Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A website for Maximus Green, a provider of energy conservation solutions, www.maximus-green.co.uk, seen on 12 August 2017, included various statements on the home page about the benefits of “eeMGee” products (“Magnetic Fuel Conditioners”), including claims that they “Improve Combustion”, “Reduce the amount of fuel used”, “achieve significant and sustainable reduction in gas and oil consumption and related heating products” and are “Helping reduce the cost of running heating systems”. A web page titled “Case Studies” included testimonials of the products, for example “since implementation of the technology on the boilers for the main school and swimming pool, [the school] has reduced its overall gas consumption by more than 23% on oil and more than 13% on gas. This is generating expected annual savings of £9,613.00 at 2015/16 cost levels”.
The complainant, who believed the “eeMGee” Magnetic Fuel Conditioner products did not work as described, challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:
1. that eeMGee products reduced fuel usage in gas and oil powered devices; and
2. the reduction in fuel usage reported in testimonials on the “Case Studies” page, for example for the school, which they did not believe could be attributed to the eeMGee products.
1. & 2. Maximus Green Ltd provided a document which detailed the basis of their efficacy claims of how eeMGee products reduced gas and oil consumption during internal combustion processes. They stated that magnetic fuel conditioners created a magnetic field which changed the state of fuel as it passed through the field. They said that the hydrogen and carbon compound of gas and oil had two distinct isometric forms – “Ortho-state” and “Para-state” – which were characterised by different, opposite nucleus spins. The Ortho-state was more unstable and reactive in comparison to the Para-state, and therefore that state was desired because it resulted in a higher rate of combustion. They said that when fuel passed through the magnetic field the hydrocarbon molecule changed from the para-hydrogen state to the ortho-hydrogen state, and that the higher energised spin state of the ortho-hydrogen molecules produced high electrical potential (reactivity), which attracted additional oxygen and therefore increased combustion efficiency. They said other attributes such as electrical conductivity, density, viscosity or light extinction were also altered.
Additionally they said that Para-hydrogen formed clusters called “associations” and that when hydrocarbons were altered to Ortho-state it increased the space between the hydrogen molecules. Therefore the de-clustered fuel had maximum space for oxygen to combine with it. Maximus Green said that this reduced waste and allowed appliances to operate at higher temperatures. Maximus Green said when appliances reached operating temperature more quickly, the additional efficiency also resulted in fuel savings.
The document also referenced eight studies conducted on magnetic conditioning devices, which they provided copies of. One study in particular related to an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of a magnetic fuel conditioner device on two carrier furnaces. Maximus Green stated the device tested was identical in specification and supplied by the same manufacturer as their eeMGee product “MGC1” – a collar for 20–40 mm pipes. The product test report they provided stated that the annual fuel use efficiency (AFUE) without the device was 89.55%, and with the device was 90.97%. A separate report excerpt summarising the findings of the test stated there was a 5% increase in temperature and 34% airflow increase, and notes alongside a diagram stated those factors resulted in a 12% increase in fuel improvement.
Maximus Green provided a document which explained their Heating Degree Days (HDD) method of analysing energy savings from installing their products which took into account variations in weather. The method factored in 20-year averages of regional HDD data, published by third parties, when comparing a site’s fuel consumption in the years before and after installation of their systems, in order to calculate an energy saving percentage.
Maximus Green also provided further details from the school case study that was on their website, including information about how the gas and oil percentage reduction claims had been calculated. Oil usage in litres and gas meter readings were provided by the school from the three-month period (February to April 2016) after installation of the Maximus Green system, and also from the year prior to installation (February to April 2015). The case study detailed monthly consumption data in kilowatts per hour. Maximus Green stated that they had not calculated the conversions of the readings in-house, and provided links to two energy websites used for the calculations. They also provided the monthly oil and gas usage data supplied by the school and the formulas used to convert those figures into kilowatts per hour.
The HDD method of analysing the consumption figures had been used by Maximus Green and the formulas for the savings calculations were provided. The data from these periods had been “normalised” in order to account for the differences in weather conditions in the given years. The case study concluded that the school’s oil and gas consumption were reduced by 23% and 13% respectively in 2016 after the products were installed, and that the expected annual savings were £9,613.00 in 2016. Maximus Green said their products had been fitted to heating systems with thermostatically controlled boilers, programmed to turn on and off when the temperature fell below a set temperature. They said before installation of their eeMGee system they received verbal confirmation from the personnel responsible that the thermostat settings or boiler systems had not been changed in any way in the last year, and would not be changed while the system was being monitored after installation.
The case study also included five-year savings projections of £32,434 for oil and £20,681 for gas, compared to costs from the base year of 2015. That was based on 5% incremental increases in energy costs year on year for both oil and gas over five years. Maximus Green said the 5% rises were based on market trends in energy prices, and that they now used a figure of 2.5% in their projections. They said information published by Ofgem relating to monthly averages for wholesale price trends for gas in the UK had been used to calculate their gas inflation projections. They stated that inflation had increased by 67.35% on average in the period from 1 February 2016 when it was 29.22p per therm, and 1 December 2017 when it 58.89p per therm; therefore they believed their projected 5% rises were very conservative.
