Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, of which two were Upheld and one was Not upheld.
A press ad for Branshaws Handy Heater 400, seen in the Daily Mirror on 2 November 2022, featured an image of the heater plugged in and emitting heat. Large text at the top of the ad stated, “Hurry! Limited stock, order today and get ready for winter! Keep SUPER WARM this winter and SAVE A FORTUNE on your heating bills!” Text in the body of the ad said, “If you are worried about how you will cope this winter, we have the solution for you!”, “Heat only the room you are in rather than waste money firing up the whole central heating system. Energy bills have doubled since last winter despite the Government energy cap! But with this compact, money-saving heater you’ll save a fortune, a must for every home!” and “Perfect for in the home, caravans, mobile homes, conservatories or garages. High heat output”.
The ad included testimonies from customers with accompanying photos. One testimony for “Sarah Tate” said, “I wouldn’t be able to afford my heating bills without it, so useful.” A second testimony for “Sarah and Peter Tippins” said, “Our heating bill was so expensive until we found the Handy Heater 400. We use it to heat the room we are in rather than heating the whole house. It saved us a fortune.”
1. The complainant, who believed that the testimonies in the ad were not genuine, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
2. The ASA challenged whether the claims that the product could help save money on heating bills could be substantiated.
3. The ASA also challenged whether the claim “Hurry! Limited stock” was misleading.
1. Prime Star Shop Ltd t/a Branshaws said that all testimonies in the ad were genuine and provided copies.
2. Branshaws said that their product could save “a fortune” on heating bills because their heater could be used to heat individual rooms, rather than turning on central heating. They explained that most UK houses use a gas boiler to heat them which had a range of 24?27 kW (up to 42 kW for larger houses). To run such a boiler would cost 10p per kilowatt per hour and so to use a 24 kW boiler would cost approximately £2.40 per hour. In contrast their product had a 400 watt output. As the rate for electricity was £0.34 per kWh, it cost just less than 14p an hour to run. They said that was a large saving that over time would add up to “a fortune”. They acknowledged the figures would depend by region and various factors would affect the cost of heating a house but the cost difference between central heating and their product was large.
They said full specifications including heating information were provided by the supplier and the heater would heat a 23 square metre room. They said that it would depend on the layout of the room, the level of insulation and a number of other factors. However, that would be clear to the consumer and they did not need to go into such detail within an ad.
They said that the claim, “Heat only the room you are in rather than waste money firing up the whole central heating system” was just a suggestion. Consumers could use their product to reduce the time any central heating was on, as an alternative to central heating when it was milder or in addition to other forms of heating in colder rooms. There were many different scenarios that could not be detailed in a concise ad.
3. Branshaws confirmed that their reporting system showed how many sales they had made for every product going back many years. Each ad had a unique code and every sale was linked to a specific ad in a particular media. Due to running tens of thousands of ads over many years they had data that allowed them to predict with accuracy how many sales they could make from each ad, based on earlier examples. They said for any specific product they had previously sold they would use existing sales data. For a new product, their forecast would be based on sales data for a similar product at a similar price.
They provided calculations to the ASA based on specific media revenue projections and estimated times the ads would be run. The ad was only placed in limited numbers in a few publications and so they could align the number of units sold to each individual ad. Therefore, they were able to estimate sales following ads in each publication and order just enough for a campaign period. They said, to be fair to the consumer and themselves, that they would never run ads to the point that available stock would not meet demand. They had just ordered enough for what they had planned and once they ran out of stock they would stop running the ads.
Using all that data, they had estimated that a specific amount of units would be sold as a minimum. They then settled on just over half of the estimated amount they thought they could sell and due to lead times in production, cost and freight restrictions they could only order one batch for the entire winter. When they sold out they would not buy anymore because the stock was relatively expensive and seasonal and so they did not want to be left with the products after winter.
They said their team had been running direct response ads in the national press for over 25 years and so had the knowledge to know what to order and how many units. That meant they were confident that they would fulfil orders but would also stop the ads early enough when supply was limited.
1. Not upheld
The CAP Code stated that marketers must hold documentary evidence that a testimonial or endorsement used in a marketing communication was genuine, unless it was obviously fictitious, and hold contact details for the person who, or organisation that, gave it.
The complainant believed that the photos associated with the reviews were stock images and that their use called into question whether the reviews themselves were legitimate. We understood that the use of stock photographs could arouse suspicion that the testimonials were not genuine, but we considered it was not unreasonable for advertisers to use stock imagery, providing that the testimony was genuine.
