Background

Summary of Council decision:

Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.

Ad description

A banner ad and an ad in a content discovery network, for Open Media Group:

a. The banner ad, seen on a YouTube on 12 February 2021, included an image of a woman’s face with the claim “UK Seniors claim new benefit in February UK Seniors claim this brilliant new benefit in February”. Text beneath stated “Ad Peace of Mind Funerals”.

The ad linked to a page on the Must Have Money Tips website articles.musthavemoneytips.co.uk, titled “Thousands of UK Seniors are rushing to claim this new benefit in 2021”. All of the hyperlinks on that page linked to a page on the Peace of Mind Funeral Planning website lp.peaceofmindplans.co.uk.

b. The content discovery network ad, seen on a local news website on 12 June 2021, included an image of a smiling woman holding up a letter with a green logo at the top and the text “GREAT NEWS!”; the rest of the letter’s text was illegible. Text underneath the image stated “UK Seniors Born 1940 - 1970 Can Claim This Brilliant New Benefit”, followed by text which stated “Peace Of Mind | Sponsored” and a box which stated “Sign Up”.

The ad linked to a page on the Must Have Money Tips website articles.musthavemoneytips.co.uk, titled “Thousands of UK Seniors are rushing to claim this new benefit in 2021”. All of the hyperlinks on that page linked to a page on the Peace of Mind Funeral Planning website lp.peaceofmindplans.co.uk.

Issue

Two complainants challenged whether:

1. the claims in both ads that UK seniors could claim a new benefit were misleading and could be substantiated; and

2. the ads falsely implied that the marketer was acting for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession and did not make clear their commercial intent.

Response

1. Open Media Group Ltd t/a musthavemoneytips.co.uk and Peace of Mind Funeral Planning (Open Media Group) said that those who clicked through from the ads would have been presented with the Must Have Money Tips landing pages which provided information about the benefit of having a pre-paid funeral plan.

The benefits referred to in the ads were that the price of a funeral in the future would be secured at today’s prices and plans for the arrangement of a funeral could be made in advance, removing some of the burden from the consumer’s family. They said the ads referred to a “new” benefit because the firms they worked with only provided funeral plans to consumers who did not already have one; any plan would therefore be new for the consumer. Ad (a) used the word “benefit” as a verb and was therefore unlikely to be interpreted to mean that people were entitled to claim a new government or other benefit. They acknowledged that in ad (b) the wording may have caused some consumers to interpret the word “Benefit” as a noun, and therefore referring to a government benefit. However, they highlighted that the Oxford Learners Dictionary listed the first noun definition of “benefit” as “an advantage that something gives you; a helpful and useful effect that something has”.

The ads and landing pages were intended to suggest that consumers might benefit from the plan, not that they would receive a benefit from the government. The text at the bottom of ad (a), “Ad Peace of Mind Funerals”, made clear it was an ad and named the advertiser - Peace of Mind Funerals. Additionally, the top of the landing page included the text “peace of mind funeral planning” next to a logo, and the text “ADVERTORIAL”. Neither ad (a) nor its landing page suggested they referred to a government benefit relating to funerals. They had also been careful to select an image for ad (a) that would not, in combination with the headline, be misleading. They said the ads and landing pages also did not state or imply that the benefit of having a funeral plan would be at no cost to the consumer.

They said that there were thousands of seniors who benefited from the product each month. They had measured the term "seniors" against their target audience, and respondents who were over the age of 50 engaged well with ads where this description was used.

2. Open Media Group said that they were a digital marketing agency who had been engaged to promote the benefit of a funeral plan. The ads clearly stated that they were advertisements, which they considered made it clear to the audience that they were engaging with promoted content. The landing pages were designed as information pieces, and did not attempt to acquire any customer information. The landing pages also clearly stated that they were an “ADVERTORIAL”, which was designed to raise awareness about the product that was offered. If the audience then wished to engage further they could click on a button on those pages which took them to a further page where they would be given the option to enter their details. Pages which did capture details required consumers to give their clear consent for their details to be shared. Open Media Group would only place consumer details with one specially selected company.

The final landing page, on the Peace of Mind Funeral Planning website, stated in small print at the bottom of the page that Peaceofmindfunerals.co.uk was a trading name of Open Media Group. That was intended to give maximum clarity to the audience that the ad and landing pages were ads. Further details of the company’s registration information and Information Commissioner’s Office registration were provided to help the audience to not feel misled.

They said that if their principal intention had been to gather consumers’ personal information to generate leads, the form to gather such information would have been on the first landing page, rather than a further page which consumers could choose to click through to. This was because, in the vast majority of cases, there was much less chance of a consumer clicking through to a further page. Their content was written with the intent to inform first, rather than to capture consumer details; they only wished to capture those details if the consumer had a genuine interest in finding out more about a funeral plan. They said they did not gain any benefit from a consumer who might think they were giving details for a government benefit.

Assessment

1. Upheld

The ASA considered that consumers would interpret the references to “claim[ing]” a “benefit” in the claims “UK Seniors claim new benefit in February” and “UK Senior claim this brilliant new benefit in February” in ad (a) to mean that individuals in the UK falling within the relevant age category would be entitled to claim a new government or other benefit from that month and that by clicking through they could find out how to claim it. The ad also featured the text “Peace of Mind Funerals” which suggested that the benefit was in relation to funerals. We acknowledged that consumers were likely to understand from the placement of that wording next to the word “Ad” that an organisation or business using the name Peace of Mind Funerals had placed the ad. However, we considered that did not provide sufficient information to counteract the impression that the ad referred to a government or other benefit relating to funerals.

