A TV ad for a property website included a voice-over that stated, "The new S1 Homes website makes looking for your next home easy. We're Scotland's biggest property site with over 30,000 homes to buy or rent, that's what we call good looking." On screen, text stated "s1homes.com Scotland's biggest property site GOOD LOOKING".
Rightmove plc challenged whether the claim "Scotland's biggest property site with over 30,000 homes to buy or rent" was misleading and could be substantiated, because they had more than 30,000 homes available to buy or rent in Scotland.
s1homes Ltd said they had over 30,000 homes available to buy or rent and that no other Scottish property site, being a site which was based in Scotland and specifically served the Scottish property market, had more. They provided data that compared the number of properties advertised on their website with the other main Scottish property sites over a four-week period leading up to the ad's first broadcast. They added that the Scottish property market had distinct features, including the home report/valuation system, and that they were the only site that compiled quarterly reports which compared "asking" and "selling" prices in Scotland.
Clearcast said the agency confirmed that the comparative data supplied by s1homes included all Scottish property sites (as defined by s1homes). They said the voice-over made clear that the claim "Scotland's biggest property site" was based upon homes to buy as well as rent and that the figures were gathered by performing a "whole of Scotland" search for sale and rental properties. They said the claim had previously been approved for broadcast in other ads and they were therefore able to provide additional comparative figures for September and December 2011 and January 2012. They said the claim had been broadcast for a year and a half without complaint and that the advertisers were made aware that they were expected to regularly monitor competitor sites and remove the claim should their market position change.
The ASA understood that the rightmove and s1homes websites were "property portals" that displayed a large number of properties available for sale or rent, allowing consumers to search amongst more properties than would be possible if they had to visit the websites of individual estate agents. We considered that the number of properties available via a property portal website, and the range of those properties (in terms of size, value, location, etc.), would be the most material factors in a consumer's decision to visit one site over another. We noted that the comparison was based on the number of properties to rent or buy in the whole of Scotland available on their website and the other websites that operated exclusively within the Scottish market. Although the comparative data had not been independently verified, it showed that s1homes had more properties than any of the other websites in the comparison and we had no reason to doubt that that was the case.
We considered that the claim "Scotland's biggest property site" had clearly been justified by reference to the "more than 30,000 properties" available to buy or rent. We therefore considered that the number of available properties was an appropriate metric to substantiate the "biggest" website claim. We considered that consumers were likely to interpret the claim either to mean that s1homes had more properties to buy or rent than any other Scottish-run property site, or that they had more properties available within Scotland than any other site (irrespective of its origin), or both.
We considered that the claim "Scotland's biggest property site with over 30,000 homes to buy or rent" was ambiguous and that s1homes should therefore hold evidence that substantiated each of its likely interpretations. Because we had not seen comparative data that showed s1homes had more properties available to buy or rent in Scotland than any other property portal website, we concluded that the claim was misleading.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules
Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Advertisements must not mislead consumers by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that consumers need in context to make informed decisions about whether or how to buy a product or service. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead consumers depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the advertisement is constrained by time or space, the measures that the advertiser takes to make that information available to consumers by other means. (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is 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), 3.10 3.10 Advertisements must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification) and 3.38 3.38 Advertisements that include comparisons with unidentifiable competitors must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, consumers. The elements of the comparison must not be selected to give the advertiser an unrepresentative advantage. (Comparisons).
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told s1homes to ensure that the basis of their comparative claims was clear and unambiguous in future.