture industry worldwide as to how bonded leather should be labelled. They understood there had been discussions at the European Commission as to whether bonded leather should have a minimum of 50% leather content, but they were not aware if any standards had been implemented. They understood that industry bodies in the UK were not aware of any British standards for bonded leather. They provided copies of three British Standards which related to leather: BS EN 13336:2012, BS EN 15987:2011 and BS 2780:1983 + A1:2013 (the "Glossary of Leather Terms"); none included a definition of, or standard for, bonded leather. They said that the Glossary of Leather Terms was updated in July 2013 to include a definition for "bonded leather fibre". They stated that industry bodies had told them that bonded leather was a different material to bonded leather fibre. Love Sofas were not aware of the term "bonded leather fibre" being used in the industry.
The ASA considered consumers would understand the primary claim "NOVARO LEFT HAND LEATHER CORNER SUITE" to mean that the sofa was made from 100% leather. We considered consumers were likely to interpret the further claim "Premium Bonded Leather" to mean that the material was not constructed solely of leather, but that it was comprised largely of leather.
Love Sofas had said that the material comprised of shredded and reconstituted off-cuts of leather with a polyurethane coating, with a maximum leather content of 35%. However, they had not provided any evidence that formally assessed the composition of the material and we therefore considered that the claims in the ad, which implied that the material used was 100% leather or comprised largely of leather, had not been substantiated and were misleading to consumers.
We further noted that the Glossary of Leather Terms set out a definition for "leather"; we understood from that definition that the material described by Love Sofas should not be referred to as "LEATHER" as it was in the ad. The Glossary also set out a definition for a type of leather material called "bonded leather fibre", which we noted corresponded closely with Love Sofa's description of "Premium Bonded Leather", except that the material in the advertiser's product did not contain a high enough percentage of leather fibre to meet the standard set out in the Glossary. The definition required that other components – such as a polyurethane coating – should be declared as part of the description. We were therefore also concerned that the material Love Sofas had said was used in the sofa did not appear to meet the most relevant British Standards and therefore should not be described as "leather" at all.
Because we had not seen evidence that the material used in the sofa was comprised of a significant proportion of leather, we concluded the claims had not been substantiated and the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 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).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Love Sofas not to use terms which implied that the materials used in their products was largely leather unless they held evidence demonstrating that was the case.