A Facebook page and the website for CustomWritings.com, an essay writing service, seen on 22 September 2019:
a. The Facebook page showed a photograph of a young woman above the text "No time to complete the essay? Order a custom paper now and submit it on time!". An "ORDER NOW" box appeared next to the text. Further text stated "Submit your paper on time! Reliable essay writing service provides custom papers written from scratch in 80+ disciplines. Fast delivery, high quality, 24/7 online support".
b. The website www.customwritings.com was headed "ESSAY WRITING SERVICE: EXPERT HELP WITH ACADEMIC PAPERS IN THE UK - We provide custom written papers for UK students: essays, research papers, coursework, dissertations and much more legitimate writing services of the highest quality". A "REQUEST PAPER" box appeared underneath. Further text stated "Qualified writers - With more than 500 experienced writers, we can prepare any academic assignment in any discipline you need".
The complainant, who believed the ads implied that students could submit an essay they had bought as their own, challenged whether the ads were misleading.
One Freelance Ltd t/a CustomWritings.com said they provided assistance and tutoring services which included research, providing additional information, inspiration, drafts or initial material where necessary for students to begin their work. They did not believe their website encouraged students to use their services for any reason other than inspiration or help.
CustomWritings.com said each page of the website contained a disclaimer in the footer which stated “One Freelance Limited: a professional writing service that provides original papers. Our products include academic papers of varying complexity and other personalized [sic] services, along with research materials for assistance purposes only. All the materials from our website should be used with proper references”.
They said “plagiarism-free” was a statement that applied to all their services, which also included preparing speeches; case studies; blog posts; journal articles and PowerPoint presentations. They said it was standard practice for such services to declare that they were custom-made and free from intellectual property infringements. They said they offered a plagiarism check service, which they believed demonstrated that they encouraged clients to cite the sources they had used and to avoid copying the intellectual property of third parties. CustomWritings.com said there was also a separate page which explained how their services could and could not be used. They acknowledged that a significant number of their customers were students who were short of time and who needed assistance in conducting research. They said they therefore targeted their ads in that way.
The ASA considered the text in ad (a), the Facebook page, "No time to complete the essay? Order a custom paper now and submit it on time!", suggested that students who were unable to submit an essay of their own on time could order one to be written by One Freelance which they could submit in their own name within the deadline and without risk of repercussions.
We considered the text “EXPERT HELP WITH ACADEMIC PAPERS” in ad (b) could be taken to refer to, for example, a coaching service for research or preparation for an essay or assignment. However, the text appeared in the context of the remainder of the ad, which included the heading “ESSAY WRITING SERVICE” and text which stated “We provide custom written papers”; “we can prepare any academic assignment in any discipline you need"; “Plagiarism-free custom essays – All papers and essays are written upon request from scratch. Our writers follow individual instructions and requirements to create a specific paper. To ensure that it is original, we double-check it for plagiarism and only then pass it to you”; and “ … your copy is the only one. It serves as a template for your own writing. So, you are absolutely free to use the custom paper in your assignments if properly referenced”. In addition, text further down the page stated “… we prepared a checklist of the basic things any student from the UK should pay attention to while looking for a legit essay writing service … while selecting a custom essay writing service, there are three main things you need to look at: the authenticity of the provided papers, plagiarism checks, and the reuse of written essays”.
We acknowledged that there were references on the website to academic papers, research and other types of work in addition to essays. However, we considered the references to “ESSAY WRITING SERVICE” and “Plagiarism-free custom essays” were prominent and suggested that the use of essay writing services was a normal and accepted practice. The overall impression was that students could order essays or similar work to submit in their own name without risk of repercussions. We acknowledged the disclaimer. However, the text was small and faint in comparison with the wording elsewhere and the pages were long and detailed.
We considered readers were therefore unlikely to see it, and even less likely to see the more detailed information on the separate page. Even if they had read either, however, we considered the disclaimers were insufficient to counteract the impression readers would receive from the rest of the website. Because we considered the ads suggested that students could purchase and submit essays as their own without risk of repercussions when that was not the case, we concluded that the ads were misleading.
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer 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 the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising).
The ads must not appear again in their current forms. We told One Freelance t/a CustomWritings.com not to imply that students could submit an essay, which they had bought as their own without risks.