The ASA considered that in the context of the ad, which included case studies that reported on energy savings, consumers were likely to interpret the claims “Reduce the amount of fuel used” and “Helping reduce the cost of running heating systems” to mean that installing eeMGee products on heating appliances would significantly reduce the cost of running the appliance by reducing fuel consumption.
The findings of the studies generally supported the premise that magnetic fields affected combustion in fuel burning systems to some degree. However, seven of the studies did not specifically test eeMGee magnetic fuel conditioner products and of those tests, six were not conducted on commercial heating systems, for which eeMGee products were intended – for example, automotive engines were tested instead. Therefore we considered those reports were not sufficient to substantiate the efficacy claims for Maximus Green’s eeMGee products, as they were not tests of identical products applied to heating systems.
The eighth study related to the independent testing of a magnetic fuel conditioner on two furnaces. Maximus Green stated the device tested was identical to their eeMGee product – a magnetic collar for 20–40 mm pipes. The product test report stated that the annual AFUE of the furnaces increased by 1.42% when the device was installed. We were concerned that no information regarding the methodology of the test was provided, in particular clarification on how the tests were controlled to ensure other factors did not affect the results, or how the reported 12% increase in fuel efficiency noted in the separate report excerpt had been deducted. We noted the reported percentage increase in the furnaces’ annual AFUE in the test report was extremely small and that no analysis of the statistical significance of that result had been provided, including any consideration as to whether it was greater than any margin of error associated with the method of measurement. We therefore considered that the report did not provide sufficient evidence for the efficacy and energy saving claims.
Because the claims that eeMGee products reduced fuel usage in gas and oil powered devices were not sufficiently substantiated, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
On that point 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 ASA considered that the testimonials and energy savings claims in the case studies on the website were likely to be interpreted by consumers as factually accurate.
With regard to the evidence provided to support the school case study testimonials, we understood that the claims made about energy savings had been based on Maximus Green’s analysis of the school’s consumption using the ‘Heating Degree Days (HDD)’ methodology. We also understood that HDD analysis was widely used in energy management programmes in the UK, with the aim of mitigating the risk of reported energy savings reflecting differences in weather in any two given periods. However, we noted that very little information was provided about the methodology used in the trial, in particular about the data recording methods and controls in place to ensure the savings were not caused by other factors, such as whether the buildings were held at the same temperatures over the 15-month period before and after the installation beyond verbal confirmation from the school. We also understood that Maximus Green had assumed that there were no changes to the boiler usage or technology between the two periods other than installation of their products, again based on verbal confirmation only. We did not, therefore, consider that the evidence sufficiently demonstrated that the reported energy savings in 2016 could be attributed solely to the installation of the Maximus Green system.
Additionally, we were also not provided with information about the source of the degree day data and 20-year average figures, and which region it was based on, or a sufficient explanation of how the oil consumption in litres had been accurately recorded by the school in the base year of 2015, in order to draw a comparison with usage in 2016.
We were also concerned that the expected annual savings projected over five years were based only on data from a three-month period after installation (February to April 2016), and did not account for other months in which heating was likely to be used more extensively, or data from a full year. Insufficient explanation had also been provided for the basis of the 5% incremental increases in oil costs year on year in the savings projections. We understood that wholesale price trends for gas published by Ofgem had been used to calculate the 5% inflation projections for gas, based on the period between February 2016 and December 2017. We noted the reported prices rose in that period. However, the Ofgem report showed that wholesale gas prices had broadly decreased prior to that between February 2013 and 2015. The prices had also decreased in the period of February to April between the base year of 2015 and 2016, the periods on which the annual savings claims and five-year projections were based. We were concerned that Maximus Green had not taken into account gas prices in the base year of 2015 for their projections, or year on year price trends for the period of February to April specifically. We therefore considered that the expected annual savings claim of £9,613.00 in 2016 had not been substantiated, and that the projected savings over five years appeared to be exaggerated.
Due to those factors we considered that the evidence provided did not substantiate the claims in the testimonials and case study stating that the school’s fuel usage was reduced as a result of installing the Maximus Green system. Additionally we considered that the annual saving projections had not been substantiated and were exaggerated. We therefore concluded that the testimonials and claims in the case study were misleading.
On that point 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), 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), 3.11 3.11 Marketing communications must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product. (Exaggeration) and 3.45 3.45 Marketers must hold documentary evidence that a testimonial or endorsement used in a marketing communication is genuine, unless it is obviously fictitious, and hold contact details for the person who, or organisation that, gives it. (Endorsements and testimonials).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Maximus Green Ltd to ensure in future that they held adequate substantiation to support efficacy claims for their eeMGee magnetic fuel conditioner products. Additionally we told them that case studies and testimonials on their website, and projected energy cost savings, must also be supported by adequate documentary evidence.