Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
The website www.mistfs.co.uk, for MFS Ltd (Mist Fire Suppression Ltd), a supplier and installer of fire sprinkler systems, seen in August 2016, contained a page headed "THE HISTORY OF MIST FIRE SUPPRESSION LTD". Text referring to Automist, a sprinkler system that MFS had installed in the past, stated "Automist did not meet British Standards requirements at the time and consequently, growth for Automist during the first two years was slow" and "Pressure has been exerted on Automist to comply with British Standards ... [and MFS has] subsequently seen a greater number of refusals for its use from approved inspectors and local authority building control".
On a page headed "NEBULA [a sprinkler system currently supplied by MFS] vs ALTERNATIVES COMPARISON", text stated "Non compliant with UK Building Regulations" in the features listed as applying to Automatic Wall Mounted Systems [Automist].
Plumis Ltd, who manufactured the Automist fire extinguishing system, challenged whether the following statements about their product were misleading and could be substantiated:
1. "Non compliant with UK Building Regulations" in the features listed as applying to Automatic Wall Mounted Systems under the heading "NEBULA vs ALTERNATIVES COMPARISON";
2. "... growth for Automist during the first two years was slow"; and
3. "... subsequently seen a greater number of refusals for its [Automist's] use from approved inspectors and local authority building control", both under the heading "THE HISTORY OF MIST FIRE SUPPRESSION LTD".
1. MFS Ltd pointed to text on Plumis Ltd's own website headed "Smartscan Compliance to BS 8458-2015", which stated "Automist Smartscan (R) has been independently, third party, tested ... as compliant to Approved Doc B, as per Clause 0.18, by meeting the performance requirements of BS 8458 2015. Yet, it cannot be said to comply because of the standard's prescriptive scope ...".
2. MFS supplied sales to conversion figures from July 2013 to October 2015 (MFS held the contract to supply and install Automist at the time). They said their first year of supplying and installing Automist was 2012 – they said they did not have statistics for that period, but provided an estimated number of projects.
3. MFS said a large percentage of enquiries were not given approval by either Local Authority Building Control or Approved Inspectors. MFS said they could provide the names of inspectors who would not approve Plumis' products on the basis that they did not comply [with UK building regulations].
The ASA considered that the ad was likely to be of interest to readers wanting to install a fire sprinkler or fire suppression system in domestic or residential properties. We considered they were likely to have a certain amount of knowledge about what was required. We noted that the claim appeared in the context of a table which compared MFS' Nebula system, traditional sprinkler systems and Plumis' Automist system. A row "Compliance with UK Building Regulations" specified the British Standards that Nebula and traditional sprinkler systems complied with, namely BS8458 and BS9251 respectively. For Automist, text stated "Does not Comply".
However, we noted that LABC (Local Authority Building Control, representing all local authority building control teams in England and Wales) had assessed Automist, and had found it "suitable to be used in any application where a BS 8458:2015 compliant watermist system is deemed to be acceptable as a code-compliant automatic water fire suppression system, for example in accordance with the recommendations of BS 9991:2015".
We considered the reference in the ad to two different British Standards suggested that different systems needed to comply with different standards. Compliance with the relevant standard meant that the system complied with UK Building Regulations. We considered "Does not Comply" suggested that Automist did not comply with relevant building regulations, and that this was likely to influence readers in their decision whether or not to enquire further about installing Automist. However, just because Automist might not comply with the specific standards listed in the ad did not mean that it did not comply with an equivalent standard. Because we understood that Automist complied with an equivalent standard and, through doing that, would comply with UK Building Regulations, we concluded that the claim was likely to mislead.
We considered readers were likely to interpret the claim to mean that the rate at which sales of Automist grew in the first two years was significantly slower than was predicted or would be expected. The figures supplied by MFS showed that the number of installations had increased significantly, by approximately 20%, across the time for which they could produce figures. We considered an increase in the number of installations was probably to be expected when a new product was launched and marketed, but that a significant increase over a two-year period did not demonstrate that initial growth was "slow". We considered MFS had therefore not substantiated the claim and that it was likely to mislead.
We considered readers would interpret the claim to mean that the number of refusals for approval to use Automist from inspectors and local authority building control was increasing. However, while MFS had said they could supply the names of inspectors who would not approve use of Automist, we had seen no evidence from them that the number of refusals was increasing. We considered MFS had therefore not substantiated the claim and that it was likely to mislead.
On points 1, 2 and 3 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 Mist Fire Suppression Ltd to ensure in future they held adequate evidence for claims that were capable of objective substantiation.