We considered that consumers would interpret the reference to “claim[ing]” a “benefit” in the claim “UK Seniors Born 1940 - 1970 Can Claim This Brilliant New Benefit” in ad (b) to mean that individuals in the UK falling within the relevant age category were entitled to claim a new government or other benefit, and that by clicking through they could find out how to claim it. We further considered that the image of someone holding an envelope with the text “GREAT NEWS!” on it reinforced that impression. We acknowledged that the word “Sponsored” was placed next to the wording “Peace of Mind”. However, we considered that did not provide sufficient information to counteract the impression that the ad referred to a government or other benefit.

We further considered that consumers would not, as Open Media Group had suggested, interpret references to “claim[ing]” a “benefit” in the ads to relate to the opportunity to purchase a funeral plan.

Neither ad related to a new government or other benefit. We therefore concluded that ad (a) misleadingly implied that seniors living in the UK were entitled to claim a new government benefit relating to funerals from February 2021, and ad (b) misleadingly implied that seniors living in the UK were entitled to claim a new government or other benefit, when that was not the case.

On that point the ads 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).

2. Upheld

The CAP Code required that ads did not falsely claim or imply that the marketer was acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession, and that ads must make clear their commercial intent.

As referenced above, we considered that consumers would understand that by clicking through from the ads they could find out how to claim a new government or other benefit for seniors. In the case of ad (a), a benefit which specifically related to funerals.

Both ads linked through to pages on the website Must Have Money Tips, articles.musthavemoneytips.co.uk, with the heading “Thousands of UK Seniors are rushing to claim this new benefit in 2021 UK Seniors born between 1940 and 1970 are eligible to lock in a new funeral plan saving their families thousands. Here’s how …”. The Privacy Policy of the website stated that “musthavemoneytips.co.uk” was a trading name of Open Media Group. The content of the two pages was different, but both referred to the rising cost of funerals and how a funeral plan could “lock in costs” of a funeral at “todays prices” and therefore relieve families of the associated “financial and emotional burden” of a funeral.

The web pages included the word “ADVERTORIAL” at the top, and were otherwise presented as articles, with a headshot of a woman next to the text “BY SUZIE RANDALL Must Have Money Tips” underneath the main heading and sub-heading. We considered consumers would understand from the presentation of the web pages, the claim “ADVERTORIAL” and the name of the website that it was an independent website providing independent money advice, albeit that the particular web page they were viewing was an advertisement feature. Small print at the bottom of the web page reinforced that impression because it explained what advertorials were, including “The term ‘advertorial’ is a combination of ‘advertisement’ and ‘editorial’ written in an editorial format as an independent news story, when in fact the advertisement may promote a particular product or interest”. However, we noted that the web pages were not advertorials, because the website was owned and operated by Open Media Group; the web pages were in fact ads with no input from any independent party. We considered the web pages therefore misleadingly implied that they were advertorials when they were not.

At the bottom of both pages, website visitors were invited to select their birth year from a list and click through. On doing so, or on clicking on other hyperlinked text throughout the pages, they were taken to a page on a website featuring the name Peace of Mind Funeral Planning, at lp.peaceofmindplans.co.uk. The page was headed “Get Your Free Funeral Plan Quote Online Now” and asked consumers to provide their age, gender, “funeral preference” and “Service type”, first and last names, email address, postcode and phone number. While small print on that web page stated that “Peaceofmindfunerals.co.uk” was a trading name of Open Media Group, the URL of the web page on which it appeared was lp.peaceofmindplans.co.uk. The Privacy Policy of the website stated that “Peace of mind funerals” was a trading name of Open Media Group.

The purpose of the ads was ultimately to drive consumers to the Peace of Mind Funeral Planning website, where Open Media Group collected consumers’ personal information and contact details under the Peace of Mind Funeral Planning trading name. Open Media Group had stated that they collected this information to pass to another company. Consequently, we understood that Open Media Group was principally a lead generating company that facilitated the passing of consumers’ personal information to another business in order to contact them. Open Media Group did not provide information about new government benefits as suggested by ads (a) and (b), nor did they provide quotes for funeral plans as suggested by the pages on the Must Have Money Tips and Peace of Mind Funeral Planning websites linked to via ads (a) and (b).

Because the ads did not make clear that their purpose was principally to generate leads by gathering consumers’ personal information, but instead implied that by clicking through from the ads consumers could access information about a new government benefit or other benefit for seniors, we concluded that the marketer falsely implied that they were acting for purposes outside their trade and had not made clear their commercial intent. The ads therefore breached the Code.

On that point the ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules  2.3 2.3 Marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession; marketing communications must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context.  (Recognition of marketing communications) and  3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.  (Misleading advertising).

Action

The ads must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Open Media Group Ltd t/a MustHaveMoneyTips.co.uk and Peace of Mind Funeral Planning to ensure that future marketing communications did not imply that consumers were entitled to claim a government or other benefit if that was not the case. We also told them not to refer to the opportunity to purchase a funeral plan or other product as a “benefit” or “claim[ing]” a “benefit”. We told them not to use the term “advertorial” or other similar terms to describe their ads. We further told them to ensure their ads did not falsely imply they were acting for purposes outside of their trade, and to make clear their commercial intent and the nature of their business in their ads. Also, we told them to ensure that their future marketing communications made clear that their purpose was to gather consumer’s personal information for lead generation.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

2.3     3.1     3.7    


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