Branshaws had provided four written testimonies, one of which was undated and three from 2022, from members of the public that reflected the testimonies in the ad. All the testimonies had contact details of those who provided them and their signatures.
We considered the information provided by Branshaws demonstrated that the reviews were genuine.
On that point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.45 (Endorsements and testimonials), but did not find it in breach.
The ad stated, “Keep SUPER WARM this winter and SAVE A FORTUNE on your heating bills!” and “Energy bills have doubled since last winter despite the Government energy cap! But with this compact, money-saving heater you’ll save a fortune …”. The ad also said, “Heat only the room you are in rather than waste money firing up the whole central heating system” and “Heating area 23 sq m”. Similar claims were also made in the testimonies featured in the ad. The ASA considered that consumers would therefore interpret the ad as promoting a product that provided a viable alternative to gas central heating if heating a single room up to 23 square metres was required, and that this was more economical to do than using central heating to heat a whole house unnecessarily.
We sought a view from the Energy Saving Trust. They said that the heating requirements for a 23 square metre room would vary depending on insulation levels and geometry. They said a 400 W heater could heat a room, that had a typical heat loss, adequately in mild weather, and could have been able to heat a super-insulated room of that size in very cold weather, but it would not have been able to heat a typical 23 square metre room to an acceptable level in cold weather, especially if the adjoining rooms were unheated. That was due to the low output of the heater.
They explained that in circumstances where the advertiser’s heater was able to heat the whole room it would cost 14p per hour. While they disputed the boiler costs provided by the advertiser for a whole house (because they were based on the boiler rating and not its usage, which varied, depending on demand) they acknowledged that running central heating for a whole property would be more expensive than the single heater. However, they explained that the cheapest way to provide heating for a single room would be to turn radiators off in other parts of the house and just heat the one room with gas central heating. That would reduce gas demand, costing 4.34 pence per hour, about one third of the cost of using the electric heater. They said gas use would be higher in cold weather, but that would be when the electric heater was incapable of maintaining a comfortable internal temperature and so would not offer a suitable alternative. They confirmed all quoted running costs were based on fuel tariffs in line with the Energy Price Guarantee as of February 2023.
The ad gave no details about the type of room it could heat, just that it could heat a 23 square metre room and it could do so “fast”. Therefore, consumers would understand from the ad that regardless of the external temperature or the level of insulation, the heater would be as effective as gas central heating in a single room. We understood, however, that it was highly unlikely that a 400 W electric heater would be a viable source of sufficient heating for most rooms of that size in most circumstances. In addition, while the use of a single plug-in heater was cheaper than heating the whole house using gas central heating, the use of one radiator via gas central heating was cheaper and more effective than running the plug-in electric heater.
Therefore, because the product in many circumstances was not able to adequately heat the advertised space, and in the limited circumstances it could, it was still cheaper to run gas central heating, we concluded that the claims the product could help save money on heating bills in the body of the ad and in the testimonies had not been substantiated and were misleading.
On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading Advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.11 (Exaggeration) and 3.47 (Endorsements and testimonials).
The CAP Code required advertisers to be able to demonstrate that they had made a reasonable estimate of the likely response and marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. The ad stated “Hurry! Limited stock” which we considered consumers would understand to mean that the advertiser had made an estimate of demand, but held limited stock which was unlikely to be sufficient to meet it and that consumers needed to act quickly if they wanted to purchase the product.
Branshaws had provided details of the publications in which the product was to be advertised, the number of runs of the ads for each publication and the estimated number of units they believed they would sell based on those figures. They had calculated the total stock they believed they could sell and they had only purchased just over half of the estimated amount.
The evidence provided demonstrated how Branshaws had estimated the likely response to the ad campaign and the potential sales it could generate. However, while they said that their sales data was based on historic sales, knowledge of the market and general experience, Branshaws had not confirmed if they had sold the product before or provided historical sales numbers for it. Similarly, we had not seen evidence to demonstrate sales numbers for other heaters or equivalent products. Therefore, while Branshaws had confirmed that they had only ordered just over half the units they expected to sell and so they possessed limited stock, compared to the likely response, we were unable to ascertain whether the estimate of demand was reasonable such that consumers needed to act quickly if they wanted to purchase the product.
We therefore concluded that the ad was likely to mislead.
On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) 3.27and 3.31 (Availability).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Prime Star Shop Ltd t/a Branshaws they should not state or imply that their mini heater provided a viable alternative to gas central heating, or that it could save consumers money compared to gas central heating, even in one room. In addition, we told them that they should not imply stock was limited in order to hurry consumers into a decision to purchase, unless they could adequately demonstrate that the likely response was expected to be exceeded.